We started out our life with hunting dogs owning one German shorthair and a chocolate Lab. Then came the black Lab. Then a Chessy. Due to an astonishing amount of incorrect guidance, the shorthair never became a bird dog although he retained enough personality to endear himself to us forever. The other three were my husband’s duck dogs. When I finally saw a pointing dog do what it’s supposed to do (simple things, like pointing birds), the next German shorthair entered our lives accompanied by an excellent book on bird dog training and a commitment to do it right. Since then, we’ve had three or four or five versatile dogs at a time, covering all bases in upland and waterfowl hunting.
Why so many? That’s a question only a therapist could answer as it delves deep into our insecure psyches (dogs give unconditional love) and a perpetual desire to ruin a decent night’s sleep with too many dogs piled on the bed. But taking it down to a simpler level, there are a couple of very clear reasons why two is better than one.
If you love hunting and hunt often, having a back-up dog is essential. Once you’re addicted to hunting over your own dog – with all the joy and frustration that it entails – hunting over someone else’s dog is never quite as much fun. If your one dog gets injured or sick, your choices are hunting dog-less (heavens, no!), borrowing a buddy’s dog (and you really think he’ll listen to your commands?) or trudging behind your buddy behind his dog, twelve paces back from the total experience.
Another reason to get a second dog is because dogs are pack animals and need other dogs for companionship and company. Without another dog in the household, to whom can your one dog tell the story of how you tripped in the gully instead of flushing the grand rooster he’d held pinned down for 10 minutes?
Young dogs keep older dogs youthful with their play and antics. Young dogs learn from older dogs. And when all the planets are in alignment and everything is going right, there is nothing as magical as seeing your two beautiful dogs locked on point, one honoring the other.
Adding either a puppy or an adult dog to the household can upset the pecking order, so care must be given to make the transition into life with two dogs smooth. Here are a few tips:
1. If Dog # 2 is a puppy, first let the adult dog sniff him or her in your arms. Let them then explore each other in a friendly contained area, like a fenced yard. To reduce territorial stress on the older dog, wait until they seem relaxed with each other before bringing them inside. Be sure to supervise the introduction carefully. Depending on your dog’s comfort on a leash, it may be best to leave the leash off since some dogs feel fearful when restrained or more protective of you while on the leash. Treats for both can’t hurt.
2. Respect Dog #1’s toys and favorite place in the house. Until he welcomes the newcomer to his bed or hang-out spot, guide Dog #2 to his own bed. Puppies, of course, must be kept contained which will help ease the older dog’s sense of space invasion. Feed them in separate areas and avoid free feeding because it can more easily lead to food possessiveness.
3. Monitor the dogs’ interactions for several days or as long as it takes to be confident the older dog has accepted the younger dog. Puppies jump and nip and can get in an adult dog’s face too easily, and we can’t blame the older dog for reacting. Watch the older dog’s body language carefully. If you see any sign of aggression, interrupt them and separate them. Keep their initial interactions brief.
4. Watch for signs of possession over food, locations or toys. Don’t force play between them. Some dogs will take to their new pack member right away; other can take a few weeks to come around.
5. Share the love. In fact, give the older dog extra. Try to not disrupt his routine, and be positive and reward him when his interactions with the newcomer go well. One-on-one time is important, be it a private bumper throwing session or a walk in the woods to reassure him that for you, for now, he’s still Number One.
-Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.