Wolfe Publishing Group

    The Check Cord

    Evaluating Your Options

    Alec Sparks has been training dogs professionally for over 22 years. He can be reached at www.snowboundkennels.com or on Facebook at Snowbound Kennels.
    Alec Sparks has been training dogs professionally for over 22 years. He can be reached at www.snowboundkennels.com or on Facebook at Snowbound Kennels.
    Not everyone wants to raise and train a puppy, so for many people a young prospect, a “started” or a finished dog is a practical route. What follows are my personal definitions of each and some thoughts on them.

    What we might look for can vary greatly and can be determined on where we hunt. Also, my thoughts here address hunting dogs and not trial dogs.

    The first thing you need to do is define what you want, what you actually need, what you can afford, what you will actually pay and the available dogs that fit that profile.

    A young prospect is a dog that is 3 to 10 months old that has the potential to develop into the dog you desire. The worry here is that nothing has been done with the puppy because someone thinks it’s too young (where’s the rolling eye emoji when I need it?) or they’ve been too lazy to do so. Of course, in some locations winter weather precludes outdoor foundation work, but that’s something you need to consider when you determine your purchase timetable.

    I would want to see a bold puppy with some independence that is comfortable dealing with modest cover. Probably most hunters might want to pass on the pup that disappears never looking back at this age — and they do exist. I’d want that youngster to have been exposed to birds properly — no standing over released birds one foot away to see it point! If the breeding is there, I’m actually not worried if I don’t see a lot of pointing instinct now, but with where I’d be looking, I’m sure I would see it.

    A great many will want this pup as a full-time house dog and companion. Just know that many youngsters raised in their own filth can always be cavalier with their bathroom habits. It can be tremendously hard to keep up with a litter, but I’ve seen too many people struggle with dirty dogs to not mention it. I doubt I’d be looking for a pup at a kennel where nothing has been done with it at this age. Sitting in a kennel at this age is a tragic waste.

    A started dog should demonstrate solid bird finding skills and show an ability to be cooperative with some formal foundation training. For me to consider a dog started, it will generally be over 6 months old and had some real formal foundation training that should consist of proper exposure to birds — hopefully wild birds, but released are fine if handled properly. I would expect it to be pointing on its own but probably needing check cord control to remain staunch. That started dog needs to have some formal brakes and steering control if it’s independent enough. A 14-month-old dog isn’t “started” in my book if it just runs off with zero control looking for birds.

    I would expect this level dog to know it’s a bird dog and to have a solid foundation, which can be improved upon immediately.

    Again, the dog’s living conditions might dictate its habits going forward.

    A finished dog should be one that can transition its trained skills to its new owner, providing that owner understands how to maintain and advance that dog. Just because you buy a finished dog doesn’t mean you can ignore it before the hunting season and expect quality work without some ongoing maintenance training. It’s a waste to buy a finished dog and then be disillusioned when its skills degrade, even if that means a professional tune-up yearly.

    You’ll want to see this dog work in the real world, not just on some planted birds in the seller’s training field. It’s too easy to look great running a “milk route” without having the true ability to perform as a finished dog should in a real-world environment.

    With a finished dog, you should really see the entire package: temperament, ability, conformation and level of cooperation. It should also fit into your lifestyle — kennel dog, house dog or lap dog.

    Prospects and started dogs need to get out in the world and have some quality foundation exposures. I’m afraid a lot of these youngsters do little more than live in a kennel after not being sold as puppies. Regardless of the breeding, a “kennel vegetable,” as I call them, will always be a riskier purchase than a youngster properly started. At best, it will be behind and sometimes terribly so.

    Don’t be starry-eyed by pedigrees and fancy kennels. Sometimes it can be easier to look at the wrapping paper and not what’s inside the box. Ask all your questions and have them prepared beforehand, and do your best to not let emotions crowd your critical appraisal of the dog in question. No matter the level you select, make sure it matches your training and handling abilities.  - Alec Sparks

    Wolfe Publishing Group