5 Tips for Picking the Perfect Bird Dog Puppy

A high-quality gun dog adds riches to your life. But a lot of pups for sale are genetically designed to be nice-looking nitwits that bring their owners nothing but frustration and embarrassment. So how can you tell the good from the bad?

[1] LOOK AT THE PARENTS The qualities of the parents tell you more than anything in a pup's papers about what it will look like, how good its nose will be, and how it will behave. That's why you should never buy from a breeder whose claims cannot be checked. TIP: Ask to see the parents work. Pointing-dog parents should be close- working bird finders, not runaways that disappear and hunt out of control. The parents of good retriever prospects retrieve enthusiastically without any frantic activity.

[2] CHECK THEIR HEALTH Make sure you see a veterinary certificate showing that the pups you're interested in are in excellent health and have been wormed and inoculated with DHLPP vaccine. TIP: Arrange to see the litter at feeding time. A healthy pup eats eagerly, has a firm covering of flesh, and is happy and robust, not timid, spooky, thin, or runny-eyed.

[3] TEST THEIR TEMPERAMENT One by one, gently pick up the pups. Before putting each one down, turn it on its back for a moment. A pup that snaps at your hand or struggles wildly when held on its back momentarily is hypersensitive and may be difficult to train. One that just lies there may be dull. You want one that wiggles but doesn't go crazy. TIP: Male or female? The only absolute difference is that females come in heat. In my experience, females are extra-affectionate and sometimes handle with less effort in the field.

[4] TAKE THEM FOR A TEST DRIVE Take the pups you like outside one by one and apply these tests. Their responses will indicate how they may respond to training later. Test 1: Walk away. Does the pup romp along beside you or ignore your departure? Test 2: Stop walking, clap your hands, and squat down on one knee. Does the pup run up to you or wander off on its own business? Test 3: Crumple up a paper and throw it in plain view. The pup should show healthy curiosity and run after it.

[5] TRUST YOUR GUT By now you should have narrowed your choices down to a few pups. If one appeals to you more than the others for some unexplainable reason, play your hunch and take it. If a final choice seems impossible, just reach in and grab one of them.

TIP: Before making your final pick, check the pup's temperature: 101.5 degrees is normal; anything between 101 and 102 is acceptable.