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How can I find the right Labrador puppy these days?

A reader is thinking about giving a rescue puppy a second chance as a gundog - but how can he make sure he gets the right one? Jeremy Hunt advises.

black Labrador puppy

Puppies can be born infected if the bitch carries dormant larvae

Q: I have been struggling to find a Labrador puppy because there seems to have been a big demand for them as pets during lockdown. 

I have been advised to wait a while because it’s expected that a lot of young dogs will need to be rehomed in the coming months. How do I go about this in a way that may provide me with a worthwhile dog to train but also give a second chance to a puppy that may not have had the best start in life?

A: Yes, there has been a ridiculous demand for pet puppies recently and it is certainly likely that there will be some genuine young dogs available from homes that were totally unsuitable.

Where to find a Labrador puppy

Most of the Labrador breed clubs (the Kennel Club website has details) around the UK operate rescue and rehoming schemes and there are also some independently run rescue groups if you search the internet.

I understand that most rehoming schemes take the dog into a foster home initially to assess the dog prior to finding a new owner. You will be vetted strictly as a prospective owner and it will only be fair to the dog and to you to express that you are hoping to train the dog as a gundog.

You will need to focus on dogs from a working background. That may be obvious from the appearance of the dog or from information (and, hopefully, a pedigree and documentation) that has been passed on with the dog. Try to rehome a dog that has a pedigree and is bred from working stock (and, ideally, from health-tested parents), but you may have to compromise if you feel you find the right dog for you.

Unlike someone who is simply trying to rehome a dog as a pet, you have more in mind so when you have an opportunity to meet the dog for the first time, it’s important that you feel you could develop a real bond and may even be able to try out a simple retrieve.

Remember, those people who are involved in rehoming want the best life for the dog and will be there to advise you based on their wide experience. But do be mindful that some puppies may have had a difficult first few months and you need to be able to spot any behavioural issues that could be problematic in future training.

Labrador notes

  • There is a huge variation in the different types of Labrador now available; some such as those commonly seen in the show ring are massive and too heavily boned for work, while others are lithe, fast and racy in appearance.
  • There is even a vast difference between puppies in the same litter, especially between dogs and bitches.
  • Some lines throw small, narrow-headed bitches and, conversely, big, powerful dogs.
  • November is a bad time to buy and find a Labrador puppy from a working strain, as the majority of good working Labradors will be on shoots doing their job and not at home giving birth. You will have more choice in the spring.