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Picking a Puppy

Picking a puppy is a gut-wrenching exercise for many hunters.  It’s a ten to twelve-year commitment and you don’t want to get it wrong.  For this article, we’ll assume you already know the breed you would like; however, picking a breeder, then a litter and then the puppy in that litter is the challenge.

There is no magical formula which will ensure you pick the prize of the litter and a future “brag dog” that will provide years of enjoyment in the field.  However, there are steps to take to increase the odds in your favor.  Let’s look at these steps.

Once you’ve decided on a breed, locate a club that specializes in that breed.  For the versatile breeds, join the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA).  They have affiliate clubs all over North America.  Those affiliate clubs are listed on their website (  Visit their training days and hunt tests.  Introduce yourself and let folks know that you’re looking for a breeder.  You’ll soon know many people that are totally immersed in the pointing dog world.  In addition, organizations like NAVHDA are very particular about health issues.  When you see puppy ads for a NAVHDA trained dog breeding they usually contain information on hips, eyes, heart, etc.  There is a strong concern for not passing along genetic defects.

If you’re more interested in a traditional breed such as an English setter or pointer, there are numerous field trials across the country you could visit and meet breeders.  Subscribe to the American Field magazine (  This publication is the bible for pointing dog field trials.  Being a dedicated reader will allow you follow consistent winners and producers of quality off-spring.

Although you may or may not be interested in sporting dog contests, they do serve a purpose.  They continually help advance the pointing dog breeds.  Those dogs that perform the best are bred more and help produce the qualities we want in a pointing dog.

Attending events such as natural ability tests, utility tests and field trials allow you to actually watch the potential sire or dam of your future puppy.  And that’s important; you want to know what you’ll be getting.

Locating a breeder through events is one method of finding a litter; however, there are also ads for puppies in Pointing Dog Journal, Gun Dog and Shooting Sportsman in addition to the above mentioned American Field.   Facebook fans should check-out the forum Upland Bird Dog and Stuff Buy Sell Trade…there are always litters advertised here.

Okay, you’ve watched sires and dams run and hunt and have now settled on a breeder, and, he has a litter on the way. You’ve given him a deposit and he says you’ve got the third pick. Now you simply wait anxiously for the dam to deliver those precious little balls of excitement.  Breeders have different rules for when one may begin picking their pup from a litter. (Not to be confused with picking-up your pup and taking it home). Your author feels it should be six weeks, however, some breeders may want you to pick earlier.

During the breeder selection process, try hard to select a breeder within a day’s drive of your home.  Even before you’re allowed to make your final pick, visit the breeder and look at the pups.  Socialization is very important at an early age and the more folks that pick-up the puppies, the better.  While holding them, turn them on their backs and see how each one struggles.  An overly active puppy that won’t stop wiggling may be too hyper and present training problems.  A puppy that is immediately submissive might be too soft.  A puppy that wiggles for five seconds and then settles down would be a good choice.

Another exercise is to throw a small dummy.  Which puppies show an interest in what you’ve thrown?  You’re not looking for a retrieve….just a little curiosity.  Don’t worry about size unless you have a preference.  I’ve seen many runts turn out to be the very best of the litter.  Female or male?  When it comes to hunting, it doesn’t matter.  The only issue is if you’re not going to have a female spayed, you’ll have the heat cycle to deal with.

Finally, be careful about accepting a puppy from a littler that is broken up at seven weeks or less.  Research has shown that the minimum age for puppies to go home is eight weeks.  In fact, eight weeks is the law in many states.  It’s all about socialization.  You’ll have a happier and more cooperative puppy if the litter stays together until eight weeks of age.

Good luck with your future “brag dog”.

Paul Fuller is a lifelong sportsman.  He’s been an outdoor writer since 1971. He’s the host and producer of the award winning Bird Dogs Afield TV show ( and produced the epic video Grouse, Guns & Dogs. Paul shot over his first German short-haired pointer in 1961.

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