Vet Jeremy Hunt gives some valuable advice ...

Q: I’m planning on breeding a litter of gundog puppies from my bitch this spring.

She’s five years old and I only want to have one litter from her, but because she has been such a good shooting gundog I want to keep a bitch pup so I can carry on the line. The problem I have is I don’t know which of the gundog puppies to pick from the litter.  I once had a bitch with hip dysplaysia and I don’t want to go through that again.

I’m reluctant to keep two puppies because people say two pups kept together never train as well as one brought up on its own.

What would be your advice? How would you pick from a litter of gundog puppies?

English springer puppy

Guesswork at eight weeks of age

A: Anyone who goes out to buy a single puppy from a litter takes a risk on its working ability. However if the parents are proven workers then there’s a  good chance it will have inherited some of their working traits.

Whether it will be a better or worse working gundog than its parents is guesswork when you are picking a pup at eight weeks of age.

Hip scores

Even if you buy a litter of gundog puppies where both parents have been health tested (which includes hip scoring)there’s always a small chance there could be a genetic blip and two parents with good hip scores can produce progeny with poor hip scores.

Genetics are unpredictable.

However, providing you get enough bitch pups in the litter, you’ll have more options. I would keep two puppies in the short to medium term. This will enable you to make a more balanced decision initially – certainly in terms of their temperament and character.

Observe the puppies in everything they do – which will allow you to notice individual characteristics in each puppy. Depending on how long you keep them, you should be able to discover more about how the puppies respond to the early stages of training, how responsive they are, how bold they are and – possibly most important of all – how they get on with you, the handler.

Litter sisters can be very different.

Even if they are equal in all things, you may not want to keep both pups until they are 12 months old, the age at which you can have their hips X-rayed.

So run them both on until six months old and then find a vet with a good reputation for radiography who will be able to X-ray them and give you an unofficial but informed assessment of how their hips are developing.

Any abnormalities are usually beginning to show up at this stage. Once you have that information it should help you make a decision.

Two puppies together

As far as running two pups on together is concerned, it’s not something I’ve ever been too worried about, provided you make sure they spend time apart – either on their own or with an older gundog – to enable them to gain some independence.

This will help them learn life isn’t about operating as a duo and they must each learn to respect other gundogs and listen to and respect you as you embark on their early training.

Two littermates always kept together would not be my ideal scenario for getting the best out of a gundog – although I am sure others will prove me wrong.