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Scott Rall: Puppies and the art of buying one

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

There will always be a diversity of opinion when it comes to purchasing a puppy. I am not referring to normal male-female debate. Nor am I entering the fray as to which breed is the best.

When it comes to Labradors, should it be the garden variety American lab or should its origins be traced back to Britain? I am starting this conversation with this question: How much should you pay for a puppy? I am referring to Labradors because I know more about them than other breeds, but the issues are the same no matter what kind of dog you buy.

In my mind there are three distinctly different kinds of Labrador breedings. They fall into the following categories:

There is the neighbor-neighbor breeding category, the profession breeding category and the middle-of-the-road breeding catagory. The neighbor-neighbor breeding is often litters that started out as accidents. Not all originate by this method. A dog that was registered with the AKC bred to another dog registered with the AKC will produce a litter that can be sold as AKC registered labs.

Being registered with the AKC tells the buyer that there is no Hienz 57 in the background and for the unsophisticated purchaser not much more. The selling agent for a neighbor-neighbor breeding will start out something like this. The seller will say that I bred my dog to the dog that lives down the street and, boy, are they going to be good dogs.

It is possible to get a dog that can be a good hunter partner from a breeding of this nature, but these neighbor-neighbor breedings come with a few more risks.

I have seen breedings take place with AKC registered dogs where neither of the parents have ever stepped into a pheasant field and have never made a retrieve. I tell prospective puppy purchasers that a lab under normal life expectancy will live to be about 12 years old. I then ask them if they want the very best chance of getting a great dog. I continue that to do so requires that they eliminate to the very best of their abilities the most common health and trainability issues. This cannot be done in a neighbor-neighbor breeding environment because the necessary information to make an informed decision is very likely not available.

Labradors have developed over the past several decades some completely avoidable genetically transported health conditions. These include Exercised Induced Collapse (EIC) and Centronuclear Myopathy (CNM). Both of these can be eliminated by testing both mom and dad of the litter and breeding only dogs that will not result in affected puppies.

The issue here is that the tests are expensive and most neighbor-neighbor breeders will not expend the kind of dollars necessary to eliminate these issues. Selling puppies for $75 each does not result in enough cash to do it right. There is nothing more heartbreaking that falling in love with a puppy and then finding out he/she will most likely never hunt anything other than the food dish.

Professional dog breedings will cover all of these issues and more. In addition to covering all of the health issues and eliminating them where possible, the professional breeding can add to the equation trainability and go a great distance to identifying puppy personality. I am of the mind set that if mom is a licker, then the puppies will most likely be lickers too. If dad wants to be in your lap all the time then the puppies will most likely be attention hounds as well. Dog personalities pass on to the next generation and if you deal with a breeder who is well versed and has a few different litters every year, then they can help you pick the temperament and personality you are looking for.

I love a high-energy dog that has unlimited desire to hunt because I hunt many days per season. A puppy from high-energy parents will very likely grow up into a dog that will be harder to control and can be more dog that may owners prefer.

You may only hunt a day or two a week and want a more laid-back puppy. The professional breeder would then recommend a puppy from a litter whose parents are more laid-back. For the guy with only one breeding female, he can only offer puppies from that female. A professional breeder will most likely have 3-5 breeding females and has greater depth of choice to help you get the right dog.

The professional breeder will also have history with different breedings. If he breeds two dogs and does not love the outcome he will not repeat that breeding. If there is a combination that turns out great, then this breeding might be repeated many times. I am in the process of getting another puppy from a litter that is a repeat breeding. My two and a half-year-old male named Tracer is awesome and I am getting another that I hope is exactly like him. I have a great chance of success because we are using the same parents and should get the same outcome.

A dog with good paper (a great pedigree) is a dog with many ancestors who have proven themselves to have preformed to a very high level in hunt tests or field trials. The pedigree is something you can get from dogs registered with the AKC. In addition to the pedigree the professional seller will also have a record of hip and eye exams for the buyer to view.

The neighbor-neighbor breeder will mostly likely have skipped this step completely. You need to know how to interpret these documents in order for them to have any value. Good paper in and of itself is not a sole reason to buy a puppy, but good to great paper is always a positive when considered in conjunction with other factors. Professional breeders pay a lot more attention to good paper than neighbor-neighbor breeders do.

The middle of the road breeder will be a mix of the neighbor-neighbor and profession breeder. It might very well address some but not all of the important issues when it comes to breeding good hunting Labradors. I feel strongly that puppy breeding should be serious business. There are too many folks that just stick two dogs in the garage at the right time and hope for the best. There is an ethical responsibly to do this right and produce great results. Breeders must always make every effort to eliminate genetic defects.

The old saying that you get what you pay for has merit when picking a puppy. I would preface this with the understanding that you want a high quality hunting dog.

My parents are looking for a pet and I told them a dog from the pound in Sioux Falls or an other human society will be more than adequate for a good pet. All they want is to love the dog and be loved back. Just about any dog from any source can provide what they are looking for as long as it has not been abused. If you just need a pet, then save the life of an abandoned dog.

I have seen dogs with no hunting background end up being decent hunters. There are a few stories about the German Shepherd that hunts pheasants. These outcomes do happen, but not very often. If you want a good hunting dog and the best chance of it turning out the way you hope, then make the decision to maximize your chances and buy from a reputable breeder.

Tests cost money. Breedings with great stock cost money. Almost all good stud fees are over $1,000 and associated vet fees can be even higher than that if an artificial invetro fertilization is required. I have been involved with litters where breeding costs exceeded two house payments and resulted in no puppies at all. The breeding failed and the costs were still incurred.

I love the dogs I own and most other dogs, for that matter. I need and want healthy puppies and recommend you take some time and do the research necessary to get the dog and the outcome you desire. There is no iron-clad rule for puppy success, but taking into account the information covered here will greatly increase your odds of success and reduce your odds of a broken heart.

If you have breeding questions or are looking for a quality breeder of most hunting breeds, drop me a line at and I can help direct you to some folks who can get you started in the right direction.

I have a few names for my new puppy picked out, but if you have a good name idea for a high-energy black lab male send those ideas to me as well. Right now I am leaning on the name Turbo.