DULUTH, Minn. — It’s spring. Time for renewal. Time for fresh starts. Time to get a new hunting puppy.
Not that there's any bad time, but house training, walks and field training with pup are just a lot easier when the grass is growing and it’s not 20 below zero outside. That’s why many hunters pick spring and early summer to acquire their new puppies. It’s also when females come into heat and can be bred successfully. About two months later the pups are born.
Most breeders will start showing photos and even videos of their litters within a few days on websites and on Facebook. After about six weeks, the pups have already developed unique characteristics, or traits, and will start to show their instincts like pointing or retrieving. At eight weeks, most pups are ready to be hand-picked and go to their new forever home. (Folks who pony up a deposit first usually get the first pick, so get in line early once you decide on a litter.)
Yes, you can go to any dog adoption center and find a dog that might hunt. But if you want to be sure, it’s best to prioritize what hunting you do most and pick a breed that’s best suited for that kind of hunting. And pick a breed that’s best suited for you. How much time will you really have for training? Will it be a family dog? How much space do you have?
Moreover, so-called "line breeding,’’ where breeders mate the best dogs available, helps ensure that the best characteristics of that breed are passed on to subsequent generations — not just hunting prowess but also health traits like eyes, hips and other genetic issues. Not always, but often enough to pay the higher price, and just like with race horses, champion dogs produce champion dogs.
We talked to several breeders about why they ended up with their breed, pointers and retrievers, why it’s their favorite and what kind of hunting they do. (Interestingly, some breeders say the COVID-19 pandemic has more people buying puppies because many folks have more time available for training. But other breeders said the pandemic’s financial insecurity has people scared away from making any unnecessary purchases.)
So get a pile of old newspapers. Stock up on Puppy Chow. Hide any shoes you cherish. Get ready for some sleepless nights. Go find a pup now and you'll have a new hunting companion this fall. Certainly not a finished champion yet, but a new friend afield.
German wirehaired pointers
Why did you choose this breed? “I chose Wirehairs because I waterfowl hunt in multiple states and they are reliable water retrievers and can take the cold fairly well. I also hunt grouse, woodcock, pheasants, sharptail, huns and three types of quail … They are very loving, loyal dogs that will hunt just about everything. I have used them to track deer, bear and wounded turkeys. They sleep in the house with me and go on our daily walks.”
How long have you been hunting with his breed? Since 1986.
How long have you been breeding this breed? Since 1987.
What type of hunting do you use them for? “I’ve hunted (across Canada and the U.S) for pheasants. They are great for pheasants. But I like sharptails and huns best, the prairie birds … and ruffed grouse, too.”
What’s your favorite thing about this breed? “In my humble opinion, which isn’t all that humble, I think (wirehairs) just want birds more than other breeds. They have lots of drive … They suit me so well because they will do anything. They are intelligent, competent dogs.”
What should a prospective puppy buyer look for in this breed? “Look for parents who were (field) tested, that have some kind of field credentials. Everybody says their dogs are great hunters, but make sure they have some test scores to prove it. Make sure they are health certified ... OFA certified hips … and, with this breed now, OFA-certified thyroid.”
What advice would you give a new puppy owner specific to your breed? “ I don’t let them do things as a puppy that I don’t want them to do as an adult … Socialization is a huge part of making a good dog and we start at day two of life.” Wirehairs “need more exercise and more attention than most Labradors. They need a job. Even if it's just throwing puppy bumpers, it has to be several times a week, as often as possible. They are sitting and thinking all the time so if you don’t give them a job, they will find something to do and it probably won’t be in your favor.”
How do people decide between male or female puppy? “It's a personal preference. I train to a high level and I think the males handle that better. Females sometimes get a little fussy when you try to make them do things they don’t want to do. I’ve had great female labs. But all my great wirehairs have been males.”
Do you/will you have puppies available for sale this spring/summer? “Possibly. We have two breedings planned coming up, hopefully soon.”
How much can someone expect to pay for a quality dog of this breed? From $1,200 to $1,700.
Anna B Rose Kennels
Why did you choose this breed? “I chose Brittanys when I was 12, my cousin from Ely, Minn., had one and took me grouse hunting. When she locked on point it was a beautiful sight to me. I was just fascinated with the fact that I couldn't see the grouse nor believed that one was there until my cousin approached where she was pointing and a grouse flushed and he dropped it. I was dumbfounded and hooked at that moment.”
How long have you been hunting with his breed? 46 years.
How long have you been breeding this breed? 17 years.
What type of hunting do you use them for? “My primary use for Brittanys is the ruffed grouse, mainly because that is what is predominant around (northern Wisconsin). In the past I have hunted pheasants.”
What’s your favorite thing about this breed? “...the flexibility of the breed. They make great companions, they are eager to please their owners. They can easily adapt to hunting, being in the house, and a great sidekick.”
What should a prospective puppy buyer look for in this breed? "Look at the breeder's intentions. Is the breeder looking just to make money? Does the breeder do health checks before they breed? Are the hips OFA certified good or excellent, are the elbows tested normal? Does the breeder provide some sort of guarantee and stand behind his breeder program? Is the breeder keeping a pup? Why is the breeder having a litter? How often does the breeder have puppies?” With Brittanys it may matter less if you get a field-bred or show-bred dog, Massoglia says. “Check the pedigrees, don't be afraid if a dog has a show title. The Brittany has the most dual champions in sporting dogs. That means they excel in the field as well. Look for titles behind the name a JH, SH, or MH means that they qualified as hunters. MH is the highest hunt test title.”
What advice would you give a new puppy owner specific to your breed? “A Brittany is an active dog, however it can adjust to any lifestyle. The Brittany has an unfair reputation as a ‘hyper’ dog. A Brittany, like any other breed, takes on the personality of its owner, if you are nervous they will be nervous, if you are calm, they'll be calm. Also, a Brittany does not respond well to a heavy hand or a lot of hollering.”
How do people decide between a male or female puppy? I think people have a gender predetermined in their mind. Either gender will adapt well. Boys seem to want to hunt for you and be with you 24/7 and are very loving.
Do you/will you have puppies available for sale this spring/summer? “At this time all of our puppies are spoken for. We already have two on our (waiting) list for future litters, whenever that will be.
How much can someone expect to pay for a quality dog of this breed? From $900 to $1,200.
(Editors note: Formerly called Brittany spaniels, the spaniel name was dropped in 1982 because the breed points, while true spaniels flush. Now you know. )
Bob’s Romeo Kennels
Why did you choose this breed? “When I first moved to Duluth, became acquainted with (longtime professional dog trainer) Joe DeLoia through trap shooting. He recommended to both my wife and myself we should get a lab if you are going to hunt ducks. So my wife gave me a black Lab male for Christmas.”
How long have you been hunting with this breed? Since 1961.
How long have you been breeding this breed? Since 1974.
What type of hunting do you use them for? Ducks and geese, pheasants, ruffed grouse, sharptail grouse.
What’s your favorite thing about this breed? “They are great pets, compassionate, learn quickly, want to please and have great hunting instincts. This breed is truly an all-purpose breed, I prefer to breed smaller to mid size dogs. My first dog from Joe weighed 88 pounds, which was a canoe tipper. I was determined to wait for smaller framed labs. Subsequently developed a partnership in 1974 with "Pizza Bill" Mattson (an Iron Ranger) with a dog named Kidd, which became the primary source for our mother dogs, that was of the same bloodline of Joe Hubert's famous Buck.”
What should a prospective puppy buyer look for in this breed? “First, define the prospective buyer, are they active, outdoor people? Are they stay at home people? Are they elderly needing a couch dog? Do they plan to hunt the dog as well as have a house pet? Will they compete with the dog in field trials or hunt tests? A well-bred lab will have higher energy with strong prey drive, should not be moody, needs to be active outdoors and will want to learn and will be attracted to water. They are water dogs as a breed characteristic and have a good off switch to develop good manners in the house which requires training.”
What advice would you give a new puppy owner specific to your breed? “Make sure you and the puppy have fun learning. Make it fun to train. Don't be heavy handed. Be patient. Be playful with feathers or training dummies. Be full of praise for little things.”
How do people decide between male or female puppy? Most people make inquiries for a specific sex (they already have a) strong opinion about male or female. I try to neutralize that opinion when the best choice for their needs might be different than what they want. Generally the difference is as simple as males like to come to you for love and attention while females want you to come to them. Is that 100% correct? No. but it does have tendencies to follow that pattern.” Other issues include females coming into heat.
Do you/will you have puppies available for sale this spring/summer? “Yes, Romeo Kennel's has plans for four litters this summer including yellow, fox red and black labs.”
How much can someone expect to pay for a quality dog of this breed? “From $250 to $2,500. Because of the championship lines our prices will range from $1,200 to $2,500 depending on cost of stud fee, accreditation of both male and female and source of semen.”
Chesapeake Bay retrievers
Ball Bluff Kennels
Chuck and Vickie Lehman
Why did you choose this breed? “When my husband and I first got married 37 years ago he had a black lab (that was) hunting bred. He lost him to congestive heart disease. I told him we could have another hunting dog but not a lab. So he went out and brought home a dead grass Chesapeake Bay retriever pup. At that moment I said ‘oh that thing is uglier than the lab.’ Here we are 37 years later and my heart belongs to the Chesapeake Bay retriever.”
How long have you been hunting with his breed? 37 years
How long have you been breeding this breed? 34 years
What type of hunting do you use them for? Waterfowl and some upland birds.
What’s your favorite thing about this breed? “Their loyalty, the ability to think and reason in the field or in other words. (Their) natural ability and the love they have for children.”
What should a prospective puppy buyer look for in this breed? “A well bred dog to start off with. A breeder who is going to give them support for the life of their dog, not just the sale. Give them the pros and cons of the breed, like their coat being a little oily and may have a little smell due to double coat. Their protective instinct to keep their family safe and (so that means) socialization (between the dogs and people) is huge so they don’t become over protective.”
What advice would you give a new puppy owner specific to your breed? “Socialization. Socialization. Socialization. And lots of exercise.”
How do people decide between male or female puppy? “It is usually what people have always had.”
Do you/will you have puppies available for sale this spring/summer? “Yes (we) currently have pups.
How much can someone expect to pay for a quality dog of this breed? $850 to $1,200
Dean and Jill Fries
Why did you choose this breed? “I wanted a pointing dog for hunting grouse and I wanted something that was a little different, that wasn’t common. And I just loved the way Gordon setters looked.”
How long have you been hunting with his breed? 37 years
How long have you been breeding this breed? 35 years
What type of hunting do you use them for? Mostly grouse and woodcock. But a lot of our dogs go off to places for quail and pheasants and even chukar partridges. Any upland birds.”
What’s your favorite thing about this breed? “I just love the way they hunt. The way they move in the woods. How well they point. But I think the best thing is that Gordon setters make such fantastic family dogs. They are part of the family. They can turn it on when they are in the woods and turn it off, be mellow, in the home. My kid’s dogs sleep with them in their beds.”
What should a prospective puppy buyer look for in this breed? “First, pick a reputable breeder. Because once you go look at puppies you will go home with one. Then look at the (puppy’s parents.) That’s where a lot of its character is coming from. Look for a puppy that will point a feather you throw out. They should be doing that at 7-8 weeks. Look for ones that like to carry things around in their mouth.”
What advice would you give a new puppy owner specific to your breed? “If you are going to hunt, get a field-bred dog, not a show dog. Field bred dogs are more athletic, a little smaller, and come from dogs that hunted. Show dogs are bred for their coats and their size and their appearance, not hunting.”
How do people decide between male or female puppy? “Personal choice, really. Male dogs will have a little blockier head. They may have a little more drive, but not always. Females may be a bit more even tempered.”
Do you/will you have puppies available for sale this spring/summer? “Our current puppies were all sold before they came ... We’ll have two more litters’’ available in July.
How much can someone expect to pay for a quality dog of this breed? From $1,000 to $1,500.
Male or female?
Most breeders say that most of their dog buyers already know if they want a male or a female. It’s often a matter of what they’ve “always had.” But if you don’t have a strong preference, here are some observations from longtime lab owner, hunter and breeder Bob Owens of Duluth:
— Males tend to be a little bigger than the girls, but not always. Folks often say that the girls are “sweeter” than boys, they do not have any bad habits and they just make better family pets. It was not until we were given our first male that I realized this was totally wrong.
— A dog's personality traits are influenced by their hormones. By spaying and neutering, you will lessen this influence and the differences become less pronounced. If you neuter your male puppy before he reaches maturity (around 2 years old) he will not develop those “bad” traits that give the male dog a bad rap. He won't feel the need to hike his leg, hump or mark his territory. In fact, most all males when neutered as puppies will squat just like girls. He also will not feel the need to chase females in heat while he is out for his daily walk.
— A female puppy, when spayed, will lose many “bad” traits, too. She will not have a heat cycle every 6 months and bring the mess that comes with it. A female in heat can be very moody. You won't have to deal with that if she is spayed. Females tend to be a bit more demanding, and besides wanting to please you, they expect you to please them in return. They've often got their own agendas, and will let you know what they want. The boys seem to be content to lie by your feet and simply enjoy your company.