TRAINING DOGS TOGETHER
by Howard Meyer
In my experience, training two dogs together can be a real plus or it can be worse than a waste of time (here I am talking about training, not just a social outing). The results depend very much on clearly deciding in advance what is to be achieved by running the dogs together, having a plan laid out, and picking the right dog/handler for the partnership.
Training two dogs together usually means pairing a younger dog with an older trained dog for the benefit of the younger dog. Knowing what we want the younger dog to gain will (should) determine the type of dog for pairing. While there is a certain attractiveness to the idea that a young dog can learn by merely watching an older dog, studies have shown that compared to other species, dogs are not good mimics, i.e. learners by seeing. For instance, if your dog drops the dummy when reaching shore, don’t expect that by watching another dog to it right your dog will figure out what you want.
One of the greatest benefits of an older dog’s presence is increasing a pup’s boldness. This assumes that the two dogs get along well and that the pup wants to be with the other dog. Examples include getting a pup to go into thick cover, range out farther, go into or run through water, overcome fear of livestock, jump into your pickup (or a strange vehicle), ignore the sound of gunshots, etc. It can also be useful in strengthening the pup’s returning when called, assuming the older dog comes directly back on command.
One can also use the jealously factor to advantage - restraining a pup while the older dog gets to make two or three water retrieves can stimulate a pup to retrieve much more aggressively when it gets the chance. By contrast, sending both dogs to retrieve the same dummy can cause all sorts of problems without much by way of benefit.
Similarly, I would not use a second dog for encouraging a pup to find birds - competition in pointing is likely to result in the pup trying to get to the bird before the other dog. As an extreme example, suppose a pointing breed pup were hunting with a flushing dog - I can’t picture a surer way to destroy the pup’s pointing instinct.
As a pup gets older, the presence of a second dog may be useful for very different reasons such as teaching the dog to hunt independently. Having a second dog present is also essential for teaching a dog to back (honor point) or to make a retrieve only when it is sent (very important when there are two dogs in the duckblind).
One of the greatest peripheral benefits to training dogs together is learning from the experience of the other handler (and two heads may be better than one!). Running your pup with a more experienced dog also aids in socializing your pup both to other dogs and to people.
I certainly enjoy training with other handlers and their dogs – it’s a great way to share common interests and much more social than actual hunting. However, keep in mind that dogs are better taught some things without distraction, and training together is not a substitute for your one-on-one sessions with your dog.