Things to Consider before Buying That 1st Squirrel Dog
By Dennis Clay Smith
One of the first decisions to make is deciding whether to buy a pup and training it yourself, or buying a "finished " dog already trained. A third choice, in between the 1st two, is buying a "started" dog.
There's advantages and disadvantages to all three choices.
Pup: The advantages are you get to see it develop and form a very close bond with you.
Because of this 'bonding', it probably will handle better than the other two choices.
You can correct any faults before they become a big problem. (You can teach an old dog new tricks; it just takes a lot longer.)
Some disadvantages are you will have a relatively long wait before you can expect it to be a hunting companion. You'll incur many costs getting to that point: the initial cost of the pup, a series of puppy shots and worming, registration costs, a house shoe replacement bill, possible marriage counselor bills, or worse, a divorce lawyer fee. You'll possibly spend lots of money on gas, driving to an area where you can train it. But most likely the biggest cost will be - buying lots of dog food. And, after spending this initial money, you're still not guaranteed that it will turn out like you expected. But, if the dog does turn out like you hoped, this can be the most rewarding choice. After all, this dog will be a product of your love, care, and devotion to its success.
Started: Probably the biggest question here is exactly what does the seller mean by "started"? How "started" is the dog? Does he mean the dog has started treeing a few squirrels on his own? Or has he treed with an experienced dog? Or has he been introduced to live squirrels in a cage? A squirrel hide? Or has the dog just been taken to the woods and allowed to 'run with the big dogs'? Obviously, if the dog is in the first category (Treeing a few squirrels on his own) he is going to be easier to train and will probably make a 'squirrel dog' much quicker than the other scenarios. He'll probably command a much higher price too, although some guys tack on several hundred dollars more to justify all the money they've already invested in the dog. Buying a 'started' dog can be a good way to go, especially if the seller just has to many dogs to work. But don't expect to get a world champion caliber 'started' dog for a bargain-basement price. If the dog was that good, he wouldn't be for sale.
So a decision you'll need to make is whether the dog has enough potential to justify the seller's 'asking price'. If you're new at this dog-buying business, you'd be wise to take along an experienced dog man to help with your decision and keep an eye on your wallet. Make a list of questions you want to ask about the dog and make sure they get answered. I've gone to look at some dogs and felt like I was dealing with an auctioneer; I couldn't get a word in edge-wise between all the bragging the seller was spewing forth. In my greener days, I bought a dog from a man like this who practically had the dog loaded in my truck before I got out of it. If you have any doubts at all, tell the seller you'll think it over and get back with him.
Finished: The advantage with this type of dog is you can hunt with him right away. A disadvantage is the relatively high cost (and risk of getting what you paid for).
This classification of a dog also raises a lot of questions. How good of a "finished" dog is he? Just like "Started Dogs", there's degrees of how good a "Finished Dog" is. Just because a dog is in the classification of being finished doesn't necessarily mean the dog is an excellent hunter. He may be a 'good' hunter, but because of his genes, age and experience level, he's basically as good as he's going to get. A good dog handler may be able to improve the dog some, but they can't turn an average dog into a world champion.
Like a "Started Dog", the more qualities the "Finished Dog" has will have a big impact on how much the dog will sell for. Age can have a big impact on how much the dog costs too. You may be able to get an older dog, past their prime, a lot cheaper. Many guys with big kennels will sell these dogs to make more room for 'up and coming' dogs. Just remember, these dogs probably won't be around a whole lot longer, so be sure to take that into account before buying one. Also, maybe the dog is a grade dog (not registered). These dogs will normally come cheaper than a registered dog. Again, before buying a "finished dog", if you're not sure what to look for, take along somebody who is.
More on learning about squirrel dogs and what to look for.
Decide what kind of dog you want: a Cur, Feist, other. Go to some of the Competition hunts if you can and ask to go along on some casts as a spectator. (Most guys won't mind you tagging along)
Watch the dogs work and observe their different styles. Do they hunt close? Far away? I usually judge this by how far away they will tree and how often they 'check back in'. For coon hunting, a dog that trees 2 ridges over may be acceptable for some people, but for hunting squirrels, this isn't very desirable. Most squirrels will have 'timbered out' to a den-tree by the time you get to the dog. Coons will usually stay with the tree. I personally don't like walking ¾'s of a mile to a treed dog every time, even if he does have the game. Some people like a close-hunting dog, some like ones who range out farther. It's all a personal thing and if you go to a few of the Comp hunts, you'll eventually see both styles.
Do the dogs use their eyes, ears and nose to locate game? This is a big advantage the Curs and Feists have over the hounds in most cases. If a dog suddenly stops and intently looks in a specific direction, it's very possible he thought he saw or heard a squirrel. Does he ever hold his head up high and test the air? Some dogs 'Wind' game in the air before they ever smell a track on the ground. This is a good attribute for a dog to have. Many times, a good 'winding' dog can locate and tree a squirrel that hasn't been on the ground in quite a while. When the squirrels haven't been stirring (on the ground) due to the weather conditions, a dog with this attribute is good to have along.