Fran Ardley discusses how to go about training a young dog to be disciplined with others and efficient in performing its tasks
Gundog training together
Anyone who works or trains gundogs will tell you that they are addictive. Once you have one you will want another, and this will be the case most especially if you want to go picking up. In fact, many shoots will insist that if you aspire to join their picking-up team, more than one dog is a requirement.
As with any form of gundog training, there are going to be varying degrees of what a handler deems acceptable in how their dogs work. Some are content with keeping their team on leads during a drive and then letting them all go when the horn is sounded. I prefer to have my picking-up dogs off the lead (once they are trained), as that way I can send individual dogs for any pricked birds at any time without the hassle of trying to get a slip-lead off.
Working untrained dogs together
It should be said that working two or more untrained dogs together is asking for trouble; not only can it end up being chaotic but also embarrassing. I am sure we have all seen two dogs chasing each other during sweeping up, one with a bird in its mouth and the other one desperately trying to snatch it back out. Even worse, is witnessing a tug of war between picking-up dogs; not only does it look bad and renders the shot game inedible, it also has the potential to escalate into an aggressive situation.
Why and when
If you are going to work more than one dog, it is important that they understand they are part of a team but also that they will have to work individually and be respectful of the other canine members of a picking-up team. There is a very good reason to practise gundog training together to work in this kind of scenario, which is all about efficiency. During a drive, some birds will be shot dead and others will be pricked and end up being runners, so if you can send individual dogs out to individual retrieves while keeping other dogs back in ‘reserve’, it makes the collection of shot game far more effective. When a particular dog comes back with a bird the other dogs should ignore it and concentrate on waiting for their next command. If the other waiting dogs start to focus on and fuss about the incoming dog they may well miss the mark of another shot bird. More importantly, you the handler will not be able to concentrate fully on the dog making the retrieve.
Teaching a gundog to work with other dogs
Teaching a dog to work with another or, indeed, numerous dogs is a skill that needs practice for which you almost have to desensitise the new dog to the situation. I like to introduce this exercise to a dog when it is around 15 months. There are no hard and fast rules, other than I would want the dog to be steady to thrown dummies, have a solid sit/stay command and also be used to having a lead on.
I would also strongly recommend you do these exercises with an older, more experienced dog to send for the initial retrieves. It is important that your frame of mind is right as you will need to stay calm – this exercise can be trying when gundog training together.