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Puppy Precautions: Why Early Screenings Are Important

Plenty of literature is available to address the care and basic obedience training of puppies. Trouble is, most of it isn't breed-specific. And your retriever has less in common with a Yorky than a well-fed waterfowler does with an Olympic athlete.

A veterinarian and die-hard duck hunter, Dr. Michael Moss says these should be your priorities for a retriever's first half-year.

"Orthopedic issues such as hip and elbow dysplasia are some of the most common health ailments seen in retrievers," said Moss, a participant in retriever hunt tests and owner of University Drive Veterinary Hospital in State College, Penn. "These are good things to screen for in all dogs, but with retrievers it's especially important."

Moss recommends the PennHip method of dysplasia evaluation, which can be administered as early as four months to grade hip "laxity." The results determine whether a dog has a life of field work and exercise ahead or would be better suited as only a companion.

"Interestingly the numbers are consistent throughout the dog's life, regardless of age," Moss explained.

Screening your puppy's eyes should also be a priority.

"All retriever puppies are susceptible to retinal folds and other eye issues, and goldens are particularly prone to developing cataracts," he said. "Retrievers should have their eyes evaluated as soon as possible — at six to eight weeks — by a board certified puppy ophthalmologist."

These early screenings aren't just meant to determine the likelihood your dog will experience health issues down the road — retrievers that score poorly should not be bred.

"Many veterinarians will ask whether you hunt and make recommendations," Moss said. "But not all veterinarians are as proactive, and there are infectious diseases retrievers can be exposed to in their years afield."

Common diseases such as distemper and parvovirus are covered in every puppy's vaccinations, regardless of breed. However, the average pup won't be inoculated against certain illnesses frequently seen in hunting dogs. For example, Lyme's disease.

"The vast majority of cases could be prevented if only owners vaccinated at 16 weeks," Moss said. "With the vaccine and a monthly tick preventative, you get really good dual protection."

For many years the prevailing wisdom was retrievers ought to have their dewclaws removed, lest they become snagged on debris en route to a downed mallard. Lately, however, I've witnessed what seems to be an increasing number of working dogs with their dewclaws. So, what's best?


"Certainly duck dogs can live normal, healthy lives with their dewclaws," Moss said. "At issue is the fact dewclaws are easily snagged on reeds or brush, and if they tear one, your hunting day is ruined. There are arteries in that area and the bleeding is not easily stopped. Dewclaws must be repaired by a veterinarian, which is a lot more expensive than simply removing them at a young age."

What about those who argue removing dewclaws (and docking tails, for that matter) traumatizes dogs or affects their learning capacities?

"I don't know what research they're using, but there's nothing inhumane about removing dewclaws," Moss advises. "Two-day old puppies immediately forget it happened and typically fall back asleep."

I am a full time duck dog trainer located in Winnie, TX. My buddy came out and took a picture of me during a training session. — Brian Johnson
My dog Hook. Sunrise, opening day of teal season at Santee on the Missouri River system, northern Nebraska. Beautiful! — Chad Walvoord
Dragged my buddy in his wheelchair through the mud and muck we got set up eight mallards came in I shot this pair both had bands and consecutive numbers. Early western zone in NY. I use GHG decoys , cheap $20 calls , weatherby SA08 with a Carlson's mid range blindside choke and blindside 3in #2's. — Nathan Damanski
One of the bands I've got in NY. — Nathan Damanski
My pitbull retriever he was a great early season goose dog. He just passed away a couple weeks ago. — Nathan Damanski
Early season Canada goose hunt in northern Minnesota. Decoys used were GHG, avian X, higdon, and Bigfoot. Cabelas and Avery layout blinds. Benelli, Remington, and stoeger shotguns loaded with federal premium steel shot. — Jesse Peterson
Scouting in the fog on the shoreline, CT. — Dave Parish
My dog Larry at our Quack House along Saginaw Bay near Fish Point Wildlife Area, sitting with the three redheads my son and I got that morning. I also am a self taught that loves doing paintings of the things I have seen while waterfowl hunting the Saginaw Bay. — Jim Wardynski
Here's Duke helping with a Sebring Florida (central Florida) duck hunt. He just retrieved the woodie moments prior. He doesn't need a vest, because we can still hunt in a long sleeved T-shirt. — Bret Hinkle
Goose hunting photos where from a hunt 2 weeks ago on my family's farm we hunt in Pa. We limited out by 830 am. The photos of my dog Gunner where from The Dewey Beach area while on a scouting / hunting trip with a good friend of mine Brad. Barry Readinger
North Platte River in Nebraska, using my Winchester SX3 and trusty retriever Bolo. — Rick Walleen
I'm a leg man for sure! @waterfowl_posse Berreta A400, banded gear, OLT Cut Down. — Justin Jones
Epic hunt! Banded gear Stuttgart, Arkansas — Justin Jones
My dog, Larry, and the three redheads my son and I got while hunting on Saginaw Bay from our hunting cabin that we call the Quack House. We did miss a few other ducks but we had a great time, and so did Larry. — Jim Wardynski
End of vacation hunt at a small beaver pond near a drainage pond. Wood ducks flew all morning and we waited until almost 8 am to shoot. Pete retrieved all, with three being blinds. — Matt Layell
Blind Ducks While wearing Ducks Unlimited, we limited out around 9:30 that morning! Great day. — Bill Nielsen
She came in low over the water all alone. At first glance I thought it was just a shore bird. Missed on the first attempt but connected on the second. Bird of a lifetime. — Daneil McDonald
I filed for a Provisional Patent for a newly designed Short Reed Style Goose and an Arkansas Style Duck Call last week. The internal air flow has been redesigned and the typical barrel/insert has been replaced. If you interested in hearing more my email address is — Jeffrey Moore
Hunting the 5.8 acre lake on the FARM today 1/31/2015. Using a newly designed patent pending air flow with tone chamber from Extreme Calls. — Jeffrey Moore
A successful opening day with my 2 year old Hank. — Jason Hoffman
Chocolate Lab, "Rocket" watching circling mallards overhead in Arkansas refuge pond. — Dr. Steven Zegar
Here I am wearing my DU waders and championing my Primos Phat Lady call, as well as a few others on my lanyard. My co-guide (I waterfowl guide at a lodge in North Dakota) took this picture while I posed. Later I realized it is very much like a picture of Captain Ahab from "Moby Dick"! — Nate Heegaard
A friend (right), myself (left) and my black Lab, Jake (very left in cattails), on an early October duck hunt. We took my buddy's girlfriend for her very first duck hunt and this is one of the photos she snapped when we were waiting for the birds to start flying.

— Dane Richardson

Late season Nebraska duck hunt, Nelli and a nice goldeneye drake.

— Scott Propes

Lilly was adopted from the Humane Society and is a 2-year-old Lab and Australian shepherd mix. This pic is from the 2012-13 season, taken on Lake Toho, Fla., by my son, Patrick Banner.

— Eric Banner

Here is my son training his puppies just like I train our yellow Lab. He loves his puppies!

— Colt Wells

First light on Maryland's eastern shore on my first ever duck hunt. Perfect.

— Tom V.

Chesapeake Bay sea duck hunt January 2013.

— Dave Parrish

Hunting the Colorado River in Texas just south of Interstate 10. My dog, Slider, is without a doubt one of the most fun dogs to watch hunt. He remains vigilant the entire hunt, never looking away from the sky and can identify ducks over other birds, dismissing the latter very quickly.

— Dustin Andreas

Dominique Martin Jr. sent in this photo of this duck dog, Gauge, on retrieve in early January at Fingers Lakes, N.Y.
English setter out duck hunting on an Excel F4 with a mud buddy. He is standing on the back pod.

— Jared Hiniker

Tom Van Dam sent in this photo of his 10-month-old Lab, Dixie, on one of her first hunts. Van Dam wrote, "She is my first Lab, I have worked with her everyday since January, and it is the greatest feeling in the world to see all of her hard work come to fruition and see her have so much fun chasing waterfowl. So rewarding for me too. Anyone who has ever hunted over a dog they have trained and grown attached to knows the feeling of the first hunt and the first bird."
This photograph was taken at Lewis and Clark Fairgrounds in Helena, Mon. This pond is full of different breeds, sexes and many other birds that come through.

— Wendy Grove

This photograph was taken at Lewis and Clark Fairgrounds in Helena, Mon. Many breeds and different species come through all year.

— Wendy Grove

Was invited last year to participate with biologist to banded Canada geese. That day more than 600 birds were banded. That was on the St. Lawrence river near Montreal.

— Dominique Martin Jr.

This is my husband, Randy, and our Lab, Sadie. They are both looking over the blind or geese. We have a Beavertail boat blind. Our shotguns are a Benelli Super Vinci and a Beretta Xtrema 2. We were using Kent steel shot.

— Heather Mullins

Opening day in Colorado 2008. New Benelli Nova, two gads, two mallards, a redhead and a pintail — all before 9 a.m. Had hundreds coming in; it was easy to pick only drakes. What a day!

— Troy Herde

First year duck hunting and finally, on my third time out, I got my first duck! Nice wood duck out of Browns Mills, N.J.

— Tracey Harvey

My buddy, Austin, and his 7-month-old old pup, Bailey, waiting for some birds during early season in Iowa.

— Dan Brinkheide

My 8-year-old son, Zane, took this widgeon, his first of the season. He was using a Rossi .410 and wearing a Drake Waterfowl Young Guns coat with Cabela's waders.

— Clayton Stewart

Limited out first day at our impoundment at Creekfield located at Belvidere, N.C., all wood ducks.

— Troy Berry

January hunt in Oklahoma with Voodoo Outfitters. 13 man limit by 930AM. Video of the hunt is located here. — Patrick Perkins
My gear was only a camera and I was at the Fox River in Oswego, Ill. — Byron Owen
Took this photo post-hunting season scouting a new spot for next year. — Justin Skrzynski
Cathoula Lake, Opening Day, 2013. — Kenneth Vaughn
Fly-over on approach, in the soup! In the fog at Shelby Farms Park, Memphis, TN. — Dan Wireman
Taking to flight! — Dan Wireman
While I was out hunting snows this spring with Ricky Hart i took this picture of his dog. We were using a rigem right blind and dakota decoys. — Aron Boyce
This was the very first time my wife had went to Harsens Island with me. I was so proud of her she was on time, didn't fuss and had a ball. We got just a few mallards over some GHG decoys, but I'll always remember the first time. — Gilly Gilhouse
Shiloh was just a year old the first time we took him to North Dakota for the opener of duck season. He made 142 retrieves that week and has been a seasoned waterfowler ever since. — Gilly Gilhouse

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