Photo by Seth Bynum
What goes around comes around, in life and puppies
by Mark Coleman
Whether it is your first bird dog or you’re filling an empty spot in the kennel, the process itself is pretty much the same. You look at the calendar, look at your checkbook, look at the calendar again, and begin the search.
This was not my first bird dog, but the starting point on the calendar was no different. Long days and warm weather in spring and summer are just easier for raising a puppy around my house, leaving a window from April to July for bringing one home. Conversations with breeders in late 2020 began with this in mind, and by the end of February I was chasing three litters. From here it’s a simple process, right? You choose the litter, then you choose the pup.
In my world, though, things are rarely so simple.
Of the three litters, one stood out as the favorite based on the breeder’s reputation. If your time frame is “sometime in the next two or three years,” you can build a relationship with a breeder and expect to take home a new pup in that stretch, one likely to be a good match for you and your situation.
Over the course of the 2020-2021 season, my oldest dog, despite his best efforts to hide it, let me know this would be his last full-time campaign, leaving me with a six-year-old to hang all my hopes on. One unseen hole or bad landing or rendezvous with barbed wire and both of us would be sitting at home instead of hunting birds, meaning my timeframe for a new pup was now, and scrapping the strategy of building a breeder relationship over time.
After weighing the advice and recommendations of several trusted people, I ranked my second and third choice litters, which paid off when conversation waned with the top choice. Even a pair of possibilities, though, presents a bit of a gamble. What if the third-choice litter is born first? Do you take the sure thing and lock in a pup or roll the dice? What if you take a chance and there aren’t enough pups to go around? What if there are but due to your place on the list, you get what the others didn’t want? Choices are nice to have, but in this game they aren’t guaranteed, and they certainly aren’t easy.
The days in March passed with me checking email and text messages religiously, almost compulsively, waiting to hear that a litter had whelped. On a Thursday evening I got word that my second-choice litter was on the ground with four healthy males of which I would have the second pick, and I exhaled.
Photo by Mark Coleman
Mike Stewart, noted lab breeder/trainer and owner of Wildrose Kennels, says that when it comes to picking a pup, find the right breeding for your purposes and then reach in and grab one. Don’t look for personality or potential or drive in an eight-week-old dog, because if the breeding is right, they’ll all be good dogs. Others swear by all sorts of tricks and tests for revealing talent and potential at such an early age. Regardless of method, what everyone really wants is the feeling that they are taking home the perfect pup. There’s no objective definition of this, only the warm fuzzy each person gets that one dog or another will fit his world better than the rest.
Over the years, I’ve found a happy medium based on the admittedly superficial logic that if I’m going to look at a dog every day for the next fifteen years or so, it better look good. Brittanies are my breed and I like orange on my dogs, so the few that are mostly white get shuffled to the bottom of the list. I’m not quite as picky about personality, although an overly timid dog can mean a lot of work, which rules those out when given a choice. What’s left are dogs that I don’t mind looking at and don’t have any glaring behavior issues. From there, if I’m honest, it’s a guess with a lot of hope sprinkled in. And if I’m brutally honest, by the time any flaws appear I’m so attached to the dog that none of them seem to matter anyway.
Photos began showing up in my text messages. When pictures are all you have to go on, looks are everything, and one caught my eye immediately. Videos soon followed. It’s almost laughable that anyone would base such a long-term decision on a few minutes of video knowing this shows only a sliver of time when each pup could be having a good moment or a bad moment not truly reflective of who they are, but this is what we do. I watched the videos over and over, looking for some sign that the pup I had my eye on was a standout or a washout and, not surprisingly, found that he wasn’t much different than the rest.
Around the six-week mark, the breeder asked me to make a choice. He was keeping one of the males and his wife had fallen in love with the little guy that caught my eye, leaving three to choose from. One was nearly all white, which narrowed the list to two. The breeder told me that of these two, one was actually his favorite and if not for his wife, would be the pup he kept. That was good enough for me.
In my world, though, things are rarely so simple.
A week before I left to pick up my new pup, the breeder of my first-choice litter sent out a notice that there were still two males available. Obviously it would not be good form to bail on the breeder I’d committed to, but desire plays an unwelcome tug of war with common sense, and here was the opportunity to take home that perfect pup.
The common-sense end of that tug of war, along with several decades of living with the consequences of less than stellar decisions, reminded me that morally dubious actions come back around and tend to attack from the rear, teeth bared. Some people call it karma. I had visions of that first-choice pup turning out to be the only one in the history of the kennel with no nose and zero drive. Or a genetic defect that caused its teeth to grow constantly, like a beaver’s, forcing it to chew the legs off every piece of furniture in the house. Karma is a bitch, and not the female dog kind.
Photo by Mark Coleman
No, I didn’t chase the first choice. Over Memorial Day weekend, my daughter and I headed west to pick up the next member of our team. Sitting at the breeder’s kitchen table on Sunday morning, I got that warm fuzzy.
Any commitment that could last fifteen years or so should not be left to chance. Do your homework and stack the odds in your favor as much as possible, and when events beyond your control enter the picture, let the process play out. If you don’t get your first choice, or your second, don’t fret.
There’s a force at work in the universe making sure that whether you’re rewarded for years of patience and learning, or in need of a dog who will forgive your mistakes, or you just deserve some humbling, you’ll get the pup you’re supposed to have. This particular dog came along at this particular time and rode home in the truck with you, not someone else. Call it what you will.
Whatever higher power determines these things decided that this was the pup my life needed right now. He’s quiet, has an “off switch,” which is something of a first for me in a Brittany, and shows some real promise on birds.
Karma works both ways.
Mark Coleman is a QF member who lives in South Carolina and serves on the outreach committee for the SC Bobwhite Initiative. You can find him on Instagram (@spentcartridge) and in the woods nearly
This story originally appeared in the 2022 Summer Issue of the Quail Forever Journal.If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a member today!