Hunting Multiple Dogs: Delight or Disaster?
May 26, 2011
by James B. Spencer
By "multiple dogs" I mean two dogs that belong, one each, to two hunters. If you plan to gang-hunt your own complement of canines, I can say only that you must know what you are doing. If one or more of your buddies plans to hunt other dogs along with your herd, I'm forced to say, "No comment."
Here we'll consider only two one-dog hunters. Since you're reading this column, we'll assume you have a retriever.
Hunting with a Buddy
If you hunt with a training buddy with whom you have trained all through the off-season, you should be able to enjoy hunting your retrievers together during the fall, but if and only if both dogs are reliably steady and dependable in honoring. If either dog is unsteady or won't honor, he'll turn your hunts into chaos. He will also un-train the other dog.
If you and your buddy plan to hunt only waterfowl together, both dogs must be "non-slip" steady and must honor "non-slip." Non-slip means that the dog sits at heel off-lead.
If you and your buddy also plan to hunt the uplands together, with your retrievers hunting ahead and flushing birds, you need different, spaniel-like forms of steadiness and honoring. Immediately after putting a bird up, a "steady" upland flusher must sit and remain sitting until sent to retrieve. An "honoring" flusher must sit when the other dog puts a bird up and then remain in place while the other dog retrieves.
Both dogs must sit on each wild flush and on every shot. That level of flusher training takes time and effort. But, without it, two retrievers will turn an upland hunt into a bedlam of wild flushes, "disputed" retrieves and long chases leading to birds being flushed far out of gun range.
You and your training buddy know the training levels of each other's dog. You know what each retriever can and can't do. More importantly in the real world, you also know what each dog might and might not do.
You know what each other expects of his own dog and also of your dog. If you both feel you can hunt your dogs together successfully, and if you both feel doing so would make the hunt more enjoyable, hey, have a go at it.
However, you should also at least consider hunting your retrievers one at a time. Granted, in the duck blind, where retrievers are seldom over-worked, you can successfully work two (or, gulp, even more) steady retrievers together. But why put such pressure on both your dogs and yourselves unnecessarily? Why not relax and rotate them?
In the uplands, where a flusher gets bountiful-to-excessive exercise, rotating them makes more sense. By hunting them one at a time, you always have a fresh dog working in front of you. (In recent years--decades, really--my dogs have not infrequently needed a fresh old man behind them, but that's another story.)
With A Retriever Owner
If you work for a living, and if you do it long enough, you'll one day work with someone who claims to have a dynamite retriever, about which he'll boast at every opportunity. After listening patiently for a seeming eternity, you'll almost certainly make a horrible mistake: You'll blurt out that you too own a retriever that, although not the equal of his, does fetch up an occasional bird for you.
You'll thereafter long regret that lingual lapse.
When he asks you to join him for a hunt, or invites himself to join you, you might get out of it for a while, but eventually you'll be trapped into hunting with him. For this reason, if possible, during the off-season you should invite him to one of your training sessions. If he comes, you can assess just how much powder lies within his dynamite retriever.
If the dog is good and if you have room in your training group, invite him to become a regular member. If he accepts, by next hunting season he'll be one of your training buddies (see above). But if the dog performs like the typical co-worker's dynamite retriever--yuck-pooey--make your most sincere effort to avoid ever having to hunt with him.
But if you can't do that, convince him that your hunts will be most successful and trouble-free if you hunt your beasties one at a time. Explain that in waterfowling, you need only one retriever at the blind at any one time. In fact, that one will seldom get enough retrieves to keep himself even half-busy. Remind him that ducks and geese no longer "darken the sky," and that hunters no longer shoot un-plugged pumps and autoloaders.
Explain to him that you can rotate your two retrievers in several equitable ways. Ideally, you can take only one dog out per day, leaving the others at home. (You should hope he chooses this, the safest option). Or you can leave one retriever securely locked in your chosen vehicle, rotating the two by the hour or by the number of retrieves. Or you can keep the "excess canine" crated or tethered behind the blind, whence you can easily rotate them.
Whichever option he chooses, you and he should be able to enjoy productive and enjoyable hunts.
With a Spaniel Owner
If that guy at work has not a dynamite retriever, but a dynamite spaniel, your problem is greatly simplified. You can offer to take him (sans his spaniel) waterfowling with you and your retriever if he will in exchange take you (sans your retriever) upland hunting with him and his spaniel.
If he does indeed have a well-trained spaniel, he will be no more anxious to have your retriever messing up his upland hunts than you are to have his spaniel messing up your waterfowl hunts. If his spaniel is not so well trained, you should especially want to avoid hunting the two dogs together.
With a Pointing Dog Owner
You can use the above spaniel-resistance approach if your loquacious co-worker owns a dynamite pointing dog. He should be especially anxious to avoid having your retriever flush birds that his wonder-dog is pointing.
I can remember two occasions when I could have safely hunted a retriever with a co-worker's pointing dog. In neither case did I realize ahead of time just how safe it would have been, so I didn't.
In the first occasion, my co-worker had a good-looking, big-running pointer with only one teensy fault: bolting. We saw that dog only three times all day: first, in the morning, when we let him out of his crate, and then only until he vanished over the nearest hill; second, around noon, when he flashed across the horizon; and third, at sundown, when we returned to our vehicle, he suddenly appeared and jumped back into his crate.
That dog spent all day finding and flushing every covey in the county, leaving us the almost impossible task of walking up singles without canine assistance. I could have used a flusher (retriever or spaniel), with no danger of the two dogs creating problems for one another.
In the second occasion, my co-worker had a close-working pointer with only one teensy fault: blinking. He would hunt and get birdy, but then back off and sneak around the bird before resuming his hunt. I had a great day shooting, for I recognized the problem, but the owner didn't. Every time the dog blinked a quail, I waited a while, then flushed the bird he had avoided.
By noon I had my limit, while the proud owner had none. He was amazed that I got so much shooting while he got none. I didn't have the heart to tell him why. A retriever or spaniel would have worked well with that pointing dog, too, for he wouldn't get near a bird even to retrieve it.
If you want to have an enjoyable hunting season with dog-owning buddies, you have the following options: Hunt with your training buddies, working your retrievers simultaneously if they are well-enough trained or, otherwise, one at a time; hunt with other retriever owners, working your dogs one at a time; or hunt with non-retriever owners, working your dogs one at a time, preferably on different days.
Jim Spencer's books can be ordered from the Gun Dog Bookshelf: Training Retrievers for Marshes & Meadows; Retriever Training Tests; Retriever Training Drills for Marking; Retriever Training Drills for Blind Retrieves; Retriever Hunt Tests; HUP! Training Flushing Spaniels the American Way; and POINT! Training the All-Seasons Bird Dog.