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Tips for Picking Your Next Hunting Dog

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Watching a well-trained dog retrieve over and over again is an impressive spectacle. We wanted to know more about how to select a puppy intended for hunting, so we contacted Seth Simpson, owner of Gem State Kennels. We were able to see, first-hand, the caliber of dog Simpson trains. During a recent hunt, Gem State's Calamity Jane (Callname Jane) put on quite a performance, retrieving pigeons all day for seven hunters.

RECOIL: What’s the first step for picking out a hunting dog?

SIMPSON: Before you even start looking at a litter, determine your needs. First and foremost, find a dog that will fit your needs and lifestyle. Figure out if you need a pointing dog or a retriever or a combination of both. Research the breed, make sure you get a breed of dog that will fit your needs and that you will be able to spend the time required to develop that puppy into the dog it’s capable of being.

Jane w bird in mouthSM wm

Jane looking into the field, but being a good girl by not chomping the bird.

RECOIL: What should someone look for when selecting a breeder?

SIMPSON: Buy a good quality puppy. Spend time researching. Reach out to trainers and breeders in your area and find dogs that come from a good background. Whether the dog comes from a hunt test or field trial line, or a strong hunting line- regardless of the line make sure the puppy is health tested. The test should include common things and genetic diseases that can be caused from breeding quality dogs. A good breeder is going to make sure they’re bettering the breed. They ensure that by doing genetic health testing and breeding good dogs that have AKC or UKC titles.

RECOIL: Do most people have to search out-of-state to find a quality puppy?

SIMPSON: You should be able to find a quality breeder in your area, or even a good trainer. A good trainer is just a valuable to ask and get advice from. But, the trainer will be less biased than asking a breeder. A trainer might help you find a dog geared more towards what your needs are. My personal dogs have all come from out-of-state. Depending on the area, you should be able to find a puppy in your state.

Seth n Jane in blind wm

Simpson prepping Jane for her next command.

RECOIL: How important is it to see the puppy’s parents?

SIMPSON: If I’m ordering a puppy out of state, it’s because I’m looking for a particular type of pedigree. When I’m looking for a puppy, I look for one that will do well on a hunt test. I hunt over 100 days a year. My preference happens to be a field trial bred Labrador. If the puppy doesn’t come from a proven line, then it pays to look at the parents. If I look at the pedigree and see a bunch of championship dogs, there is a very good chance the pups will be capable of the same things. That is the beauty of a pedigree line. When you’re looking at a puppy on Craigslist, for example, and don’t have a lot of information about the generations before the parents, you’re taking a risk. That’s why I look for a responsible breeder, who knows the line, as oppose to only looking at the parents.

Jane w bird 5 wm

Jane retrieving one of the many pigeons.

RECOIL: Is there a specific breed you recommend?

SIMPSON: All breeds are bred for different reasons. For example, an English Pointer can be fairly impersonal because it has a very high hunting drive. If I have a family and only do a little bit of hunting, the Pointer may not be a good fit because it is so high energy that it’ll tear the house apart. I may instead want a dog that is calmer and laid back around the house, and I may opt for a Setter. If I’m a waterfowl hunter and guide, I would look for a dog that comes from a line of serious hunting dogs. But, if I was a guy who works a 40-hour work week away from home, I may want a dog that is bred to be laid back but can still hunt. A very popular breed is the Labrador, but you can line up four Labradors side-by-side and they could be completely different, depending on what they’ve been bred for.

RECOIL: Is there a window of opportunity where training is most successful?

SIMPSON: There are two different options for someone looking to buy a hunting dog. You can buy a puppy and the only way to get a return on your investment is if you’re ready and willing to spend a ton of time with the puppy right from the beginning. Even before training the puppy for hunting, other training needs to take place like potty training, socializing, and crate training. Since puppies are a lot of work, some people will opt for a “started dog.” A started dog is six months to a year old that has been owned by a trainer for the first part of its life. The dog will have the basic obedience training down and will probably be started on the hunting training. A started dog will be passed the difficult puppy stages. Training is an everyday commitment because you can’t get back training days that have been lost. I can’t stress enough the importance of spending time with the dog. You don’t have to be a dog trainer to train a dog, you just have to be willing to spend the time and do the research.

Seth and Jane 1 wm

Simpson and Jane picking up dead pigeons that were detracting incoming flocks.

RECOIL: At what age would someone send their dog to you?

SIMPSON: That depends on the client and what kind of dog they have. Typically, most trainers will accept puppies at 5 to 7 months old to begin basic training and continue to train them to the level the client needs. It all depends on the needs of the individual, for example how much hunting the client plans to do. Basically, between 5 to 7 months old, a puppy is ready to learn the high-level stuff that is needed for hunting.

RECOIL: Do trainers accept older dogs?

SIMPSON: Yes, it depends on how old they are though. The cut off is usually 2 to 3 years old to train a dog for hunting. If you’re going to send your dog off to a training for hunting, it’s best that the dog isn’t more than a year old. For obedience training, a dog at any age can be trained.

RECOIL: Can a gun-shy dog be fixed?

SIMPSON: Gun-shyness is a pretty fixable problem. The best solution is prevention. It is important to expose your young puppy to gun fire in positive situations early. If the dog develops gun-shyness later in life, the only way to fix it is to associate the gun shots with something they enjoy. It also depends on the degree of gun-shyness and how fixable it is.

Jane giving bird wm

Jane readily giving a pigeon to Simpson.

RECOIL: Have you experienced an owner getting a dog back and the dog not responding to them?

SIMPSON: Yes. If you send your dog off to a trainer, you need to also be getting trained. If your dog is away, getting trained, you should be watching videos about the training and what your role will be. Dogs are not robots, just because the dog is trained doesn’t mean you will get the same result as the trainer. Without training yourself and having the knowledge and confidence, you will not get the same results as the trainer. If your dog is being trained locally, select a trainer who will show you what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and why. I stress to my clients that they need to be prepared to be trained as well.

For top-notch hunting entertainment, follow Simpson on IG to see his hunting adventures (including: owning a pet coyote, using dogs to hunt coyotes, and picking up dangerous animals for the fun of it):

To follow Gem State Kennels on FB, go here:

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