BASC’s head of game and gundogs Glynn Evans considers the options when you haven’t got the time to train a puppy from scratch.
Open pretty much any book on training a dog and there will be a section providing advice and tips when buying a puppy. But for those looking to buy a trained or part-trained dog there is not always that much advice on what to look for and the dos and don’ts. Asked recently what I thought the options were, I came up with these possibilities:
Your four options
First, an older puppy of about 6-10 months; at this stage I would expect that it should at least know its name, come when called and have some of the basics such as walking to heel, sitting and staying, plus an ability to complete a simple retrieve.
Second would be an older, part-trained dog; the basics of heelwork, recalls and retrieving will be more advanced, there will be some whistle and hand signal training and perhaps a passing familiarity with gunshot.
Third would be a trained dog which should have all the training and be ready to go shooting, with the ability to sit stay, retrieve, stop on the whistle and take hand signals. It will have picked some game but probably due to its age this experience will be limited and it will need introducing into the shooting field in a controlled way to ensure the work of the trainer is not undone.
Finally, I think we have the fully trained dog which should basically be the finished article, encompassing all of the above but possessing significant experience in the shooting field and, once settled with the new owner, capable of coping with any day’s shooting and being a paragon of virtue.
What will it cost?
So, if we are considering a part-trained dog ready to bring on for the season, what should such a dog cost? This will vary immensely but there needs to be a bit of a reality check. Although there can be some well trained dogs available for not much more than the price of a pup, depending on how much work the owner has put into the dog you may need to pay a more realistic price.
A Kennel Club registered pup will often be £500-£600 or more depending upon the breed and individual breeding and also on what health tests the parents have had (see Patrice Fellows article on pages 24-27 of this issue for more on puppy prices). If both parents are Field Trial Champions the price can easily reach four figures.
Then factor in that a dog such as a labrador, once it is 12 months old, will often have undergone a number of health tests which can be expensive - a figure of £500 being a reasonable estimate of these costs. Finally add in expenses such as food and inoculations and consider the time spent training.
So while we all like a bargain - and there are some out there - I think a decent part-trained dog with good health test results is starting to look like a pretty fair buy at £2,000. But how much should experienced peg dogs cost? Even more time is needed to polish and complete their education and without the expertise of the trainer (and sometimes even with it) a problem such as hard mouth or squeaking could develop. If this process is managed wrongly a dog’s value would be substantially decreased. So now we are looking at perhaps double the price of a part-trained dog. A spend of £4,000 isn’t unreasonable but there can be some really good dogs available at less than this.
Will the dog fit your lifestyle?
When considering a potential trained dog your first thoughts may be about what type of shooting it will be used for and what the dog can do. But there are more important considerations - will it fit in with you and your lifestyle? It’s no good having the greatest gundog in the world if it doesn’t. It is worth making a list of requirements - the ones that are musts and those that are desirable. So for instance if you want the dog to live indoors it must be house-trained. But say you want a yellow labrador, could you be flexible enough to go for a good black one which ticks all the other boxes?
When you have decided what you want it is a case of doing your homework. The internet is a useful research tool but remember that a great website or advert does not necessarily mean a great trainer is behind it. Personal recommendations from someone you trust, such as a friend who has bought a trained dog, or a keeper or picker up on your shoot, can be more reliable.
Always when looking at a trained dog get a full demonstration and take a friend or partner with a ‘sound head on’ with you to make sure you do not get swept along and forget important questions. Finally, remember that not only will you be assessing if the dog is suitable for you, any good trainer selling a dog will also be assessing you to see if you are suitable to have their dog.