Dave Alvarez can tell you what a well-trained gun dog is worth. In 2005, he brokered the sales of $56,000 worth of gun dogs—and it really wasn’t that many dogs. Most of the dogs Dave marketed sold in the $5,000 to $8,000 range, because they were non-slip finished gun dogs, many with hunt test titles. Dave regularly brokers dogs trained by pro retriever trainer Lonny Taylor of Wichita, Kansas. “Lonny Taylor’s dogs are well trained and socialized to be a part of the family,” Dave says. “The new owners of the dogs I’ve placed are thrilled with their new retrievers.”

While that may seem like a terrific amount of money for a hunting dog, let’s look at the math. If you start with a $1,000 Labrador retriever puppy, socialize him in a family, throw puppy marks for him, and start force-breaking the puppy when he’s seven months old, you’ve already got a significant investment in the dog. This is what is known in the hunting retriever world as a “started dog”—a force-broke pup between 8 months and a year old. A started dog knows the rudiments of obedience—“sit” and “heel”, and, of course, should exhibit retrieving desire, good conformation, and “bird drive,” as Lonny puts it. If a trainer has done a good job starting a pup, he should have seen and retrieved birds, but that’s not necessarily part of the definition of a started dog.

A started dog is certainly not a finished gun dog. There’s a lot of work to do to make a finished retriever out of a started dog. However, there’s a strong market for started gun dogs because many hunters and dog enthusiasts are busy people and don’t want to go through the headache of house-breaking a new puppy, and having the pup destroy several hundred dollars’ worth of shoes and furnishings. A quality started dog can sell for anywhere between $1,500 and $3,500, depending on athleticism, looks and conformation, temperament, bloodlines, and talent.

Titled gun dogs are worth more. A nice dog with a Junior Hunter title should bring a minimum of $2,500 and up to $4,000. A Senior Hunter dog should bring no less than $3,000 and up to $5,000, and a Master Hunter typically brings between $5,000 and $10,000—and up.

Field champions, if you can find one for sale, are typically worth a minimum of $7,000-$10,000, and well-bred, talented, conformationally correct field champions can bring upwards of $50,000.

Who spends that kind of money on a dog? People who love to hunt over good dogs, people who make good money, but don’t have the time or skills to properly train a finished retriever. Look at it this way—if you’re an orthopedic surgeon in Minneapolis and you love to hunt waterfowl, the best use of your time is to be in the operating room doing knee replacements at $3,000 a whack. Two knee replacements will buy a heck of a gun dog, and you can spend your weekends in the duck blind hunting over a fantastic retriever!

So how do you find a nice Labrador retriever like this? “Sometimes a field trial trainer will decide that a dog just isn’t making the cut, and he will offer the dog for sale,” Lonny Taylor says. “He just wants to open up the slot on his truck for a better candidate. If you’re in constant contact with these trainers, as I am, you can pick up some very nice dogs. I take them home and train them for upland hunting and socialize them with the family, and they’re ready to go to a new home.” Mind you, these are dogs that are working on 400-yard blind retrieves with diversion birds. Other dogs have been raised expressly to sell at a later date, and then there are the various situations of divorce, needing to make the mortgage, and other situations where trainers need to make some money in a hurry.

The dogs that bring the highest prices are young dogs that show a lot of talent and trainability. Once a dog is past six or seven years old, it’s harder to command a high price for a Labrador that may have only three or four years of hunting left before retirement.

Stud dogs with Master Hunter titles typically demand $500-$1,000 for a stud fee, and Field Champion sires charge between $700 and up to $2,500 for a stud fee. Quite often breeders will advertise their stud dogs available to “qualified bitches”. That means the female must be OFA certified either “good” or “excellent”, and the owner of the stud dog may want to breed only to titled bitches, or may want to see a copy of the dam’s pedigree before approving a breeding.

It’s common to see litters of puppies with a Field Champion sire and a Master Hunter dam, and with that kind of proven performance in its background, the chances of getting a top-notch future gun dog are excellent. Other good combinations are Master Hunter sires and titled dams, or litters with Field Champion grandparents bred from conformationally correct parents with strong hunting backgrounds.
“We sell several started and finished Labradors and golden retrievers each year,” says Lonny Taylor of Taylor Made Retrievers, “as well as several well-bred litters of Labrador retriever puppies. We want our clients to be happy with their gun dogs, and tell their folks back home that they got their dog from Taylor Made Retrievers.”

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