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Buying A Gun Dog

Finding your first pup begins with research—and word of mouth is a good place to start.

Spring is the time of the year most hunters are on the lookout for a new pup, one that will be ready to hunt in the fall.

If the person already has a good hunting dog, chances are a good breeder is only a phone call away.

But what if this is your first attempt at finding a good hunting dog? Where do you start?

First, stay away from the bargain dogs and stick with the quality dogs. When we look at quality dogs, it’s from $500 to $1000 a pup. You have to look at your dog as a 10- to 12-year investment, that’s why $500 to $1000 is fairly reasonable.

A person is looking at an investment of $1000 to $2000, even before buying the dog. There’s three visits to the vet a year, at least one bag of dog food per month, a car kennel, a backyard kennel, books, miscellaneous training tools, and the list keeps going.

My first recommendation is don’t buy a bargain dog, you’re buying into trainability problems and physical problems.

Getting Started

In picking out a specific breeder, word of mouth usually is pretty reliable, either going to an individual or a professional kennel. Also, there’s literature available from the North American Hunting Association, the Retriever Field Trial News, and Gun Dog magazine that lists reputable breeders.

There are a few precautions prospective buyers should take before deciding on a specific individual or kennel:

  • Look at the premises. 
    Make sure it’s clean. The seller should be open about the entire operation.
  • Ask to see the puppy’s pedigree. 
    When we look at the pedigree, we look at the parents and grandparents. The last resort is the third generation option. The pup gets 50 percent of its makeup from its parents, 25 from its grandparents and 12 percent from its great grandparents.
  • Ask to see the parents or pictures of the parents and grandparents.
  • Have the seller explain the dog’s characteristics, its trainability.
  • If the dog is from field trial stock, ask to see the title. I strongly recommend buying from field trial stock. The closer the pup is to the titled dog, I feel their trainability is stronger. I advise staying away from show ring bench dogs. They’re bred for looks and not field trainability.

If breeders can’t walk you through some of these fundamentals, say ‘thank you’ and be on your way.

My final note of advice: If they are very well-bred, you might as well close your eyes and grab a puppy. They’re like bookends.

Energy For Hunting Dogs

Diet and nutritional supplements are crucial to keeping a dog from running out of gas during lengthy hunting trips.

Most dogs, no matter how fit, will run out of gas on those three-and four-day hunting trips—if their diet isn’t properly supplemented with something that’s high in fat and protein.

As a trainer, I’ve heard all kinds of gimmicks to supplement dog food in the field. I’ve read and tried some of them myself.

It’s no secret that a dog needs more carbohydrates when in the field. We’ve all seen a dog break down from heat exhaustion or just plain overwork. With three of four days of hunting and all of its wear and tear, a dog can lose 20 percent to 30 percent of it’s body weight and all you’ve got left is skin and bones.

Some like to use boiled rice added to a meat broth, that’s a mess, but it works. There are better ways to do it.

Quality is key

What’s most important is that the dog’s regular food provides a good nutritional base. That means having a
good dry dog food, one that is 30 percent to 34 percent in meat protein and 16 percent to 20 percent in fat.
The idea behind that is if you feed them quality food, you have to feed them less, and you get less stool volume.
More importantly, it’s a good foundation. A dog needs a good nutritional base for stamina in the field.

It’s not unusual for a dog to need a 25 percent increase in its food consumption when in the field. Some may need even more, so each dog has to be looked at individually.

Some hunters supplement their dogs’ regular food with canned or moist, packaged dog food. This can be a problem because it gives dogs a loose stool and because of the lack of nutritional content, they don’t get the extra bump that they need.

A favored supplement

The supplement I have found to work best is Energy Pak, a high-energy powder developed by National Dog Food in New Holstein, Wis. Energy Pak originally was designed for sled dogs. Sled dog racers have the same problem we have in the field—when dogs are working hard, they don’t eat or drink.

What first caught my eye is that is serves as a water bait. Put it in water, and the dogs will just lap it up. It minimizes dehydration, and more importantly, its high fat and protein content acts as an energy booster. Energy Pak is 32 percent protein and 38 percent fat and does not cause loose stools.

When sprinkled on food, dogs will eat their food during difficult times of stress, when they normally wouldn’t eat. I also put it in their water midday for an extra energy boost. I have been using it for three years.

You don’t have to give a dog a lot of it, maybe a third of a cup all day. A 4-pound bag will last my three dogs a whole season. It’s goes a long way.

Avoid the chocolate Probably the biggest mistake a hunter can make is giving the dog a midday chocolate snack.

It may seem like a nice approach, but a dog may react badly to chocolate. Too much chocolate can be fatal to a dog.

A Car Kennel As A Training Tool

What’s the first training tool an owner should get for a new puppy or dog?

A canvas dummy?

A dummy launcher?

A check chord?

A portable kennel should be the first order of business for a new dog owner.

No matter what you call them—a dog crate, a dog carrier or portable kennel—or which style you pick, this particular product is a must as a training tool to start out a pup or new dog.

This is based on the premise that most dogs like their own space; it’s their home away from home, kind of a security blanket. When a dog is properly introduced, it’s a very positive tool for early socializing, but more importantly for setting ground rules so the dog can avoid getting into trouble.

Introducing the dog to the kennel is the key to successfully using its new home as a training tool. It should be done with some patience, the idea being that you never should force a dog into any situation.

A good way to introduce a new puppy or dog to a portable kennel is to place it in a high traffic area, such as the

kitchen or TV room. At first, it’s all right to use treats or food to get the dog to go into the kennel. After a couple days, the dog will realize it’s very positive to go in the kennel.

Owners should avoid putting newspaper or anything else in the kennel that will collect odor. By using the

portable kennel as a training tool, an owner accomplishes two things. First, rules are established for the dog as well as giving it a secure and comfortable home.

An owner should be consistent in responding to a pup’s need of going to the bathroom. The owner should set up a schedule to allow the puppy to out to an area to go to the bathroom. More importantly, the puppy should be let outside right after it eats or wakes up.

Once the dog has adjusted to the kennel, the length of stays in it can be increased—without food as a reward. After that, a dog can be confined in the kennel when no one is home.

After a regular routine for the kennel has been established in the home, the owner should carry that training to a vehicle. At first, the new dog should be taken on short trips that eventually can be lengthened.

A portable car kennel protects a dog from injuring itself. As for being used as a tool for hunting, a portable kennel keeps the dog from becoming a nuisance, whether as a prevention from chewing something up in a vehicle or creating other trouble, such as making noise during the hunt. What we’re doing is we’re instilling manners and not allowing the pup or older dog to get into a situation where it’ll fail you.

All About Kennels

Car Kennels come in varied styles, materials, and sizes. Some are approved for airline travel, yet some very simple in design—made just for use in a house or vehicle.

There are basically three kinds of commercial portable kennels: aluminum, wire, and molded plastic.

The plastic version, such as the Porta Pet, is available at most local sporting and retail stores and usually can be purchased for about $100.

Following is a list of places for ordering some other models, which range in price from about $80 to $300.

• Zinger Aluminum Dog Crate.

• Custom Molding.

• Jones Trailers

• Bitter Creek Dog Boxes

• Ruff Tough Kennels

One error some owners make is buying a kennel that is too big. Dogs don’t need all that space, and if a buddy goes hunting with you, two kennels can be put side-by-side in the back of most hunting vehicles.

A Backyard Kennel: Home Sweet Home

When a couple is awaiting a new baby, they usually have accommodations ready before the little one comes home.

The new owner of a gun dog puppy should make the same commitment. The first thing I ask new dog owners is what kind of kennel they are going to keep their new pup in.

I always stress the importance of a good kennel.

In this day and age, our life- styles are broken down into minutes, and most of us don’t have the time to do that constant baby-sitting. A kennel eliminates that responsibility.

There’s always a time where you as an individual has to leave your dog unsupervised. A kennel is a controlled environment. It offers an area where your dog can get fresh air and the use of a corner for a bathroom. It’s their spot.

A dog kennel is an owners No. 1 training tool. It’s a place where your dog can sleep, but more importantly, a place where your dog can’t get into trouble, such as running around the neighborhood, chasing cars, playing keep-away with the kids.

The run of the house provides too many opportunities for a dog to get into trouble. Puppies will chew us everything and anything they can get their little teeth on.

Bring a dog in the house once in a while, but when not under supervision, they’re in the kennel.

The Dog House

Here are some suggestions on building a doghouse and a kennel:

  • Construct the doghouse coming out of a building (shed, garage, etc.) This allows the dog access during poor weather and makes for a nice training gear work bench.
  • Insulate Walls
  • Cover all corners that the dog may chew with Sheetrock corners or metal stripping.
  • Elevate and insulate a plywood floor. Let the dog sleep on it in the summer, since carpet or other materials retain moisture, dirt, bacteria and could cause health problems. In the winter, buy a 60-watt electric fiberglass heat mat; avoid straw or hay messes.
  • A good-fitting door. The opening should not be any larger than 13 by 18 inches.

An Attached Kennel.

  • It needn’t be larger than 4 by 10 feet. A smooth concrete floor allows for easy cleaning;
  • a gutter constructed at the end of the run can be hooked up to a septic system.
  • A 6-by-5-by-16-inch block base allows for easy cleaning.
  • For cleaning, a full swinging gate at the end of the kennel.
  • On the gate, a foot of chain hooped and closed with a lock