jeremy, you're gonna have to do some research of your own
There are literally hundreds of good Lab breeders across the country. Certainly there's got to be one within driving distance of your locale. If not, some breeders will ship dogs, via aircraft, so all you would do is pick the dog up at the airport...I've never felt comfortable with that option, but then again, I've never done it myself either.
If I were you, I'd do all the Googling I could on Labs and breeders. You'll come up with something nearby. Here's a hit I found with one search of "labrador retriever breeders" in Texas. Maybe one of these is nearby.
Whatever you do, don't let price be your determining factor. Do you want a hunting dog, show dog, or pet? If you want a hunting dog, check with local hunters and see where they got their dogs. That's how I found mine. Don't assume any lab will hunt. If you get a pup from a bloodline that was used for hunting, you'll stand a better chance of getting a dog that hunts.
Also, there's a lot of crappy dogs out there. Just because they're AKC, doesn't mean they're good. AKC registration is nothing more than a "family tree". Check to be sure the pups parents have been screened for hip, elbow and eye problems (look for OFA and CERF). A lot of people breed dogs with bad genetic problems, like hip dysplasia, and you could end up with a huge vet bill. Most of the breeders that screen the parents offer guarantees that their pups won't have medical problems. That's the best option, but you're gonna pay for it.
Expect to spend $400-$1500 for a GOOD dog. Expect to pay more for a "started" or "trained" dog. These go for $2500 and up! It takes a lot of time and money to raise a litter of pups. Shots are expensive. Plus it costs money to do the OFA and CERF certifications. These costs are reflected in the puppy prices. Any training that has been done takes time. Time is money.
Here's a link to the kennel where I'm picking mine up in 2 weeks. Take a look at their website and read about their puppies and guarantee. This is the kind of stuff you should look for in a kennel.
Do yourself a favor if you're gonna use your dog for hunting...buy the book "Water Dog" and "Gun Dog" by the late Richard Wolters. He was a pioneer in the field of retreiver training. He knows his stuff and those books are invaluable. One of his key priniciples is to pick up the dog from the breeder when it is EXACTLY 49 days old. Read "Water Dog" for the full explanation, but it has to do with the brain development of the puppy and how it imprints on YOU as its master. I have had excellent success with his methods.
Whatever you decide, you're gonna be "stuck" with this dog (hopefully in a good way) for 10-15 years. Do your research and make it a good one!
I was introduced to dog breeding, and dog training, around 1965, with
my grandfather's kennel of internationally acclaimed beagles and bassetts.
I have been training retrieving dogs since 1982, and have made my share
of mistakes. I also have learned a few things in the process of this
training effort, and mistakes made.
Charlie has given you some excellent advice, but let me add a bit to it.
First, compile a list of prospective kennels. That is done by internet
searches, conversations with local hunters, or even getting in contact
with the local retriever clubs. Even the AKC, or some national Labrador
clubs, can give you a list of local breeders. After you have the list,
prune it by setting a budget, and setting expectations for you and
the dog. It doesn't make any sense to buy an over $1000 "field trial" bred
dog, or a pointing bred lab, if you just want a good upland, or water,
retrieving dog. Once you have a budget, and have in your mind decided what
you want from this lab, start visiting the kennels on your list, and take
a hard look at the parents, of any prospective pups. First do the dogs
have good "confirmation". Do they look blocky, and muscular, or do they
look thin and wispy. Thin and wispy is good for upland hunting labs, and
blocky, and muscular, are better for water dogs. The "well conformed"
dogs will be blocky, but if you hunt warm climate upland game, then to
heck with "well conformed", and go with thin and wispy. Have both parents
work the field for you. Have the handler throw a couple of easy retrieves,
and a couple of blinds. Watch how the dog handles, and how it works
through the blinds. If the parents look crisp in the handling, and shows
some skill in solving the "blinds", then you are half way there. I want
a dog to be social, so I also look for a happy dog, that gives me a sniff,
and then the tail starts wagging. So once you are happy with the parents,
shape, handling, and social attitude, along with a clean medical record,
you will need to get in line for a pup from those dogs, and this usually
means a sizeable cash deposit, so be certain you REALLY want a dog
from this breeder, with those parents of your pup. Once you have committed,
then try to arrange a visit to see the pups when they are about 3 - 4weeks
old, and again as Charlie suggested, be firm about picking the do up on
the 49th day. Some people will poo-poo that notion, but that comes
from seeing eye dog school research, and it has been EXTREMELY
successful for me, and my last three dogs. Actually picking a pup is a
hugely debated topic, but for me, it is pretty simple. I want the pup
to be birdy, and I test this with a duck wing, and a dove, or grouse wing.
I put it on a string, and give the pup a sniff, and then pull the wing a
bit away. The pup should get excited, and chase the wing. If it gets
it, and holds it, and fights me for it...That pup made the A list.
Then I watch how the pup interacts with the other pups. If it wants
to be first, then you are looking at a possible "alpha" pup. These dogs
are often the hardest chargers, but they also can be a handful to train.
These dogs are not always the best choice. They may not socialize
well with other dogs, or even people outside the family. And they
may take a bit more force to train. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever, in
my Avatar, is the alpha female from her litter, and to say she is a handful,
would be an understatement. Looking for the second or third pup in the litter
pecking order, may be a better choice for a family dog, yet still a great
hunting dog. If someone is looking for a dog for competition, then look
for the "alpha" male or female, and be prepared for some intense training
efforts. OK, so armed with these tests, try to visit the dogs at 3 - 4
weeks to start to form an idea about which pups you are interested in.
Then when you go to pick the pup, repeat these tests, with the remaining
pups, that are not spoken for, and roll the dice. Some breeders pick the
pups for you...Me personally, I would look for another breeder. But if
the breeder gave me the option of not taking the pup, that they picked,
and giving me the option of getting back my deposit, or electing to wait
until the next litter, I might go with that situation, if I REALLY liked the
parents. This decision is for the next 10 to 15 years, so only do it if you
really feel good about your new pup.
Good Luck with your quest, for a Chocolate Lab. I have one now, and they
can be great dogs. She is 11 years old, and she and I have made a bunch
of great memories together.
I hope some of this helps, and if you have any detailed questions, shoot me
thanks for all the info. I am not looking at really spending more than $300 for one right now. I want a good lab thats small framed (female) and calm natured. The dog will be 80%hunt 20% companion. I dont need a show dog. I am willing to work daily to train. My borther has a yellow lab that was givein to him (lucky) and is absolutely awesome. If I got a dog half as good as him...one could only hope. He is sweet and listens well. He also trained very easy. I wat to get the smallest healthiest female of the bunch. Is one color lab better than the next?
Contrary to some folks belief, that one color is better than another, the color
of labs comes from two genes, that are not associated with any other traits
besides color. So no color makes no difference in the behavior of the dog.
Pick the dog, based on what you like about the dog, and make color a secondary consideration.
Jeremy, Charlie and Squeeze have defined the Lab situation as well as I have ever read. My Duck Hunting buddy and wife looked hard for the perfect bloodline, configurtion, hunting spirit and field trial potential in a Chocolate. Bought this beautiful female from Windsor, Ontario. Dog is smart, trained up beautifully and has now been spayed and hips rebuilt because of a genetic disability.
Disaster, of course the breeder refunded the purchase price, but they have invested a year and a half in love and training this dog and will never see her as a potential all day hunter or mama.
Unless you see the breeding pair working and know the pup has the potential to meet your expectations, please be careful.
Too many yuppies want a chocolate or yellow lab and that is not doing the breed any good as working dogs.
Look for the content of the dogs character and not the color.
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