During my tenure with Customs and Border Protection I had the opportunity to work as a K9 Officer. I spent approximately 7 weeks on the East coast learning how to keep up with what my dog already knew (K9 School). My dog was trained to detect narcotics (marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy) as well as concealed humans. I always found it fascinating that a dog could differentiate between people riding in a conveyance, and those who were intentionally concealing themselves for illicit entry into the United States.
My intention with this series is to get you from pup selection through the first 12 months of training your hunting pup. I have a new puppy on the way and I will be following all the same principles that I am writing about. I will draw upon my personal experience as a K9 Officer, information from books and articles, and when I need extreme technical support I will hit up my dad, who is a practicing veterinarian.
Why get a hunting dog? For one, they will make you a better hunter. A dog’s olfactory acuity (sense of smell) allows them to find what we cannot even see. In K9 School, it was explained through the cheeseburger. Where you might smell a cheeseburger, your dog would smell ground cow muscle, pickle, onion, mustard, whole wheat bun toasted, tomato raw… You get the point. Another consideration is the overall enriching experience of working with a dog to achieve a goal.
How to select a breed? First, you need the right tool for the job. I break gun dogs down into three groups, although there are more complex categorizations available: retrievers, flushing, pointers/setters. Retrievers are typically used to hunt water birds (ducks). These dogs have to be comfortable in water and remain still for long periods. Flushing dogs are used for hunting upland game (grouse, pheasant, etc.). These dogs will remain fairly close to the hunter and assist in aggressively flushing birds. Pointers are also used for upland game, however, when they detect their game they freeze in place (pointing), allowing the hunter to get into a shooting position. This allows them to operate further away from their human partner.
In addition to these three categories, there are versatile hunting dogs. These dogs were developed to search, point, track and retrieve (from land and water). These breeds are not as acutely developed for a singular task, so they may not display the same intensity (ex. pointing) as the breeds that are subject matter experts. However, they can be used in a more versatile manner.
Learn about the breeds you are interesting in prior to deciding. If possible, find someone with that breed or go visit breeders. Remember that other than the 3-4 months of hunting, this will inevitably and enjoyably be a family or personal pet. Take everything into consideration: kids, exercise requirements, work schedule, typical medical conditions, etc. Once you have done that, then you can move on to selecting a breeder.
(Featured image courtesy of cascadegriffs.com)