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Is there a Return Policy on Your Retriever?

What to do if your puppy develops a serious medical issue.

Is there a Return Policy on Your Retriever?

For any number of reasons, there are times when a puppy is returned to their breeder. Both you and your breeder should do your homework to pick the right pup, but what happens when it's not a bad match and something more? (Photo By: Waldemar Dabrowski/

The words she was looking for were ‘chronic crystalluria.’ My daughter’s friend was trying to come up with the condition while explaining why they gave their new puppy back to the breeder. She was rightfully upset that her pup was sick, and that her parents had made the difficult decision to return it. Boomerang pups, due to medical issues, happen. But they don’t have to.

In our space, where we use dogs for the pursuits they’ve been generationally bred for, we shouldn’t consistently run into early-onset genetic issues. As a subset of the general pet owning population, waterfowl hunters are probably as in-tune to bloodlines and health issues in sporting breeds as anyone with a deep love of dogs.

That still doesn’t guarantee anyone’s individual choice won’t come with an unpleasant, genetic surprise, but you can get close if you understand why some puppies are returned to breeders after a few weeks or months.

Big Deal, Or BS? 

Puppies don’t make the cut for a variety of reasons, not all of which involve medical issues. Extremely high drive, or unworkable softness, are two personality traits that might result in a serious mismatch between handler and hound. These things happen, often when someone tries out a new-to-them breed, and occasionally the disconnect is too much for the owner to overcome.

yellow labrador puppy with training dummy duck
Picking the right pup starts by working closely with your breeder to find the right match for your lifestyle and the way you plan to hunt. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

Normally, personality-based returns involve re-homing and mostly a no-harm, no-foul situation. But, as Kristin Best of Best Retrievers put it, sometimes the fault lies squarely with the client. “Some puppy buyers are incredibly high maintenance, which can set off alarm bells,” Best said. “Others just don’t really understand what they want out of a puppy, so they go for too much or too little drive, when they really needed a happy-medium dog.”

This is worth being aware of as a potential puppy buyer, because we tend to focus heavily on what the dog should bring to the table. But 50-percent of the equation is what we bring to the table training- and hunting-wise. It’s best to be honest about that once you’ve narrowed down potential breeders, and to trust their process for matching you up to a puppy. This is a better path, but not without its own potential pitfalls.


Medical Maladies 

Best, who operates the puppy whelping side of the business she shares with her husband Rody, told me that they’ve never had a puppy returned due to a medical issue. This, she explained, is no accident. “We test the parents of every litter for a variety of genetic issues, and we offer a 26-month health clearance on our puppies.”

Best, who is a wizard when it comes to puppies, takes it a big step further and does a lot of work to match up the right puppies to the right owners. This way, since they’ve covered the genetic issues, they can address any potential personality mismatches and ensure the process goes as well as possible. Not everyone operates that way, and as mentioned earlier, sometimes health issues crop up. What do you do if that happens to you and your potential duck blind rock star develops something chronic, or debilitating, or just unexpectedly expensive?

yellow labrador puppy with training dummy duck
Familiarize yourself with your breeder's medical testing and health clearances prior to bringing your pup home, as well as knowing what, or if, their return policy looks like should a medical concern arise. (Photo By: didesign021/

That’s tough-decision time, and with some breeders, is too late. This is why we should all not only research the right bloodlines but research the breeders behind them. Return policies vary, as do health clearances and guarantees. A reputable breeder will make all of this clear and known to all parties before the puppies hit the ground, and it’s your job to understand what that all means.

Now, when you’re dealing with popular breeds like Labs, finding a breeder that is producing just the right kind of dog that is backed by the right guarantees isn’t terribly difficult. It might cost you a little more than a street-corner, accidental pup would, but that’s a small price to pay for an awful lot of benefit.

With obscure, or less popular dogs or the latest wave of designer breeds, it’s more of a buyer-beware situation. Valuing a dog’s aesthetics or rarity over what is under the hood is always a gamble, and generally when we gamble, we lose. Demand for these breeds can bring out unscrupulous individuals who are in it for the easy money and can leave you with fewer options from which to choose if something goes wrong health-wise with your pup.

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