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How to choose a gundog puppy

On the hunt for a gundog puppy this spring? Here's what you need to be thinking about.

black Labrador puppy

Which breed?

First of all, you need to decide which gundog breed will suit your shooting needs and also your life. When choosing a gundog puppy breed remember that most gundogs are only out in the field for three or four months a year. So how are you going to occupy the dog the rest of the time?

How large is your garden? Do you live in a very rural setting or in a town? Can you cope with a high energy dog like a working cocker? Make sure you pick a puppy with a personality that will suit yours. If you like everything to be exact and precise, then a retriever breed may suit you.

Once you have decided on the breed you want, the colour and the sex, you should try to see both parents. Seeing them in the action in the shooting field or at field trials is ideal.

Health testing has become a big issue in most of the gundog breeds. Research into your chosen breeds so you can make an informed decision.

Choosing a gundog puppy

Take note of how the puppy walks and runs

What’s the right time of year for choosing a gundog puppy?

Spring or early summer are the best time for most people. Practical matters like house training and developing basic retrieving skills are more difficult in winter. In addition if you get a puppy in the spring your dog should be good to go the season after next.

16 things you need to know BEFORE buying a gundog puppy 

Finding a good breeder

This is probably the most important decision you’ll make. Word of mouth is the best way and always see the mother with the puppies. Never buy a puppy unseen online. 

sprocker puppy with older dog

Always see puppies with their mother

Face to face meeting

Always meet the puppies in person. See how happy and friendly they are. Watch out for nerves or unnecessary noise.  Ask the breeder what they hoped to achieve by putting together the parents.


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. Hold each puppy up to face you first to see if you 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. See if the front teeth meet in a scissor bite (the top incisors just overlapping the lower).

Turn the puppy to one side to see if that view is pleasing. 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.

Check for umbilical hernias. 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. Lay the puppy on its back on your 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.
  • Look for good tail action (in the field, the tail tells you what the nose is finding out. Beware of spaniel tails 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.

The rules when choosing a gundog puppy

  • Consider all the costs before taking the plunge
  • Do your research and seek advice from a knowledgeable source
  • Take time to look at several litters
  • Take your time to choose – and listen to your instinct
  • Stick to your plan. Don’t be persuaded into taking on a puppy that isn’t your preferred choice.
  • The price of puppies varies greatly according to breed and COVID has made puppies much more expensive.
  • Think about whether your dog is going to live in the kitchen or an outdoor kennel. 
  • Remember 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.
  • Don’t be in a rush to start training your puppy, there is plenty of time.
  • Learn as much as you can and enjoy your new gundog puppy.