If you have decided to go for a puppy there are some good ground rules to follow; do your homework, check out the adverts on the internet and shooting press to establish the going rate for the dog you are after.

If a particular dog has caught your eye on a shoot day, speaking to the owner about where it came from can be a good starting point. Often puppies from a good bitch can be very much in demand and, rather like getting a child into a good school, you have to put your name down early. Many people are impressed by a pedigree but if you can see the parents of the puppy working, your own eyes are often the best recommendation.

Hopefully your new companion will be with you for many years so be prepared to travel to get the right dog; limiting the areas you are willing to search will restrict your choice.

Do your health homework

For many breeds, including gundogs, there are health schemes. These have done much to try and reduce hereditary diseases such as hip dysplasia and eye conditions. When enquiring about a puppy it is worth asking if its parents have been tested, but remember that testing the parents is no guarantee of the pup’s future health. As a final thought on these tests, for a working gundog there are many other considerations to bear in mind along with health schemes, such as temperament and ability. In short there is no point in having a dog with the best hips and eyes if it bites everyone.

You will need to decide whether to buy a Kennel Club registered dog or not. Although non-registered pups will usually be cheaper to buy, the dog has to be registered with the KC if you want to compete in field trials and many working tests. If you have a bitch puppy and think you may breed from her in the future it is worth bearing in mind the offspring will be also be worth less if not registered.

The dark art of selection

Most puppies will be ready to leave the litter and go to their new homes at eight weeks, so it will be necessary to select your pup before then. I think there is little point in picking before six weeks, until the bitch is away from them but others will feel differently.

There has been much written and spoken about which puppy is the best to go for; the boldest, the bossiest, the biggest, the first one that approaches – the ideas are endless. With dogs such as spaniels that have markings there will also be colouring preferences to take into account. For me the best advice is to have the one which catches your eye and you like. Often for some unknown reason you will pick the pups up and be drawn to one again and again. Or maybe there will be a particular pup that is drawn to you, which is probably a good sign too.

Do check the pup is in good health, with even jaws, clear eyes and generally healthy – and check the rest of the litter and the mother too. Occasionally puppies have hernias and unless I really took to a pup I would choose another.

If you do not find what you are looking for politely decline and search elsewhere. And remember that as you are assessing the suitability of the dog the breeder will be assessing your suitability as an owner and they may politely decline you.


Make time for tedious admin

When you have found a puppy you want it is usual to agree a price and possibly a deposit will be given. Do not forget to ask the important questions, as to any health schemes/tests the parents have had, the pedigrees, registration documents, what treatments the puppy has had in respect of worms and other parasites. Even puppies that have been born to a bitch that has had a full worming programme during pregnancy will often have roundworms, so they should be routinely wormed and this recorded prior to leaving the litter, along with any other treatments given.

Some puppies will have their dew claws removed, some not; there are advocates for both. For what it’s worth I would prefer them removed (especially on a spaniel as I think these are prone to injury while working) but having them on a pup would not necessarily put me off.

Also remember that if buying a spaniel or HPR pup with a docked tail, there is additional paperwork to come with it, signed by the vet carrying out the procedure. There will be microchipping/identification tying the pup to this paperwork to be done, although many breeders prefer to leave this as late as possible for the pups’ welfare and this may fall to the new owner to do.

The big day

When the big day for taking delivery of the pup arrives, have its new home ready prior to its arrival. I would always liaise with the breeder to begin with the same type of bedding as it is used to. It is a big thing for the pup to leave the litter mates and anything that helps reassure him or her can be no bad thing.

Try to pick the pup up as early in the day as possible. For travel my choice is to use a small cage, with either a vet bed or a soft blanket, and I would take someone with me to look after it on the journey while I drove.

I also make sure I have a full set of instructions written down from the breeder as to feeding regimes and ask for some food that the pup is used to eating. Among all the necessary paperwork, you may find that the registration papers have not come back from the KC. I would always ask for a receipt stating this and listing any omissions expected.

What’s in a name?

In years gone by it was very much a case of buyer beware. This has definitely altered and responsible breeders will care about the welfare of their pups above anything else; nevertheless it is often a good idea to have a receipt if buying from someone you do not know, especially if you plan to insure the puppy.

A big thing in the development of your new pup is the environment in which it grows up, certainly socialising a puppy as it grows will develop a shy pup, while conversely a bold pup isolated can be the opposite. Joining children in the process is beneficial for all but should always be managed.

One final thing that is most difficult to decide and will be with you and the dog forever and needs a bit of thought: what will you name him or her? One of my colleagues had a cocker called Kipling because, he said, he was ruddy ‘ard work.