September 02, 2011
What to Know When Buying a Started Gun Dog
By Chad Love
by Chad Love
As promised, here are a few started dog words of wisdom from Scott Berg of Berg Brothers Setters in Dayton, Minnesota. Since 1976 Scott and his brother Ben have been breeding some of the top English setters in the country. According to Berg, anyone looking to get a started dog needs to go into the process knowing exactly why a started dog is being sold.
"You have to understand that there are no trainers or breeders who are in the started dog business on purpose," he says. "Most of the started dogs being sold are going to be culls from field trialers or breeders who evaluate a lot of dogs and are highly selective about the dogs they end up keeping."
Berg adds that that doesn't mean those culled dogs aren't good dogs. "It just means that for whatever reason that dog didn't quite have the particular combination of traits the breeder or trainer was looking for. "Field trialers and breeders are looking for a whole list of qualities in a dog," he says. "And the reasons a dog may not make the cut for him may not matter at all to you."
As an example, Berg says they evaluate about 35 young dogs a year. "We've got a standardized rating system for our evaluations and what we're trying to do with our breeding program is get as many of those attributes as possible into one dog. It takes a really special dog to do that. Very few pass that test. Those that do, we keep for our breeding program and the rest get sold." But that doesn't mean those dogs won't make someone a fantastic gundog and companion, but Berg recommends asking questions about any started dog you're considering buying: Why did this dog get culled? What's your process for culling? What, exactly, can the dog do? "Know exactly what you want in a dog," says Berg. "Ask yourself if this particular dog fits your particular hunting style, and then base your search on the style of hunting you do. If you hunt New Jersey you're not going to want a big-running horseback trial dog. Fit the dog to the game."
As such, Berg won’t sell a pup based on a superficial characteristic like color. "Things like that tend to blur what really matters, like disposition, style, range. Certain dogs are going to work out better for people, and that's what you've got to do, properly match the dog to the person."
"A lot of hunters really like the younger dogs," Berg says. "They're old enough that you can take them hunting, get them on wild birds, but young enough to where they bond with you. A started dog can be a great way to get a great dog, as long as you do your homework."
*And as a follow-up to Wednesday's blog I wanted to highlight some fantastic first-hand advice from reader spentcartridge, because it's definitely worth repeating. He writes:
First and foremost, know the person who's selling the dog or know someone who recommends him (or her) highly. "Started" means different things to different people. The guy who sold me my dog said he would point, back and retrieve. I saw the dog point, once, and took his word for the rest of it. After I got him home and worked him a bit my impression is that the dog had, at some point, done all three things but he was far from reliable on any of them. It took three months at a trainer to get him really steady on point, the retrieving has been my summer project and the backing will just have to wait. Don't let any of this deter you, just don't jump the gun like I did. Before you plunk down your money, make the seller work the dog for you to your satisfaction.
Second, make sure the dog isn't gun shy. A lot of gun shy dogs end up being sold as started and will point a bird, but gun shyness is a lot harder to get out of an older dog than it is a pup.
And finally, show the same patience with a started dog that you would with a pup. Started doesn't mean finished and there's still going to be some work ahead of you.
Thanks, spentcartridge, that's some great advice, and I'm glad your dog ended up working out for you.