Started Dog or Puppy — finding the best fit for you and your family

At Upland Dogworks, our goal is to provide you with a started gun dog trained to fit your specific hunting needs. Whether you hunt in the wide-open prairies of the Dakotas, the grouse woods of New England or anywhere else, our breeding and training programs develop young dogs to meet your standards.

At the same time, we recognize that some hunters choose to start off with puppies and do the training themselves. Let’s take a look at both approaches and also why we favor the started dog route.

Started Dogs

In addition to being a hunting companion, it’s important that your hunting dog also be a family companion. So how do you find that perfect combination?

In our experience, the best started dogs should be old enough to hit the ground running as you start your next hunting season, but still young enough to bond with your family — in general 8 to 14 months old. The dog should understand and obey basic commands, be collar-conditioned, steady on point, socialized with other dogs and exposed to the gun and live birds. The dog should have substantial game drive, established range, and be comfortable with crating and travel. At the same time, you want the dog to be playful and enjoy time with your family.

The main advantage of buying a started dog is that you have a good idea of what you’re getting and what the dog is capable of doing. You can also assess its personality, drive, mature physical structure and training level. This cuts out a lot of risks. A good started dog gets you into the field a lot sooner, potentially cutting a year or more off your time!

Started Dog

To ensure we pair you with the right dog, our first step is to take a look at your lifestyle, hunting style and dog needs. Once we know your needs, we are able to know which pups will fit your style and serve as your perfect hunting companion for years to come. We then select your puppy and customize the training program. Once our training is complete and before you take your started dog home, we give you a full demonstration of the dog’s abilities in the field and a short course on handling the dog in a variety of hunting situations.

Cost and Benefit

As a rule, a started gun dog of any breed can run anywhere from $1,800 to $3,000. Although it might seem expensive, consider a well-bred puppy will cost $800 to $1,200. You will then incur six months of additional kennel care, vet bills and two- to-three months of training at $600 to $1,000 per month. We have seen many cases where the expense to develop a puppy into a started dog can easily add up to $4,000 to $5,000. If you can afford to spend a little more money up front, a started dog allows you to hunt sooner and enjoy the rewards of some final training, without the foundational work required in a pup.

A started dog can also be a little safer investment from a health perspective. The time any started dog spends here in training and the kennel exposes early signs of genetic defects and psychological roadblocks that can be diagnosed and treated. If they can’t, the dog won’t be sold.

One final point on a started dog. Be aware that a started dog is not a finished product, there’s still work ahead of you. Keeping up a young dog’s training and field work is essential to its continuing maturity and performance. Dogs are smart! They understand the game and understand when they can take advantage of you. They need the continued live action of training and field work to sharpen their trained and natural instincts to perform solidly and consistently.

The Puppy Approach

Welcoming a puppy into your home is a monumental occasion for you and the family. It’s the beginning of an era that will provide you a hunting companion and family friend for the next 10 to 15 years.

On the positive side, with a puppy, you have a wider selection of color options and usually preference of male or female. Your initial financial investment is less than that of a started dog. A decent puppy will cost $700 and up.

Litter of Puppies

The biggest challenge you’ll face with training a pup is time. Training a puppy to a level of competence requires time for the dog to mature and daily exercise and training. It’s your job as owner, trainer and handler to instill the needed skills, and that takes time. Also note, that even if you do all the training yourself, there are still no guarantees that you’ll end up with a reliable started dog.

The puppy buyer also assumes more risk for health-related issues. Even a pup with a guarantee from a reputable breeder can develop hip or other health issues. By the time you see it, your family is attached to the dog. You keep the dog for the rest of its life as a family friend, but you get to start training over with a new puppy.

Only you know which route is right for you and your family. If you’d like to learn more or just talk it through, feel free to reach out to me at

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