When buying a puppy there are many factors you need to consider. Trainer Margaret Allen gives some advice.

Choosing a gundog puppy that’s right for you

Once you have decided on the breed of gundog puppy you want, the colour and the sex, you should try to see both parents; perhaps you will have been lucky enough to see them in action in the shooting field or in field trials.

Ideally, you should meet them and weigh up their character.

  • Are they happy and friendly?
  • Is either of them nervous or noisy?
  • Do they retrieve nicely to hand?
  • Do you like them both?
  • What did the breeder hope to achieve by putting the two together?
springer spaniel

You need a biddable puppy that can be trained to retrieve to hand in the field

When you are looking at puppies, don’t just buy the first one you see — it is easy to be tempted as they are all so enchanting. Take your time and, if possible, have someone knowledgeable with you. Ask the breeder to put away the ones that are not the colour, markings or sex you are after. Watch the rest to see what each puppy does: one may make straight for the feed shed, while one jumps up at your legs, or hides in a corner. Don’t dismiss any at this stage.

gundog puppies

What to look for when choosing a gundog puppy

Ask if you can handle them and pick them up one by one. I hold each puppy up to face me first to see if I like its expression and if it has a dark eye. This does not apply to Weimaraners as they are supposed to have amber or blue-grey eyes and some liver- and-white spaniels have light brown eyes. I check to see if the front teeth meet in a scissor bite (the top incisors just overlapping the lower).

Then I turn the puppy to one side to see if that view is pleasing. I turn back the coat of the flank just in front of the hind leg: if it is thick here it will usually end up being thick all over. I check to see if there is an umbilical hernia: this can be felt as a swelling protruding from the belly, about the size of a pea. A small hernia shouldn’t be a concern, but a larger one may need surgery. I then lay the puppy on its back on my lap; if it struggles to right itself and escape, it may not be as easy to train as a quiet, accepting animal.

  • When running about, the puppy’s legs should seem strong and it should move straight.
  • I like to see good tail action (in the field, the tail tells you what the nose is finding out, which is why I don’t like to see a spaniel docked too short — there should be about one third left).
  • A tail shouldn’t be held too high or curl over the back.
  • A puppy should look bright and clean. If this is not the case, it may not be well.
  • If there is anything you don’t like about a puppy, don’t buy it, and if something about the vendor seems wrong, it probably is. It’s important to follow your instincts.
  • Make sure the paperwork is all in order, particularly with the docked breeds, and that the parents have had the relevant health checks for hereditary problems in the breed.
  • The vendor should not object to your having a veterinary surgeon check the puppy over before you make the final decision.

choosing a gundog puppy

Weighing up the cost

As regards price, puppies vary greatly according to breed, where they originate from and whether they are Kennel Club-registered. This last might not matter to you, but the parents will probably not have had any health checks. Puppies from first-cross matings, such as springadors and sprockers, have their appeal and the parents may have had the necessary health checks, but these puppies and subsequent progeny cannot be registered.

Unregistered puppies are generally half the price of registered ones. Spaniels are usually cheaper to buy than retrievers or the hunt, point and retrieve breeds. Puppies from counties in the south, especially near London, are often priced higher than those from the northern counties or Scotland.

Spring is the best time of year to acquire a puppy, as it will have the summer weather to grow up in. The long daylight hours are an excellent time for bonding and house training.

Choosing a puppy is a lottery because they change so much while growing up, but make sure you choose the puppy you planned to have.