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Picking a Breeder

Dog breeding, done correctly, requires time, knowledge, experience, money, discipline and a critical eye.

Which is why good dog breeders are hard to find.

The largest percentage of dog breeding around the world is of the “back yard’’ variety.

It works this way:

Joe has what he thinks is a good dog. So does Mary. The two get together and soon one is calling the local newspaper to advertise, “Pups for sale.’’

Perhaps one of the puppies in this litter might turn out to be a quality dog.

But chances of that happening are not good. And chances are particularly not good that most puppies in the litter will be healthy and capable.

Which is why prospective buyers are well-advised to do their homework and seek a reliable breeder who is attempting to produce the type of dog the owner wants and values.

Defining the ideal dog

To find a quality breeder, a prospective owner first must determine the type of retriever he wants to own.

This sounds easy. But it takes work. And thinking. And perhaps a visit with friends or acquaintances who already own retrievers.

Begin by writing on a piece of paper the qualities you seek in a dog.

Perhaps you want to participate in field trials. But the number of people who actually run field trials is very small compared to the total number of retriever owners.

Moreover, competing in field trials requires a lot of time and money.

Still, if that’s what you want, begin by writing, “I want a dog that can win a field trial.’’

More likely, however — like the vast majority of retriever owners today — you want what is commonly referred to as a “companion hunter.’’

The reason: Most people today hunt their dogs only a relative handful of days a year.

For some retriever owners that number might be as few as two.

For others, it might be 20.

But not many people hunt more than 20 days.

So the goal, generally speaking, is to purchase a puppy that will evolve into a dog that is both easy to live with and a joy to hunt over.

A companion hunter.

Unfortunately, such a retriever can be a challenge to find, particularly in the U.S.

Reasons are twofold.

For decades, backyard breeders have produced retriever “lines’’ that have genetic faults, such as defective hips, eyes or elbows.

Many of these dogs also tend to look different than traditional retrievers.

In the U.S., for instance, many Labradors today are tall and thin with snipey noses and tails curled over their backs — what are commonly called cycle tails.

Additionally, American field-bred retrievers, on average, have tended in recent decades to be “too hot,’’ or hyperactive.

Manifestations of this hyperactivity are many.

Hyperactive dogs are difficult to train and difficult to control. They bark, whine and jump up.

In general, they are less fun to live with, and hunt over, than dogs should be.

The list grows

Most of us, then, want retrieving dogs that are “companion hunters.’’

Make that “healthy companion hunters.’’

What does healthy entail?

Let’s take a look.

Healthy means dogs with good hips, eyes and elbows. It also means dogs that has few, if any, other physical problems.

Does the breeder use the current and available DNA tests for genetic abnormalities in their breeding stock. An example of DNA test include: ARMD/PTPLA (Labrador Myopathy), PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), EIC (Exercise Induced Collapse), RD (Inherited Retinal Dysplasia) OSD (OculoSkeletal Dysplasia), and Narcolepsy. Since all of our breeding stock is homozygous (meaning non-affected, non-carrier) for these abnormalities, we can guarantee that the dog you purchase from us is genetically free of these problems.

Allergies are one consideration. Many retrievers today are prone to food or other allergies. Often these animals have poor hair coats or lose their hair altogether.

Epilepsy can be another problem.

So we want a healthy dog.

What else?

Well, we know what we don’t want.

We don’t want the hyperactive dog we discussed earlier — an animal that barks incessantly, moves constantly, pants and drools.
Such dogs can run over little kids, bolt into traffic and, in general, drive their owners nuts.

Conversely, we’re not seeking a plodding, dim-witted animal, either, one with an ineffective nose and little desire to retrieve.

Such dogs are of little use in the field.

Instead, we want healthy retrievers who are what we will call “two-speed” dogs: Alert, quick and attentive in the field. Quiet and laid back around home.

Let’s review our growing list.

  • We (most prospective retriever owners) are seeking a companion hunter that is highly efficient in the field and easy to live with at home.
  • We want such a dog to have good hips, elbows and eyes, and be free of maladies such as epilepsy and allergies.
  • We want a quiet dog. We do not want the dog to be an excessive barker or whiner. Nor do we want the dog to jump up constantly on people or in his kennel, or drool excessively.
  • We want a retriever that is intelligent.
  • We also want a dog that is biddable — one that is willing, even eager, to let itself be trained.
  • We want a dog with natural retrieving ability.
  • We want a dog that is athletic.
  • We want a Labrador that looks like a Labrador should look. We do not want a snipey, leggy, skinny Lab. Instead, we want one that has a nice, bold head, one with a deep chest, and one whose height and length are proportionate to its size. Females in the range of 55 pounds, perhaps a little heavier or a little lighter, are a good size. Males between 70 and 75 also are about the right size. We want the dog’s tail carried down, and, if not truly otter-like, at least moderately thick.
  • We want a dog that has a soft mouth. Dogs with “hard mouths’’ also often are hyperactive dogs. These animals tend to maul birds with their mouths, often breaking the skin of a duck or pheasant. They also tend to hold onto birds and refuse to give them up. These are, largely, genetic faults that should be avoided at all costs.
  • We want a dog with a kind eye. This quality is difficult to describe to a novice, but such animals are easy to spot. One of their traits is that when they come out of a kennel or vehicle, they look up at their handlers, as if to ask, “What now, boss?’’ Dogs with kind eyes also typically want to be around people. They don’t bolt into the distance, chasing their noses. Instead, they hang around seeking pets and in general expecting something good to happen.
  • Finally — which brings us to the point of this chapter — we want a dog whose parents, grandparents and preferably great grandparents demonstrate these qualities, or at least most of these qualities.

To find such animals, we need to find a quality breeder.

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