I've decided to do a post on things to be aware of when choosing a breeder for a hunting dog. These are all things that I wish I had had a better understanding of when Jim and I set out on this adventure three years ago. Luckily, I did allot of research at the time and we choose a great breeder with Nobelle's Kennel. But to someone who knows very little about hunting dogs and wants to purchase one I hope this helps steer them to choosing a reputable breeder. I would like to point out that I am not a breeder and this post is based solely on my experience and the things I have learned over the last couple of years.
Before even looking at breeders the most important step in my opinion is deciding what breed of hunting dog you want. The term hunting dog covers allot of ground. There are pointers, flushers, retrievers. There are also versatile breeds that do more than just one of those actions. Some breeds are high strung, some breeds require more physical maintenance due to longer coats, some breeds are better acclimated to colder weather, some breeds are Velcro dogs and require allot of attention. The first step is deciding what breed best suits you, your family and the type of hunting you plan on doing.
Once you know the breed you can start to research breeders. Let me start by saying that not all breeders and breeding programs are created equal. Anyone and I mean anyone can breed two dogs. It's not rocket science people. But to develop a good breeding program and breed to better the breed takes allot of responsibility, knowledge and experience.
A good breeder will be picky on who gets to have one of their pups. When you contact them they should be evaluating you just as much as you are evaluating them! Good breeders will have a certain criteria that you the buyer will need to meet in order to be eligible. Not all criteria for each breeder will be the same but be ready to explain some of the following things: whether or not you plan on having the dog live inside or live in a outdoor kennel, how many hours a day the dog will be crated, who will be training the dog to hunt - you or a trainer, what species of birds do you plan on hunting, are you single or married, do you have children - if so how many and how old are they, how large your yard is, will your yard have a fence, ect. If the breeder you contacted doesn't ask you any of these things then that should be a big red flag.
Responsible and knowledgeable breeders take the steps to get proper health clearances for the dogs they are breeding. Just because a dog sits in a blind or has great desire in the field it doesn't mean it should be bred. Make sure that the Dam and Sire are at least 2 years of age. The parents should also be certified by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or a Penn Hip certified veterinarian to ensure your puppy won't have hip dysplasia. Many breeders even take the extra step and have the elbows certified. Ask your potential breeder for proof of health clearances. Purchasing an inexpensive dog with no health clearances will most likely cost you 10 fold in the future.
Not all but a good percentage of reputable breeders will require you to sign a contract. The contract binds the buyer into certain stipulations. For instance, if you the buyer can no longer keep the animal the seller has the first right to take the dog. Reputable breeders don't want there dogs turned over to shelters or abandoned. There may be a breeding clause that states you can only breed your animal if it passes a certain level of testing and certifications. The contract will also state that you will provide proper food, housing and vet care. Some contracts like the one we signed required us to run our pup in a NAVHDA natural ability test. All these stipulations are insurances you will care for the pup. A backyard breeder only wants your money and doesn't care what happens to the dog.
Since we are talking hunting dogs here you want to make sure that the Sire and Dam of your new potential puppy are actually hunted. Just because the breeder tells you that the puppies parents have great noses and a family member hunted them allot on a farm somewhere doesn't mean a flippin thing unless he or she can back it up. Ask if the puppies parents hunt wild birds? If so, ask where, how often and for what species of game. Find out if the parents are hunt tested or field trialed through respected organizations such as NAVHDA, AKC, NSTRA, NADKC? If so, what level of testing have they completed and how well did they do? Do they hold any titles, if so what are they? A breeder who tests and trials their dogs at a high level is showing that the dogs they have produced are able to meet stringent standards. Not all breeders participate in hunt tests or trials but they should hunt their dogs.
After you purchase your puppy your breeder should be a resource for you. An educated and experienced breeder will know their dogs better than anyone. When you have questions about your dogs heat cycle, puppy teething, how to best crate them, how much you should be feeding them, how to introduce them to birds ect., the first person you should be calling or emailing is your breeder. A knowledgeable breeder will have those answers for you. They will steer you in the right direction and be supportive of your hunting endeavors. A good breeder doesn't disappear after you pay for the puppy and take them home.
Often times it can take a long time to get a puppy from a reputable breeder. Many breeders only have one or maybe two litters a year. Allot of those litters will be sold out in advance. You may luck out and they will have pups available but most often you will have to put a deposit on a litter and wait. Be patient. I know its hard and you want a puppy now but take that time to do research, attend hunt tests and field trials, talk to experienced handlers and get yourself prepared. When you do get your pup you will be that much more ahead of the game. Don't make the mistake of settling or taking a pup from someone who is not reputable. Sadly there are allot of backyard breeders and puppy mills out there. Educate yourself to protect yourself.
Just so we cover all the bases, here are some signs of backyard breeders and puppy mills:
~Carrying multiple hunting dog breeds
~Having lots of dogs kept in often times poor conditions
~No health clearances
~They can not produce or show lineage
~They have little to no hunting knowledge
~They ask little to no questions
Keep in mind that a puppy is also an immense amount of work. Purchasing a started dog is always an option. When doing that be sure to purchase a started dog from a reputable person as well. And of course there are always rescues. Some breed specific rescues will purposefully place rescued hunting dogs with families who are interesting in hunting. Be sure to cover all your bases before making any decisions. Remember once you get your pup your getting a 14 to 16 year companion. Make sure you have made the commitment to that pup for its life, through thick and thin, good hunting seasons and bad.
My only other warning is if you are a novice and looking to get into bird dog hunting be prepared to get addicted. Before you know it you'll be driving great distances to buy birds, spending your weekends building whoa tables and pigeon coops, you'll be kayaking across lakes doing duck searches and asking for gift certificates to Ugly Dog Hunting and Lion Country Supply for Christmas. Be prepared to do ridiculous things for the love of your dog. It starts as a hobby and becomes a lifestyle. But it all starts with a good breeder.....so make sure you choose educated.