Buying a pup is by far the most common option for those venturing into gundog ownership for the first time. It’s not always a decision taken on the basis of cost and is more likely to be rooted in the idea of enjoying a life-long relationship from a tender age.

Many puppy buyers would never consider taking on a part or fully-trained gundog for the reasons mentioned above and because of the higher initial outlay. But for those about to buy a gundog it’s worth comparing the pros and cons across the full spectrum of age and experience and evaluating how to get the best possible value.

Puppy prices vary considerably and it’s very much a case of getting what you pay for. There are always huge numbers of labrador pups on the market and you only have to browse one of the mainstream puppy sales internet sites to realise that. But what should you be looking for in terms of price tag?

Good breeding comes at a price

Gundog websites and classified advertisements in magazines offer the full gamut on puppy prices. But as a general rule, the cheaper pups are those that, while having a working pedigree, may not be well-bred in terms of having proven sire and dam lines.

Now I know I am jumping into a cauldron of hot fat here and there will be those who say they can, and have, picked up pups of this type for “little money” that have gone on to become excellent working gundogs. My retort is that while that may be the case, there is a greater risk of acquiring undesirable traits compared with buying a puppy of proven breeding.

Pups from unproven stock whose parents have not been hip or eye tested tend to be priced at around £400. If the buyer is desperate to sell – and often these pups can be tricky to move – they can be bought for even less. But as I say, you get what you pay for and in this case you are undoubtedly buying a lot of unknowns when it comes to the pup’s ultimate working ability and its long-term health.

If you go up a gear and decide to buy a well-bred pup from fully health-tested parents of proven ability – and there isn’t the space here to debate the issue of the true value of field-trial sired pups for the average shooting man – you can expect to pay £650-£800. At a time when designer mongrels are selling at these prices, as well as many other pedigree breeds, this isn’t hugely expensive. After all, this pup is expected to develop into a gundog that will give at least 10 years of service in the field.

A false economy from the beginning

Remember that all pups cost the same to vaccinate and rear, and demand the same amount of time to train. Trying to save a few hundred pounds at the outset is false economy on a grand scale. And if the pup develops any health issues because of its indiscriminate breeding, or fails to train up to the desired standard, many months of time and considerable sums of money will have been wasted.

And it’s also worth considering, particularly for anyone buying a bitch pup, that if there is an intention to breed from them, the subsequent pups will have greater value if the dam is well-bred and healthy.

All the PR being pushed out by the Kennel Club is now urging puppy buyers to ask more questions about the health checks of the parents of pups being offered for sale. So as the public becomes increasingly cost-conscious in these straitened times, we are going to see buyers becoming more discerning and less inclined to “buy cheap” and risk subsequent health issues.

So it makes it even more sense to look well ahead when buying a pup you may wish to breed from.

Part-trained gundogs

I am not sure why the value of gundogs, in terms of selling price, has languished for so long and in particular during a time when the cost of shooting and all the trappings that go with it have increased.

This has been most particularly notable in the marketplace for part-trained gundogs. The buyer of a part-trained gundog takes the decision either because he doesn’t want the hassle of a young pup or because he prefers to buy something that has been “started” and is going to arrive partly-programmed and ready to progress beyond the basics.

While it is often assumed that part-trained gundogs are only offered because the seller has spotted a trait he doesn’t like, that certainly isn’t always the case.

It’s important to be vigilant when buying a part-trained gundog. If you have never done it before, I suggest taking someone experienced along with you to look at the gundog. Part-trained can mean widely different things in terms of what training has been undertaken, but it can be a worthwhile option and regularly offers exceptional value.

It’s just as important to be aware of breeding and health testing when purchasing a part-trained gundog. And if the gundog is more than a year old I would expect it to have at least had its hips and eyes tested. Part-trained gundogs are often bought very cheaply – not much above puppy price – in circumstances where the owner needs to off-load for some reason. I would suggest caution when considering investing in one of these bargain-basement youngsters.

It’s not uncommon to see part-trained youngsters offered at around £750. But any gundog that is well bred, hip and eye tested (or at least from health-tested parents) and can be demonstrated to prove it has achieved a good standard of basic training should be at least £1,500 or even more. This is assuming the gundog is not gun-shy.

Considering there’s not much change out of £100 a week to send a gundog away to be trained, anyone looking at a well-bred labrador at around 12-14 months old and expecting to buy it for less than £1,000 is now in cloud cuckoo land!

Fully-trained bargains

And so we come to what many shooting men would consider the ultimate purchase – the fully-trained gundog. They can often be found at prices that make a mockery of the time and expertise responsible breeders devote to producing labradors for the shooting field.

So the £2,000-£2,500 fully-trained labrador is out there. It’s not a value I believe has any connection whatsoever with the work that has actually gone into to producing such a gundog if it is truly fully-trained. Double that figure and perhaps it begins to reflect the effort invested in getting a gundog to that stage.

Yes, there will be gundogs on the market that can command their true value and buyers who are prepared to pay it, but while there are still gundogs being off-loaded at low prices, it will continue to distort the ability of buyers to make a worthwhile assessment of how much they should be paying.

For those about to venture into the gundog-buying market this spring, I would suggest doing some careful homework before parting with any cash. Talk to established breeders and anyone with gundog experience who can help you make a wise and considered purchase.

For more gundog health advice click here