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Puppy Selection

“Make sure the sire and dam have proven hunting experience.  If possible, try to watch one work in the field.”  How many times have we heard or read that advice pertaining to selecting a breeder for that new puppy? You hear it frequently and often in this column.

The theory is that we want to select a puppy from a bloodline of hunters.  If we do that, we increase our chances of bringing home a pup with the prey drive necessary to become a good hunter.  Is this true?  Let’s take a look at behavior and how it develops.

Since your author has no training in this area, I’m going to keep this very simple.  Animal behavior is shaped by both genetic and environmental influence.    Genetic behavior is the result of evolutionary responses by previous generations.  Nature has also allowed behavioral changes due to environmental influence.   Rather than taking thousands of years to develop an instinctive or genetic behavior, an environmental behavior can develop simply in the lifetime of an animal.

For our purpose, we’re dealing with genetic behavior.  All animals have genetic behavior that has developed over hundreds of generations.  How easy is it to lose genetic behavior?  From breeders of hunting dogs, I’ve often heard that a sporting breed bloodline that has most recently been used in the show ring, has most likely had the hunting instinct “bred out”.  A few years ago, a good non-hunting friend called to tell me that he and his wife had just bought an English setter puppy.  I commented that he should bring the pup over to the house in a couple of months and let’s run the little rascal in the fields.  His response: “that won’t work; our breeder told us that there are two distinct blood lines of English setters…hunting and show ring.  Our pup is a from a show ring bloodline.”  “Although I remained a gentleman and didn’t want to embarrass my friend, silently, I said “hog wash.”  The prey

drive has not been bred out of this dog.

I believe it was Delmar Smith who said that he could teach any dog to point…it’s instinctive and not that hard to accomplish.  Delmar’s point was that practically all ground predators hesitate before they pounce on their prey…it’s an evolutionary response passed on from generation to generation that has become genetic.  To “breed out” that evolutionary response from a pure bred line of sporting dogs would take hundreds of generations.

Genetic behavior is not limited to just sporting dogs.  Three times in my life, I’ve watched non-sporting dog breeds grab a snake and shake it so hard that it split into pieces.  That’s genetic behavior.  Each of those dogs had instinct that told them to kill the snake before it killed them.  That behavior evolved over thousands of years but may not have been used for several generations.

What’s the conclusion and how does it affect our breeder and puppy selection?  I think that the old advice to select a puppy from a known hunting bloodline is still valid.  Although it may take a millennium or more to breed-out a pro-hunting genetic behavior, the stronger those genes are, the better.

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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