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Criteria for Choosing a Retriever Puppy

Bill Gibson | Kennel Master at Mossy Oak GameKeeper Kennels

yellow labs and black labs puppies

When the day for picking a puppy arrives, I go through four evaluative steps before making my final decision:  

1. Tail position:  Is the tail tucked between the pup’s legs? This indicates to me that the pup is timid, very submissive, and likely harder to train. Is the tail held high above the pup’s back? This indicates to me that the pup is dominant and again will present training problems, albeit a different set of training problems from the low tail dog. Is the tail held in a position between tucked and above the pup’s back? This indicates to me that the pup is neither overly submissive nor overly dominant and likely is both biddable and trainable without the issues associated with the aforementioned less desirable positions.  

2. Sociability:  Has the pup been socialized or just left in the pen on his/her own?  Discuss this with the breeder.  Does the pup actively seek human contact?  If the pup comes to me and actively seeks and maintains contact, this is to me indicative of a pup that should receive high marks in both biddability and trainability.

3. Retrieving:  Does the pup readily retrieve a thrown object such as a tennis ball or a duck wing? This establishes, from my perspective, that the pup is genetically predisposed to retrieve an object.

4. Lip Licking: Does the pup lick his lips when praised for obeying a command or making a short retrieve?  I advocate that this is a most desirable factor in my overall evaluation of the biddability and trainability of the pup.  I look for this trait in every pup that I buy.

While there are many variables in the selection process, these are the factors that I look for when I select a litter and a pup, with one caveat, they can never be all inclusive. However, in every case, if you exercise due diligence in your selection of the sire and dam of the litter and have a puppy selection procedure in mind, your chances of obtaining an excellent and healthy gundog that will be by your side for many years will be very high.

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