Things To Consider When Buying A Gun Dog

by admin on 01-29-2014 in General Hunting Dogs


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Buying a dog is never something that should be done on impulse. When introducing an animal that will likely become a part of your family for the next twelve or more years, you should do your research beforehand so you can make the right decision. Once you’ve gone to visit puppies, it can get too easy to fall in love with a cute face and take a puppy that may never become what you wanted it to be. There’s nothing wrong with being a beloved pet and most gun dogs do best as indoor members of the family but when you want a hunting companion you also want to make sure your pet is able to bring home the game with you too.

What Do You Hunt?

The first thing you need to decide on is what breed you want and this goes back to what you intend to hunt with the dog. Gun dogs can loosely be divided into spaniels, retrievers, and pointing breeds. Although all three groups can be trained to do virtually everything your average hunter wants, each has its own specialty.Spaniels are meant for upland birds and excel in areas with heavy cover. They range in front of the hunter and flush up the birds for the shot. They can be trained for water work and ducks but they really excel on birds like pheasant and woodcock. There are water spaniel breeds that are meant for water work. They aren't as common as English Springer Spaniels or Field Spaniels but they do exist.Retrievers are meant to retrieve. You shoot it and they fetch it up.

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They can be trained to find birds but they don’t excel at it the way pointing breeds and spaniels will. There are land retrievers (Goldens, Flatcoats) and water retrievers (Labradors, Chesapeake Bays, Curly-Coated). Both will work well under most conditions though.Pointing breeds are also known as versatile hunting dogs. They are meant for someone who needs one dog to do it all – fur or feather, water or land. They excel at finding game. Although they are most popular with upland bird hunters, they are a favorite with duck hunters too.


Another consideration when choosing a gun dog is your own preferences about grooming and your schedule. Grooming is an important factor. Some breeds require a lot more grooming than others. Keeping up with the silky coat of a spaniel or setter after running through a bur bush is time consuming to say the least. You can clip it down but burs will still find their way into it. Many of the dogs bred specifically for water work such as the Irish Water Spaniel and Chesapeake Bay Retriever have a lot of natural oil in their coats to protect it in cold water. This can mean that they leave the occasional oily patch behind when they get up off the carpet.Almost all gun dogs shed. It can be cut down with regular brushing but shedding is a fact of life. It’s very noticeable if you have a dog with longer hair.

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The short-coated breeds shed a lot too; it just isn’t as easy to see because the hairs are smaller. Wire-coated dogs such as the German Wirehaired Pointer and the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon will need regular coat care (brushing and plucking) unless you don’t mind a very unkempt looking dog.

Exercise Needs

How much time do you have to devote to exercising your new hunting companion? Some of the breeds are far more energetic than others and need lots of daily exercise. Others are quite content with a walk and more energetic pursuits on the weekends. Typically, the breeds known as “Gentleman’s Hunting Dogs” are quieter. These include the Clumber Spaniel and the Golden Retriever. Spaniels are often content to have a run and then settle down beside you. With retrievers it varies by breed and line. Some Labs are quite energetic while others will gladly snooze in the sun all day.Within the pointing breeds there is also variation. The English Pointer, Spinone Italiano, and Bracco Italiano are easier going but still fairly high energy dogs. German Wirehaired and Shorthaired Pointers, Vizslas, and Brittany Spaniels need lots of daily exercise.

Do You Intend To Compete With Your Dog?

Once you've decided on a breed, you need to evaluate your needs. The process for finding a casual hunting companion is different than that of locating a field trial competitor. If the latter is your goal, then you need to find someone who is involved in the sport and has a history of producing successful field trial dogs.

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The reason behind this is that field trials tend to require a stronger drive and bigger running dog than your average hunter needs when out on foot. In many breeds, this need is not part of the dog’s historical use. They were bred for use by foot hunters so you have to find someone who is purposefully breeding a bigger running dog.This is not to say that you can’t be successful at field trials with a dog from a decent hunting line. You can, you just may have to work much harder than you would if you had purchased a dog from a field trialing line.

Puppy, Started Dog, or Fully Trained?

Puppies are incredibly cute but they also need lots of time and training to become the gun dog you are looking for. This is fine if your schedule gives you the time to pursue training and raising a pup. That isn't always the case though.A started dog has some basic training. The amount of training may vary quite a bit though and it pays to do your research. At a minimum the dog should be housebroken and have basic obedience training and manners. It should have been introduced to birds and the gun. Some may have been whoa-broken or force-fetch trained. Some may even be steady to wing and shot. The more training the dog has received, the more it is likely to cost.For a casual hunter, the amount of training a started dog has received may be all that is required for a satisfactory gun dog. For a more serious hunter, you may want to get a fully trained or "finished" gun dog.Expect to pay serious money for a fully trained dog. In either case, you should be able to see the dog in action and fully evaluate his skills before you buy him. Because the dog has been raised by someone else, make sure you evaluate his non-hunting characteristics as well. Is this a dog you want to live with for the next decade or more?

What Breed Should you Choose

Retrievers can be hit and miss. Show bred Labradors and Goldens are often less athletic than field-bred ones but the instincts are usually there. Look for someone who does instinct testing or has produced personal gun dogs if they don’t hunt their own dogs. They should be able to provide you with references of owners who hunt with their dogs so that you can evaluate the lines' abilities for yourself.

The English Pointers, German Pointers (Shorthaired, Wirehaired, and Longhaired), Vizslas, and Brittany Spaniels all have lots of dual purpose breeders that breed for both show and field. Most lines have decent hunting instincts. As with the retrievers, expect them to be able to provide references to people who actively hunt their dogs if they don’t do it themselves.In all cases, the breeder should be able to provide proof of health certifications on the puppy’s parents including hip and eye clearances. Individual breeds have different recommended tests. Check out the national club’s website to find out what is considered important in the breed you choose.  

Finding a Breeder

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As discussed above, if you intend to compete in field trials, you need to find a field trial breeder. For hunt tests and personal gun dog use there is more variance and much of it depends on the breed you choose. In some breeds, there is very little difference between show and field lines. In other breeds, it is hard to tell the two are related more than superficially.If you intend to hunt a spaniel or a setter you have to find someone who specifically breeds field dogs. This isn't to say that a dog from non-field lines can’t be trained to hunt but it will be a much harder process. There are some kennels that go out of their way to produce a dog that is capable of competing in both the show ring and the field. They may have a great dog for you although you may find the amount of coat the dog carries requires more grooming than its field-bred counterparts.

Some breeders even perform genetics testing before breeding their dogs, finding a breeder that performs these tests will help ensure your puppy's genetic health.  The breeder should be willing to provide you with a written health guarantee covering at least two years and preferably five or more. They should also provide a written sales contract.Regardless of what breed you decide on, it is important to do your research and take your time. The right dog is worth waiting for. Remember, this animal is going to become an important member of your family for many years to come. Choose wisely.

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