What To Look For First In a Dog?

June 8, 2011 | By | 17 Replies More

by Jay

Brendan has a Lab pup, so he’s cast his dog vote. Me, I’m still undecided. My head’s spinning with all the breeds, all the recommendations, all the just plain love this or that hunter has for this or that dog.

Today I had a long, very educational conversation with grouse dog master Dick Weaver. And although Dick took pains not to move my thinking any one way regarding dog breeds or dogs, I ended up thinking in a new way anyway, which is:

Should I focus on a specialist dog?

Here’s what I mean.

So far a lot of my thinking about dogs has had hunting and family balanced relatively equally – to be honest, probably a shade more toward family. I have two young kids (7 and 9), a wife who stays home, and not the world’s biggest yard.

My wife has been eyeing the kids and I suspiciously and a little fearfully when we talk about getting a dog – or two – ASAP. She’s made it clear that whatever dog (singular) we get, it better not run around tearing up the house.

Since I’m gone most of the day, I get that – and it limits what dog breeds we can have…though my daughter is bent on getting a black Lab and only a black Lab.

Now, I somewhat buy into the fact that “any dog” is better than no dog, particularly when it comes to finding hit birds. Certainly a Lab can do that. But that decision process doesn’t sound like it’s…Serious.

I mostly hunt ruffies, so I need a dog that can do that, that wants to do that, that even excels at doing that. Ergo I need a grouse dog born of grouse-hunting stock. Which means…what? What are my options?

And should that quality be the focus of my dog search, or just one of the many considerations?

Any thoughts/opinions appreciated.

Category: Dogs in general

Comments (17)

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  1. LRR says:

    First off, I think you already know my preference of a flushing dog for anyone grouse hunting alone, so a Lab would fit that bill if you chose one.

    But, you need to understand something; any breed of dog will drive momma crazy as a pup when you’re not there to run interference.

    I would say, which ever breed you decide on, get a well bred pup, from a reputable breeder, who’s breeding for the field, not the show ring. Then turn that dog into the specialist you want it to be. My belief is that a grouse dog will learn to handle other species of bird easier than any pheasant/quail/chukar dog will handle grouse. But to make your dog a grouse dog, you’ve got to commit to getting that dog on grouse, and lots of them. I train my dogs on pen raised birds, and then when they’re finished, I introduce them to grouse the second year. grouse are tricky, and better the dog know how to handle birds and what you want before learning how to handle grouse.

    My breed preference; Flushers= Springer or Lab, Pointer=Setters, Ryman, and O.H.

  2. Brad says:

    Years back I found myself hunting over a couple of wiemaraners and really enjoyed them. The two guys who owned them did a great job getting them ready for grouse and they did the job. I resolved to get one someday. Three years ago, I bought my first weim. She was hard headed but pointed and retrieved her first quail when she was just under 6 months. She is three now and just coming into her own. She hunts close on grouse but ranges well in the pheasant fields. Retrieves EVERYTHING I drop. I love the breed but you need to be careful. Find one from hunting stock. That can be a challenge because most are bred as “show” dogs or house pets.

  3. R Hanson says:

    I would have to concur with most everything said by LRR. That said narrowing down top breeders of gun dogs can still be difficult. Not sure if we are to mention names (but if we can) when you believe you know of something really good it is hard not to. I and many others have been very pleased with dogs from Tiger Mountain Kennels. They are in it for true hunting dogs, with a long history… been there done that…
    Dogs are a very big investment and when they are going to be a family dog too, you don’t want to make any mistakes because it will be at least a 10 year investment. As a hunter you do not want to waste any years with an average dog. All dogs are not created equal and good breeding from actual hunting stock is huge.
    My 3yr old dog has provided me many opportunities at grouse. He hunts for me and is intent on pleasing me. He is a joy to hunt with. Good Luck with finding your match.

  4. Christopher says:

    I just went through the same delima. Hmmm what kind of dog do I get? I own your book and like you guys I was serious about grouse and only hunted without a dog and never even hunted with a dog period. Like your books states, a person can shoot a grouse without a dog, I have proof of that several times over. However after several years of doing so I have started to get the itch to get something more from grouse hunting. There comes a “point” when a person needs to yurn for more when it comes to hunting. I was finally able to get a dog just because my living arrangements finally changed.
    I chose a German Shorthair, it seems like everyone has a lab. I felt a grouse dog should point the bird and let me come in and make the kill! Granted this all very new to me, and my dog is just a pup so there is still a whole year before I can really bring her out and hunt with her. This season will be learning and exploring with no real hunting over her. I did alot of research and thought “seriously” about a setter and a brittany. I chose the shorthair because of just that shorthair, family type dog which from what I have been reading is very true. Versatility, good looking dog and you can’t forget good old fashion German engineering!! The Germans know what it takes to make a good dog! just like anything else.
    So far very happy, and I am very suprised at the intelligence that she has shown at only ten weeks old.
    I saved a grouse wing from last year and if she gets a hold of it, she will clamp down on it like Jaws! Loves the smell and that made me very happy!

  5. UplandGuide says:

    “I mostly hunt ruffies, so I need a dog that can do that, that wants to do that, that even excels at doing that. Ergo I need a grouse dog born of grouse-hunting stock. Which means…what? What are my options?”

    Hunting Ruffed Grouse calls for a pointing dog. Labs are wonderful hunters….great on pheasants and waterfowl. But, the Grouse and Woodcock hunting experience calls for a well trained pointing dog.

    Hunting Grouse and Woodcock is not about the kill or numbers killed. It’s the whole experience. Add all the parts together to arrive at the ultimate upland adventure: The Bird (Grouse and Woodcock), The Gun (Double in a 20 or 28ga), the Dog (English Setter, Brittany, GSP, etc).

    If you just want to kill birds, then head west to Pheasant country where the Labs, Cockers & Springers fit the bill (as well as your 12ga auto). Or head to Argentina and load up on Dove.

  6. Glen Bahde says:

    Jay I know you have a kids and puppies are exciting. But if you have a very busy life and your wife has these requirements I would buy a started or finished dog. You are inadvertently going to pay the same cost in training and care plus mistakes. When you get a pup it’s a crap shoot at times. But a started dog is proven to an extent. It might not have all the polish that want but it wouldn’t be hard for you to do that. A finished dog you can take out of the box put up on ground and go hunting.

    Either way you will ,miss the puppy chewing, crying, biting, stealing, peeing, pooping, toy claming, furniture ruining and oh yes your Costa’s or Maui Jim’s and your lap top electric chord consider them toast too.

    Me personally I have the time and all those horrible things I said I wouldn’t trade a one of them. I think puppies are great. I would also choose a dog that has temperament that you like.

    Bubba’s in the past have mistaken hyper active, HDD neurotic acting dogs as dogs with high drive. But they were just neurotic hyper dogs. The labs have suffered lots due to the back yard breeding.

    Many hunters go to English Labs due to the temperament and size. I have Brittanys myself because they fit my life (small house, 12 year old, average back yard and they fit in my bird mobile) But I would love to experience various breeds. You will find gem’s in each breed. But to hedge your bet and get one that you know will do it consider a started or finished dog from a reputable kennel.

  7. Ed Courtemarche says:

    3 years ago I got back into Grouse hunting in New Hampshire. I hunted the first year without a dog. I bought an English Setter pup that came from dogs with a strong Grouse hunting background. She is now 2 years and 5 months old and even my wife who did not want a dog fell in love with her. Go to http://www.longgonesetters.com and talk to Lloyd Murry he has the best Grouse dogs in the world. I am retired and my dog is a house pet also and she just loves my Granchildren when they come to visit.

  8. UplandGuide says:

    Ed Courtemarche, do youor have you had any relatives in/near Troy, NY?

  9. Bill says:

    I agree with most, if not all of the above, so I will dispense with advice and go straight to the vote/recommendation: Irish Red & White Setter. Terrific grouse dog and wonderful family pet. The breeders who raise them to hunt and not just show are obvious by their websites. The top line hunting IRWS breeders have waiting lists for their pups, but a call from Jay, the Serious Bird Hunter, may carry some sway. Good luck with whatever breed you select. Hunting over your own dog completely changes the equation…for the better, as hard as that may be to imagine.

    • Terry Berkhouse says:

      I read your comments about how great Irish red & White Setters are for hunting grouse. Please let me know the top IRWS hunting breeders that you refer to so I can look into this more. Thanks.

      • Bill says:

        I don’t want to get into promoting or endorsing one breeder over another, but an e-mail to the current Membership Chairman of the IRWSA will certainly get you started in the right direction. I got mine from a lesser known breeder who’s known for Viszlas, but has a male and female IRWS who produce terrific hunting dogs. I just took my dog out for a hike along a river in NH I was scouting for fly fishing and he pointed a couple of grouse and flushed a woodcock, after I wouldn’t wade into the muck, so he took matters into his own hands (paws). Good luck….keeping him/her off the bed, couch and front passenger seat of the truck. And certainly don’t let him see you pulling out the shotgun.

  10. As for the question of a grouse dog, I’ve trained many over the years, flushing as well as pointing dogs. If you are looking for a specialized dog then you will be better off with a pointing dog.

    I’ve guided at the Grand Nat’l Grouse Hunt for 12+ years, there were many times the winners had flushing dogs, however with numbers down the pointing breeds produced more birds.

    As a grouse guide since 1987 I have had a variety of pointing dogs with each breed having their own pluses and minuses. English Setters have been my dog of choice for the past 20+ years. There are many reasons for my choice, but guiding for 35-40 days a year for 24 year our dogs ares till the biggest asset.

    In short no matter which type or breed you choose as long as your dog puts a smile on your face and makes you happy that is all that matters.

  11. Shawn says:

    I would suggest you visit a NAVHDA Training or Testing day. This will expose you to a large variety of dogs that are pups to Versatile Champions. Each dog has a different personality and hunting style. By going to the training you can see what type of dog best fits your personality and family dynamic. For instance, I love my GSP, but your wife makes it clear that the amount of energy my boy has would not be welcome. A Griff. or Brittany, or Spinone may work better and they are close hunters. English Setters are Versatile hunting dogs too!

  12. Matt says:

    I have heard great things about Lewellin Setters. Been considering getting one myself. Supposed to be a great breeder in Meadville, PA. Heard of one other breeder in the Laurel Highlands of PA (who got his stock from the fella in Meadville). As I understand it, the Lewellin is a particular strain of the English Setter.

  13. Ryan says:

    I have 2 english setters and can’t say enough good things about them. I hunt grouse and woodcock in MN and occasionaly make a trip to other states for sharptails and pheasant. These dogs excel on all upland birds, but especially grouse and woodcock. You could call them a “specialist” on grouse and woodcock, but they have done very well on all upland birds I have hunted. As for family dogs, they are very warm and loving with my family and love to play. They do need daily exercise, but with any hunting breed you choose they will need exercise. As for your wife worrying about a dog tearing up the house, any puppy from a hunting breed will be wild in the house if it does not get to go outside and run every day. I also have a small yard so I take the dogs on a good walk before work and when I get home from work. Anyway, that’s my two cents and I’m sure you will have a challenging yet rewarding experience with your first grouse dog.

  14. Shawn says:

    I fully endorse any of the Versatile breeds. They are equally at home upland hunting and in the water. Many people use them on rabbits (my dog loves to hunt bunny). Some use them to track wounded deer. I, personally, have a GSP. I love my dog, especially the short fur, but their boundless energy is not for everyone. I love the fact that I can take my dog out to the field and he will outhunt any other 2 dogs. With the electronic collar, I can give him more room to work and I still know when the tone changes to let me know when he is locked up. I have been able to climb through gnarly thickets and find my dog holding a woodcock in place for me to flush (ok and miss). If you are only going to have one hunting dog, then you need one who will have the versatility to hunt all of the ways you want to hunt. Visit NAVHDA to learn more.

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