Owning a gundog isn’t necessarily a cheap undertaking, but then the best things in life never are. For me, a labrador is just about as good as it gets when it comes to owning gundogs. So what are the up-front costs, the running costs and the hidden costs? These are not easy figures to calculate because owning a dog always comes with its fair share of surprises. One piece of advice that should not be ignored is: always resist a bargain because there’s no such thing as a good gundog puppy going cheap, even more so if you’re shopping for something part-trained or even fully-trained.

Just to bring things up to date, the Kennel Club has been registering around 45,000 labrador pups a year, making the breed the UK’s most popular dog. However, latest figures show fewer pups have been registered over the last 12 months – a trend welcomed by those of us who are concerned about the widespread commercial production of labradors.

Avoid false economies when buying a gundog puppy

I have written before about the price of well-bred labrador pups. If there is to be fair recompense for the time and investment that goes into the bitch having the pups– including all her health tests, which can mop up hundreds of pounds– plus the stud fee and cost of rearing a gundog puppy to a high standard of care and nutrition, the gundog puppy need to be at least £800.

Buyers who don’t baulk at paying that amount of cash for a day’s shooting, or many times that sum for a decent gun, shouldn’t bat an eyelid at spending that to gain around a decade of work and companionship.

We all know many a gundog puppy is available at half that price. The risk is that if anything goes wrong with a cheaply bought pup’s health and vet costs are incurred, or the pup fails to meet the required standard of work, your bargain becomes 10 years of dissatisfied ownership. We all know about dogs that don’t even get out of the car on shoot days! So invest wisely in a pup and don’t cut corners on cost.

For the first seven months or so – after jabs costing around £60 – feed is the main overhead; feeding a dog a reputable brand of complete food shouldn’t cost more than about £4 a week, or slightly more in the shooting season. But don’t skimp on food quality – it’s a false economy.

A gundog puppy sent away for basic training at eight-months old is the preferred option for some. Costs vary but good boarding kennels now charge £10 a day, so adding training fees on top means weekly bills could be £130 upwards. Some trainers only charge £100 a week but you pay your money and you take your choice – always make sure the training methods and standard of care are acceptable.

Insurance is a vexed topic among owners of shooting dogs. Monthly premiums vary hugely up to almost £30. You get what you pay for so read the small print. It’s no good expecting the policy to pick up a claim for an injury sustained out shooting if the policy doesn’t cover dogs at work.

The good, part-trained youngster is a real find. Some are totally genuine and ideal for those who don’t want the commitment of a baby pup. Others are being off-loaded because of a fault, or have been pushed-on hard by clever trainers – a situation that usually sees the wheels fall off the wobbly wagon as soon as the novice owner takes over.

If you want a part-trained dog you should consider ordering it well in advance. Some breeders would be prepared to run a gundog puppy on from a litter and sell it to you later once the training had reached whatever stage you required. If the dog is well-reared, well-trained and from a responsible breeder it won’t be cheap – but you only have to buy this dog once and all the preparation will have been done.

If you do go out into the marketplace for a part-trained dog, only buy from a responsible breeder or someone you can trust.

Part-trained dogs that develop a fault or aren’t progressing well – or perhaps need to be cashed for financial reasons – are often off-loaded for under £1,000. But if you are looking for a genuine dog that has been ‘started’, expect to pay at least £1,500 and probably more. Don’t penny pinch if your penchant is for part-trained. The ones we have sold in recent years have all been to owners who had driven many fruitless miles looking at young dogs that were so often a disappointment.

Meanwhile, the fully-trained dog is a bit of a rarity. They do come on to the market, sometimes for genuine reasons that can make the hefty investment required look like better value than buying a part-trained dog, especially if you are struggling to find the latter. How a seller defines “fully-trained” can be an issue though, and a thorough assessment of the dog’s ability, temperament and its reaction and response to you must be taken into consideration.

Choose your gundog puppy wisely

I would want to see a fully-trained dog on a shoot day before committing to it. That may not always be possible but the horror stories are not in short supply on this topic, so proceed with caution. Again, it’s a case of making sure you’re buying from a reputable source.

Fully-trained dogs are advertised from around £3,000 upwards – still a snip in my book if the dog is good enough. If it’s a bitch and you can have a litter at some stage, this could even repay your investment.

I’m not sure why there is an issue over how much buyers are prepared to pay for working labradors. I certainly don’t want to see it happen, but auction sales of working sheepdogs are still held at leading livestock auctions specialising in providing sheep farmers and sheepdog trial enthusiasts with ample choice. The market determines the price – up to £8,000 has just been paid for a collie – so it’s a sobering thought to imagine what prices keen shots or gundog test and trial supporters would be prepared to pay for top quality working labradors sold through the ring!

For more gundog breeding advice from Shooting Gazette click here