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Rufnit Kennels Braque du Bourbonnais - Pick A the Litter - J.D. Wills
Pick A the Litter
By J.D. Wills

As we stood watching the puppies play in their kennel, the man turned to me and asked. “So, which one is the best pup?”
“To tell you the truth these are all real nice pups.” I replied
"Yes I can see that, but which one is the best?”
“I guess that would depend on what you,re looking for.”
“Well, I want a dog that will be a wonderful family pet as well as being a great hunter. I want what I paid for. I want the Pick A The Litter.”
“Isn’t that what everyone wants?” I joked.
“I’m sure it is, but I got it, right? I mean I paid for it, didn’t I?”
I nodded. “You bet. You put the first deposit down on a pup out of this litter, so that gives you first pick. And I reckon that one will be Pick A The Litter.”
“Well which one is it?”
“That’s up to you.”
“Me? You’re the expert. I want your opinion. But, I have to tell you I like the darker ones best”
“So you want the best dark puppy then. Do you want a male or a female?”
“Which one is better? But, I still want the best puppy. I want the Pick A The Litter.” He insisted.
“Well I have one of each I hunt with. Dottie is the best all around dog I have ever owned, but Ren is a little harder hunter. Dottie still finds her share of birds it just takes her a little longer is all. Ren hunts harder and digs in deeper, but as a pet he is not the best.”
“So what do I do?”
“Well we can put them all in a box, and you reach in and grab yourself one.  You will have just as good a chance of getting the best one that way as with any other way I know of.”
He looked at me in disbelief. “What do you mean?”
“Let me tell you something I have learned in over 20 years of raising and training bird dogs. There is no such a thing as a Pick A The Litter. Not in the sense you mean it anyway.” He frowned as I continued. “How can you or I or anyone look at these or any 8 week old puppies and say one will be better than another. It can’t be done, it’s impossible.”
“Why not? You’re a breeder and trainer, aren’t you an expert?” He demanded.
“I can’t because it’s not just the puppy that makes the dog that it will grow into. It’s the millions of things that puppy will experience between now and the time it’s grown that will make it into the dog it finally becomes.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that what will make a puppy into a great dog are the things you as an owner and I as a trainer do with it as it matures, the things we show it and teach it. Those are some of the things that will finally decide if the pup you pick will be a good one or not. It will be decided by the millions of things that we influence and control and millions more we don’t. And many of them will be things we as humans don’t even understand. So how can I or anyone look at these little 8 week old pups and say one or the other will be the best.”
“At 8 weeks old a puppy is like a 2 year old child. I think a dog matures at the rate of about 1 month per year for the first 2 years. So at 6 months a pup is like a 6 year old child and just like that’s when we send the kids to school it time to send the pup to school too. But remember just like the child the pup is going to grade school. So after a couple of months of training don’t expect your pup to have his PHD (that stands for Pheasant Hunting Degree). Think more like grade school or junior high. Then after a season of hunting send the pup back for the rest of his schooling. Then think High School graduate.”
“What about the PHD?” He asked with a laugh.
“You’ll give it a PHD in the fields and hedge rows at the college of the life. By hunting it and letting it learn from experience. By rewarding the good and ignoring the bad. Let the pup learn from mistakes what not to do again. They hate to be ignored.”
“How long will all that take?”
“Well figure it will take two years for the puppy to really grow up and become the dog it will finally be and another two to earn that PHD.”
“Why so long?” He asked in surprise.
“How long did it take you to become the man you are?”
He thought a minute and then nodded in understanding. “But what about now, how can I tell which one is the best?”
“Heck if I know.” I said with a shrug “And what do you mean by the best? The best what? The best pet? The best hunter? The best looking? Just what is the best? I’m sure it means something different to everyone. You said you like a dark dog. Well, I like the light ones. I can see them better in the field. I like dogs that range out, but most people don’t. I like bold aggressive puppies, maybe that’s not what you want. See what I mean the best is a hard thing to pin down even if there were a way to tell.”  “Oh I can tell you general things I have observed about these pups. Like right now I like that light colored aggressive female over there pulling on that other pups ear. But, yesterday I liked that big dark male that’s staring at us. And that little dark male sleeping in the corner seems a bit shy but he surely is good looking. Then see the one with the big saddle across her back? Three days ago I was sure she would be the one I would pick, but today she doesn’t impress me. But all that can change overnight.”  “Remember this is like looking at a bunch of 2 year old kids. Think of it this way. Do you think Einstein’s parents looked at him when he was 2 and said, ‘Albert is going grow up and be the smartest man in the world.’ Or Michael Jordan parents said when Mike was a toddler, ‘Yep Mike is gonna be the greatest basketball player that ever lived.’ Of course, they didn’t?”  “But then take a look at Tiger Woods. When he was about 2 his dad decided he was going to make Tiger into a great golfer and he did. But, how many dads before and after Earl Woods said that very thing and were very wrong.  Lots and lots I bet. So was it Tiger’s natural ability and not his Dad's influence that made him what he is? I doubt it. Without lots of natural ability Earl’s plan would have failed.” “And does that mean Tiger’s Dad made him what he is or Tiger would have been a great golfer no matter what? I am confidant both had a lot to do with it. Just like you will have a lot to do with making the pup you choose into the dog it will become. But always remember the foundation must be there first. That natural ability. ”  “That's why breeding tells. The most important thing you can do as a potential dog owner is to go to a reputable professional breeder using AKC (American Kennel Club) or FDSB (Field Dog Stud Book) registered, OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) certified dogs. Look at his operation and his dogs, see whether they look clean and healthy. Ask about shots and deworming. At 8 weeks puppies should have had two shots and be parasite free. Also be sure the tails are docked and dew claws removed, when that’s appropriate. You may pay a little more, but good things are rarely cheap and cheap things are rarely good.”  “My philosophy is this. If I sell you a bad puppy you will tell everyone you know or meet what I did. If I sell you a great puppy, you may tell a few people. So it is foolish of me to sell bad dogs. All it can do is hurt me.”  “Then if you’re buying a hunting dog make sure you buy a puppy out of proven stock. Hunting dogs that hunt. Now that’s not to say field trial dogs do not produce good hunting dogs cause they do. In fact, I think they produce some of the best. A honest to God field trial dog comes along once in a great while. But that kind of desire and heart in a blood line is what makes great dogs.”
“Well I don’t want a field trail dog, I hear they run too big.” He said with a serious note.
I laughed. “That’s just not true. A dog should be able to adjust his range to fit the conditions, the terrain and the needs of his hunting partner. My dogs Dottie and Ren are both field trial dogs. Ren even runs in All Age stakes.”
“But don’t field trail dogs run way out in front?”
“In some instances yes they do. But the thing that drives them to do that is a burning desire to find a bird and that’s not something you can give a dog. It either has it, or it doesn’t. Think of it like building a house, you can always make that 20 foot 2 X 4 into a 10 foot one, but there is no way on earth to make a 10 foot 2 X 4 into a 20 foot one. A good trainer can teach a dog to do anything, but you can never teach it desire. That’s something it’s born with it either has or it doesn’t.”  “Keep in mind a dog that hunts at your feet isn’t helping you one bit.
You’ll kick up that bird on your own. A flushing dog needs to stay under the gun. But, a pointing dog should range a bit. Now that’s not to say it needs to be half a mile in front of you going away. But, it doesn’t mean under the gun either. A pointing dog should hunt logical cover where a bird should be found. Tree lines, fence lines, hedge rows, ditches and draws.”  “You’ll find it awful handy to send your pointing dog down a tree line, fence line or ditch while you wait and see what happens. If there’s a bird there the dog will point it, wait for you to flush it and make the shot. If not the dog will save you many many steps allowing you to hunt more ground and find more birds.”
“That all makes sense but how do I pick a puppy?”
“Well used to be when I was gonna keep a pup I would come out every day and set and watch the pups when they didn’t know I was around and try to find the one I liked the best. The one that showed the most independence and curiosity. The one that seemed the boldest. But, I found myself liking a different pup almost everyday. Only choosing finally when I was out of time and had to pick one so I could sell the rest.”  “Right now If I were you I would decide on the things I wanted the most like color, sex and temperament. Then put those together and pick one out of those pups.”
“That makes sense. Is that how you do it?”
“No.” I chuckled. Now when I am going to keep a puppy I always keep the last one in the litter. The one no one wanted, the left over pup. And you know what? I get a grand puppy every single time.”
We looked at each other and began to laugh. A little while later he left with his new puppy.
How did he pick it? Well, we put all the females in a box, and he closed his eyes reached in and grabbed one.
Which one did he get? He got that little light ticked, bold female I liked. Was she the Pick A The Litter? You bet she was. Well she was that day anyway. But I was out there a little while ago and now I kinda like that little dark male that was sleeping in the corner. I think he may just turn out to be The Pick A The Litter.

Previously Published:  Outdoor Notebook September 1998; Field Trial Magazine Fall 1998.
Permission to post/reprint on this site graciously granted by J.D. Wills - ArrowHeadKennels

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