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How To Train and Hunt Young and Old Dogs Together

There are times for leading by example and other times when it's double the trouble.

How To Train and Hunt Young and Old Dogs Together

If you’re adding a new member to your pack this season, here are some helpful hunts to synchronize your string of bird dogs. (Photo courtesy of Belinda DeLaby)

Here you are, a couple of years since bringing home your first gun dog and and you’ve recognized the need for another to go with the first one. After all, it will be a good companion for the current dog. Plus, it will double your fun hunting and you’ll be able to chase more birds than ever before!

Two of a Kind

For those who manage to run the gauntlet and get that second puppy, another problem soon arises. Now that you have two dogs, how do you go about training and hunting both of them? After all, you can’t work a young dog and an older dog at the same time, can you?

Fact is, in some situations, training a young dog along with a mature, experienced dog can be very beneficial and can even make training more successful, according to Belinda DeLaby of Buffalo Creek Kennel, a professional trainer of pointing, retrieving, and versatile breeds in southern Oklahoma.

“I try to use those types of scenarios as much as I can because it’s very low pressure and a great way to get your puppy moving in the right direction in a very natural manner with the help of your more experienced dogs, whether it be in a training situation or in a hunting situation,” said DeLaby.


puppies on place boards for place training
Many times, adding an adult dog or other puppies can be just the right motivation a young pup needs to start working. (Photo courtesy of Belinda DeLaby)

DeLaby outlines how there are times when working younger dogs alongside older dogs is helpful, and there are times when it will completely wreck a training session or hunting outing.

Learning By Example

“It depends on what I’m working on,” she said. “There are certainly times when what I call ‘social facilitative learning’ comes in handy. A good example would be using an older dog to show a young dog how to swim. Often I’ll take a puppy out with an older dog, have the dog fetch some bumpers from the water, let the puppy watch and usually that builds a little competitive drive. Soon, you’ve got that puppy in the water doing the same thing.”

“I also use it a lot when building drive in a dog,” added DeLaby. “If I’ve got a puppy or young dog that needs some drive building, I’ll put it out with an older dog that’s got a lot of drive. Again, that competitive nature—that social facilitation—takes over and they feed off the excitement of the other dog.”

Get to the Point

Another excellent situation for training older dogs alongside younger dogs involves teaching backing—also called honoring—to pointing dogs, according to DeLaby. “It's easy to set them up for things like natural backing,” she said. “Just drag them around with an older dog long enough and let them do their thing. Not only are you proofing the older dog with the young dog, but that puppy is going to learn what certain scenarios mean when they see the other dog go on point. Then suddenly they’re backing.”


two pointing dogs in a field
Backing or honoring another dog's point can often be achieved by running young and old dogs together. (Photo courtesy of Belinda DeLaby)

There are also other situations when training young pointing dogs with older, more mature dogs can be helpful to the learning curve of the puppy. “When I’m trying to get a young dog to hit the fields hard, either on foot or off the buggy, and they’re just not really getting out and hunting like I’d like to see them, I’ll put them down with a couple of older dogs,” DeLaby said. “Those dogs will be hitting the cover and kind of dragging the young dog out further, too. They feed off the older dogs’ confidence level and that makes a huge difference.”

Double Trouble

When it comes to retrievers, however, there are far fewer opportunities for young dogs to learn from seasoned, experienced dogs, DeLaby said. “As far as duck hunting, I think it would just be imprinting on the particular type of game you are wanting to pursue,” she said. “Duck hunting is mainly a lot of obedience, but you do have to get that level of excitement over the cold game because they’re going to encounter that even more than they are the live game. So, there’s quite a bit of obedience earlier on and quite a bit of emphasis on the retrieve.”

“So typically, if you have a dog that is mainly going to be used for just retrieving, you want to get a good handle on the hold and just having that puppy bringing things in to you rather than learning negative habits,” DeLaby cautioned. “Instilling patience is also important, as they have to sit in that duck blind for a while. Not all breeds are actually cut out for that, and there are some lines withing certain breeds that aren’t cut out for that either.”

female dog trainer with bearded dog in field on a check cord
Don't be afraid to adjust your training plans when the need to work a dog on their own becomes apparent. (Photo courtesy of Belinda DeLaby)

As far as actually taking young dogs on waterfowl hunts with older dogs and letting them learn from the more mature dogs before the pups are fully trained, DeLaby doesn’t see that as productive. “Taking puppy out on duck hunt is not usually a great idea,” she said. “There’s a lot of obedience involved and you can’t have unruly, untrained dogs out there. You’re going to have multiple gunshots going off and it’s just a much different scenario. So, there’s not a lot of room for having younger ones along versus hunting upland, when the young ones can follow the older ones around and kind of pick up on what they’re doing.”

Keep it Short

When training any dogs—retrievers, flushers, or pointers, whether young or old—DeLaby believes it’s important to know when to say enough is enough and end a training session.

“I really don’t want them to quit before me—that’s a good way to dampen their enthusiasm,” she said. “I like to quit while I’m ahead. I always want to leave the dog wanting a little bit more. I do just enough to accomplish what I need to accomplish and then quit so the next time you introduce the element there’s a level of excitement. That’s a good way to build drive about different things across the board.”

“That’s especially true in things like retrieving,” she added. “You definitely don’t want to keep retrieving until the dog says, ‘I’ve had enough.’ I do three to five reps and get out of Dodge. I don’t want to be considered a bore in the dog’s eyes.”

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