The Pros and Cons of Buying a Started Gun Dog

The path to pointing dog ownership (or any gundog, for that matter) doesn't always begin with picking up a wiggling puppy. Everyone's situation is different and for many of us, starting from from scratch with a pup just isn't an option.

If that's the case, you can either (shudder) hunt dogless, pick your hunting buddies based not on their qualities, but those of their dogs, lease a dog (no, really...) choose a rescue (future blog on that topic...) or you can buy a "started" dog, which, depending on the somewhat ephemeral definition of "started", means anything from a dog that once saw a picture of a quail to a dog that's essentially ready to hunt.

I am, for the most part, a puppy person. I've never bought a started dog and, prior to this year, never even gave the idea much thought. Now, however, I'm giving at least semi-serious thought to the idea of buying a young started setter. Why? Circumstances. I have two dogs right now: One old retriever and one young setter. My retriever is getting up in years, so this winter or spring I'll be looking for a new chessie pup with the idea that by the time the old lady's ready to retire I'll have the young dog ready for a seamless transition. However, I'd also like to have two setters so I can rotate dogs on extended bird hunts. Now I love pups as much as the next guy, but the thought of trying to keep up with both a retriever pup and a setter pup at the same time, while also trying to find time for work, family and fishing, doesn't much appeal to me, no matter how cute they are.

Enter the started setter (Or pointer. Or shorthair. Or Britt, etc, etc,). A dog old enough, and with enough training (basic obedience, collar-conditioned, whoa-broke, maybe steady to wing and a few training birds shot) to hit the ground running this fall, but young enough (most started dogs fall into the eight-month to year-and-a-half range) to really bond with you and your family. If you do your due diligence and pick wisely, there's a lot of upside to buying a started dog.

You get a known quantity, whereas with a pup all you're getting is - as a friend of mine succinctly put it - "slobbery kisses and hope." You might even save some money. While at first glance a $1,500 or $2,000 started dog may seem expensive, when weighed against the typical costs associated with a puppy (purchase price, vet bills, food) it's not too far out of line with what you'd be paying, anyway. Add in the cost of the training the dog has already received (pro training at anywhere from $500 a month and up, sometimes much up) and a started dog suddenly starts looking like a bargain.

But what should you know before you start your search for a started dog? What should you look out for? What expectations should you have? On Friday I'll give you a few tips on buying a started dog from a pro trainer and breeder of some of the top English setters in the country, but in the meantime I'm curious: any readers ever bought a started dog (pointer, flusher or retriever)? What was your experience? Would you do it again?