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Selecting a Breed

Here are three important considerations when deciding which breed of retriever to purchase:

  • Good dogs come in all breeds and all colors. Study retriever history and you’ll learn that great Labradors, great goldens, great Chesapeakes and great flat coats have existed over time.
  • Many people have breed biases. People who grow up with golden retrievers, for example, are likely to own goldens as adults.
  • Absent a breed bias, a prospective retriever owner should consider a wide range of information when making a breed selection.

Keeping an open mind

Let’s assume our prospective owner has no bias and is beginning the breed selection process with an open mind. Start with a few generalizations.

Labradors are the most popular. This means there is a greater selection of Labradors available than other retrievers, which can be an advantage.

But it’s also true that a reasonably high degree of indiscriminate breeding occurs among Labradors — which is a disadvantage.

That said, Labs possess some important qualities. One is they have short hair, meaning they don’t collect burs and other debris while hunting the uplands.

Another is that, generally speaking, they hunt well and make good family dogs.

These qualities also can be ascribed to goldens, Chesapeakes and flat coats — with some exceptions.

Goldens, for example, have long hair that can require grooming after hunting. Flat coats also have long hair.

And fewer of these dogs — including Chesapeakes — are bred each year, meaning prospective owners have fewer breeders, and puppies, to choose from.

Beyond the numbers

But buyers should consider far more than relative abundance when choosing a breed, and when selecting a puppy within that breed.

Basic information about each breed should be studied — information that is readily available in books, on the AKC web site or elsewhere online at any number of locations.

But most of that information is either too general or too biased to be of significant help.

A Chesapeake breeder, for instance, will naturally extol the virtues of Chesapeakes, probably without mentioning that — generally speaking — these dogs can be somewhat more difficult to train than most Labradors or goldens.

Again, good dogs, even great dogs, come in all breeds and colors. But generally speaking, Chessies are slower to develop than Labs or goldens.

Still, some people love Chesapeakes and would own no other retriever. And there are, in fact, many good lines of Chessies cultivated by discriminating breeders.

For good reason: Chessies boast some advantages. People who hunt late season alongside freezing rivers that carry a lot of current might find, for example, that a big strong Chesapeake, with its heavy coat, is the ideal dog to own.

Golden retrievers also possess many admirable qualities.

Goldens make excellent family dogs. Many goldens also have drive and desire enough to succeed in the field and in field trials and hunt tests.

But goldens’ coats are not as heavy as those of Labradors or Chesapeakes. And, as a whole, most goldens don’t retrieve with as much gusto and drive as Labs.

Flat coats, meanwhile, while attractive dogs, also, generally speaking, have less drive than Labs and also have coats that are not as protective in cold water.

Flat coats also tend to learn a little more slowly than Labs.

This does not mean our prospective retriever owner can’t choose a Chessie, flat coat or golden and achieve his goal of owning a healthy, intelligent, biddable animal.

It does mean our buyer, should he choose a Chesapeake, golden or flat coat, will have to work somewhat harder to find a good breeder and a good line of dogs than he would if he were looking for a Lab — again, because there are fewer Chesapeakes, goldens and flat coats to choose from.

Conversely, if our buyer decides to purchase a Labrador, he is by no means assured of acquiring the dog he seeks.

For while there are many Labrador breeders in the U.S., relatively few have sufficient resources available to them — whether measured by money, dogs available or accurate information upon which to make decisions — to consistently produce good dogs.

The dogs they breed may indeed be Labradors.

Or at least the American Kennel Club says they’re Labradors.

But they’re still, many of them, bad dogs.

The bottom line

In the end, to purchase a healthy, intelligent, biddable retriever puppy, buyers should give careful consideration to breed selection.

But more important for buyers is making a critical assessment of breeders and their dogs within the breed chosen.

Next up: Part 3: British vs. U.S.

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