"To hunt two or more retrievers together successfully," Tammy said, "a hunting party should require that each dog owner have sufficient control to keep his dog from interfering with another dog. Ideally, all owners involved should have about the same standard of obedience and training so all the dogs follow the same rules. Retrievers not trained to this level should be hunted alone, ideally with two hunters, one to shoot, the other to handle the dog."
She added that sometimes a dog that works properly in training will, in the excitement of the hunt, do things he wouldn't think of in training. In that case, the dog's owner has two options: Put up his gun and use the hunt as a training session to reinforce good habits; or put the dog up and continue hunting without him. Tammy much prefers the former.
She said that, in the uplands, depending on the size of the area being hunted, two to four retrievers can be worked together successfully. Each owner should have a wide enough area in the field to hunt his dog independently without interfering with the other dogs. However, Tammy feels that four is the maximum number of dogs that can work in this side-by-side manner. With more than four, even with well-trained dogs, things can get, well, confusing at times.
"In the uplands," Tammy said, "you should never try to work a pointing dog with a flusher. The two hunting styles are incompatible, in that the flusher will not honor the points of the pointing dog, but will flush the bird, which may or may not start a dog fight, but will definitely encourage the pointing dog to flush rather than point." She feels that, in waterfowl hunting with multiple dogs, frustration can create training problems. If three or four retrievers are hunted together and the action is slow, each dog won't get to retrieve very often. If a dog has been sitting patiently for two or three hours, and when the next bird is downed, it still isn't his turn to retrieve, he can become quite frustrated.
This can lead to whining, creeping, breaking, and even stealing birds from another dog's mouth, which can start a dog fight. Once one dog starts doing any of these things, the others are apt to follow suit, turning the hunt into chaos. However, if the action is steady, with birds being shot fairly often, two retrievers can work well together from a single blind.
Tammy pointed out that, under some conditions, multiple retrievers should be worked one at a time, like if they are not trained to the same level, or if one owner wants to use the hunt as a training session, or if the weather is extremely hot or cold. "Hunting each dog alone," she said, "has certain advantages. You can evaluate your dog's training and hunting ability better. Then, too, your dog is less apt to be distracted by the other dog or get competitive with him. And perhaps most importantly, you will be more apt to maintain your dog's training and performance level if you hunt him alone."
As a final thought, Tammy said you should never work your retriever beyond his endurance level, whatever that may be. This is especially dangerous in warm weather. "Always carry a bottle of water for your dog," she said. " When he begins to reach his limit, stop, bring him in to you, give him a drink, and then let him rest for 15 or 20 minutes before continuing on."
This tip is from Tammy Adsitt of Peak Performance Training, 9130 North Protection Road, Holland, NY 14080; (716) 537-9514; Website www.peakperformancetraining.info; e-mail email@example.com.
Tammy has been training professionally for 28 years. She specializes in training retrievers for hunting and hunt tests, but also trains other breeds in obedience. She trains her own dogs for retriever field trials and participates in both hunt tests and field trials for retrievers. She breeds Labradors.