What Breed?

by Nick Zahniser

I still get asked this question and thought it might be time to revisit the subject.

The question I am most often asked is what kind of dog should I get. There are whole books written on this subject so I’m just going to hit a few high points and make myself available to answer specific questions if you email me.

People who ask this question usually fall into three groups. The first group has already decided on a breed and wants me to affirm what to them is the obvious choice. The second group is trying to decide between two breeds for whatever reason. And the third group is the people who really want to know what breed will fit their needs.

The thing that makes this question so hard is that dogs are a condition of the heart, not the head. The reason that most of us have a dog is because we like them, not that we need them. And we like dogs for our own reasons not someone else’s. So what’s the answer? The answer is that you can get even more attached to a dog that fits you than you can one that doesn’t.

So ask yourself what do I really hunt or want to hunt? Do I hunt 80% upland birds and 20% ducks? What kind of birds? What kind of duck hunting? How about rabbits? Do I hunt them or would I shoot them on occasion? What kind of rabbits, snowshoe or cottontail? Perhpas you’re a hunter jumper and need a pack of fox hounds. Or maybe you’re wearing one of those shirts that say “Coon hunters do it in the woods at night”. Lion dogs, bear dogs, squirrel dogs, coursing hounds, the list goes on.

Keep in mind that each type of hunting comes with its own plethora of breeds to do the job, and each breed comes with its own lobbyist that are quick to tell you that their breed is best. And in fact they may be right for them. But remember this dog is for you, not them.

You are going to be giving this dog two hots and a cot, free medical, free dental, an extensive exercise program with you as his personal trainer and free transportation to and from the woods. So do your homework before you decide what you need. Remember that once you bring home a little puppy and show it to the spouse or the spouse and kids it’s all over but the clean up.

Right now might be a good time to pause and decide whether you even want or need a dog. Maybe a goldfish is looking better and better. Ok, then a dog it is, and we’ll go from there.

Don’t fall into the trap of same ol’ same ol’. Just because you hunt rabbits doesn’t mean you have to have a beagle. Flushing dogs such as spaniels and retrievers do a great job on bunnies and make for a faster hunt with more action and put retrieving in the mix as well. But beagles are a real joy as well.

If you hunt 80% ducks, retrievers, of some type is the answer. But if you hunt ducks and upland both consider a German wirehair or train your retriever on upland as well.

If you are a coon hunter or fox hunter then long legged hounds are usually the ticket. That goes for white rabbits as well. I grew up with the sound of hounds running the woods at night

Upland bird dogs come in more variety than upland birds, but in general fall in two categories; pointers and flushers. Pointers find birds by cent and point them until the gunner comes in to flush. Flushers work a pattern within gun range and flush birds or bunnies for the gun.

Some pointers are bred to run big covering huge tracks of land. Their owners sort of act like they are not worried about how big they run. You have the Atlantic on one side and the Pacific on the other, and they know they can’t get too far. Other pointing breeds are bred to work close in heavy cover. Once again decide what fits your style and go with that.

Now I’m going to give you some advice that you won’t take, but if you do will save you lots of time and money. In addition to that, it will inject a huge amount of joy into your life and lower your stress level. It’s not sex, but it’s right up there.

Find a pro that trains the kind of dogs that interest you and spend as much time with him or her as you can. Don’t get in the way. Be all the help you can. Get there early and help clean kennels and feed birds or what ever needs doing. Any thing that saves a pro a few steps here and there will gain you access to a wealth of knowledge.

Find the best in your area. Don’t look for the closest or the easiest. Look for the best. There is no advantage to learning the wrong things.  Think about it if you were learning to call turkeys. Would you keep going out with someone who never shot a turkey?  You would want to go with someone who consistently shot big birds.  Practice does not make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect. 
 You may have to drive some to make this happen but if your not willing to get up early and put in some effort that’s a good indication that you are not really looking for a hunting dog.

If you can’t make this pro thing happen, hire a guide that does your kind of hunting and has good dogs and go out with him or her. Then hire another with different dogs so you get a broader feel for the game. This is money well spent in a lot of ways because it will teach you a lot about hunting the game you want with a dog.
The book always tells you to talk to breeders. Don’t do that! Every good breeder brings his or her own passion to the table. As well they should. That’s what makes them good at what they do. But it is very unfair to ask them to tell you what you need. After all they make a living selling what they like. Decide what breed you want and then do your research on breeders. What breeder and choosing a puppy are subjects for another day and we will get to them in upcoming issues.
The last bit of advice is to take your time. Don’t be in a hurry. Enjoy the process. And remember that you are going to buy a member of the family that is going to be with you for the next 15 years or so.

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