“Obviously, the first thing I look at when I’m researching puppies is pedigree. You want to make sure your dog can do what you need it to do. You also want to place the right bet that your retriever is going to have all of the health clearances,” says Ashly Kite, owner of Moss Bend Retrievers. “You’ve got to do your homework, there is no way around it.”
Kite’s warning may seem like an obvious one, but plenty of waterfowl hunters aren’t heeding it. The reason? Mostly cost. A well-bred dog is more expensive than a standard, question-mark retriever that may or may not have all of its health clearances. This, coupled with a lack of understanding on how many genetic time-bombs could be hiding in any given dog, is the reason why it’s best to understand how to research a dog and what to look for genetically.
According to Kite, when it comes to a dog’s history, he’s looking for several red flags.
“Any dog I’m interested in had better have clear hips, elbows, eyes, and no history of cancer or EIC (exercise-induced collapse).”
All of these clearances have to be there before he’ll consider a dog’s potential to become a driven, intelligent athlete — all of which are made possible through quality bloodlines.
This is the result of responsible breeding over generations, not random luck. Poor breeding leads to poor-performing dogs. There may be no better example of this in modern sporting dogs than what happened with golden retrievers, which were once considered a great gun dog.
A few decades ago, goldens also came into high demand among the non-hunting masses through its exposure in popular culture. Aesthetics took over as the main component for breeding, and health and performance took a backseat. This is why you hear so many horror stories of golden retrievers developing cancer or other debilitating or fatal diseases while entering the prime of their lives.
You can still find a quality golden that should live a long life as a hunter and house dog, of course, but you’ll have to buckle down on research and start dropping plenty of cash into your piggy bank.
Spend Up For A Pup
When it comes to considering a puppy, Kite cautions against doing anything other than making your decision based off bloodlines. “When you buy a puppy, you’re buying it off of paper, and not how they look or how fancy a breeder’s website is. It’s the bloodline that counts, and it’s important to remember a few things about the price of a good dog.
“First off, genetic testing isn’t cheap. If you think you’ll find a $500 puppy that has all of the health clearances in place and that can bust through 2-foot waves to retrieve divers all day, I’ve got bad news for you. It’s not going to happen. Generally, for a well-bred Labrador or other retriever, you’ll be spending at least $1,500. Amortize that out over the life of the dog and you’re on the hook for maybe $150 each year to have a healthy, hard-hunting retriever. That is always worth it.”In addition to conducting the proper research on the right litter, Kite cautions against a trap that many of us are in danger of falling into.
“When people decide they are going to get a puppy, they tend to set a budget and do an Internet search for dogs in their price range. All of this can happen in 10 minutes, and before they know it they are looking at puppies and thinking of good dog names.
“I always tell people to pump the brakes. Take your time. When we shop for cars, we don’t just buy the first one we see because it’s shiny, we do some research for how a model will work with our lives and expectations. Do the same with a puppy. Don’t rush it, and don’t look at a litter until you’ve fully researched the pedigree and have decided it’s the kind of quality you are looking for.”
Canine genetics can be a deep rabbit hole, and most of us aren’t prepared to go down it. This leads to impulsive, finger-crossing decisions that shouldn’t be made that way. If you’re uncomfortable reading pedigrees and ruling out—or for—certain litters, enlist the help of a professional. The extra cost this adds to the process is minimal, but the amount of insurance it adds is invaluable.