Sunday, May 26, 2013

Can't we always just get along...?

A bird dog needs to hunt.  Yep.  That's true.  But a bird dog should be able to also get along with other dogs in the field, in camp, etc.   

A group of intact males happily running together in South Dakota

Recently I read a blog that said something to the effect of NEVER send your dog to a trainer that has dogs out for playtime in a yard together.  
I suppose by that logic:
  • Never send your dog to daycare where they play with other dogs,
  • Never take them to the beach or the park. 
  • Never let a dog walker with another dog take your dog for a walk. 
  • Never leave them at a friends house where there might be another dog.  
  • Never run them in the hunting field with another dog. 
  • That would also mean Never enter them in a Hunt test, or Field trial.  Certainly you wouldn't have to worry about a scuffle. 

Now I understand as well as anyone there are dogs that just don't get along.  Frankly those dogs are pretty easy to spot.  Their body language tells it all, up front and out there.  With those dogs, it can get awfully lonely hunting by yourself.  Most of us like a buddy to go hunting with.  A good dog needs to be used to being around other dogs, they need to be able to shrug off a bump, not be worried about a dog backing them on a bird, etc.  How do you get dogs used to that?  Well, playtime and running dogs in the field together is a good start. 

When introducing a new dog - we like to put them first in chain link pens beside one another to see if they are trying to play through the fence or posture aggressively.  If they do posture, we leave them side by side for several days where they get used to each other, but can't come in contact with each other.  In a few days they usually warm up to one another and realize it's no big deal.  Dog A is no threat to dog B, they just look different.   If they simply don't like each other - and it occasionally happens, they just don't like each other.  In most cases these will generally be older dogs that have a fair bit of training on them, are studly and know it. Younger dogs are generally pretty easy going. 
If they are older and "sharp" we work them gradually closer to one another on the ATV - one on one side, the other opposite with the ATV in between.  They can see each other, but not reach each other.  They are able to run close to one another, but in safety.  Then we move to front/back of each other where they are tethered but could make contact with one another.  One thing they learn quickly is that it's very, very difficult to be running at 11 mph in a roading harness and carry on a fight at the same time.  The running releases the anxiety and/or aggressive energy and by the end of a 5 or 10 mile run, they're pretty happy to stand near each other and get a drink of water.  All the energy went to the job, not to the posturing for position.  They get to trust that they don't have to fight each other.   We move from that to free running with birds - again keeping the focus on the job, not on the other dog.  Before long nearly all dogs get into the game and are good working with other dogs.  In some hard cases, a special muzzle can be applied that allows the dogs to pant and drink and run, but protects another dog from a possible bite until the dog settles in and shows that he is getting along without trying to cause trouble. 

There's always some element of risk in putting dogs together - a chase game can tumble into a crash into another dog and a quick scuffle causing an injury just as easily as jumping over a log and getting a puncture in a foot or hitting barbed wire and cutting skin.  There are hazards in running dogs, and also in running dogs together.  As hard as we work to avoid it , dogs - just like people and every other competing animal on the planet can and do occasionally get in a fight.  No one likes it, but at the end of the day - Nature is Nature.  Training can overcome it a great deal, in fact most of the time, unfortunately for all of us not in every instance.  Never letting them get near another dog however, is a sure fire way to make sure they don't know how to get along - and that itself will lead to a fight quicker than anything. 

I'm sure there are and always will be folks who want  a  lock down facility to absolutely ensure safety from a dog fight 100% and enjoy solitude hunting where there's no risk of an altercation with another dog.  We prefer the dogs get to enjoy life fully.  To us, that means they get to interact with one another, play together, run together and hunt together.


  1. We said, as always, Ken. It is always interesting with Bailey (Almost 5 now) and well built, self-confident younger (2 years old +/-) males. During on a hill hike Saturday, with his sons, Fawkes and Bo, the adolesent Fawkes needed to "work it out" where he stood with his "old man". Took about 10 seconds and Fawkes and Bailey knew. I knew it was going to happen 30 minutes before it did. You can tell, if you watch the signs. Told Fawkes owner not to worry. All snaps, growls, up on hind legs. Actually cool looking in a nature dance sort of way.
    Bo, the 1 year old male son of Bailey, just watched from the distance.
    There are neurtoic dogs that are not socialized, but then there is just normal pack dynamics that do exist in the dog world. No lock down for my dogs. Ever.
    Happy trails. Come hiking. - Rod

  2. Well said. I read the blog you are mentioning, and actually decided to unfollow said blog after that particular post. Things happen with dogs, kids and life that you cant control.Why give up on every fun activity because you're worried something would go wrong? That's the equivalent of putting your kids in a bubble.

  3. Very valid points. Sounds like you take many precautions against having an incident happen just like we do here. But crap happens, dogs will be dogs.

    I have lived with this quite a bit as my girl is a rather dominant, cocky girl despite her small size. More so when I am around, despite my efforts. But given the right dogs with the right training who can learn to just let her be, I would trust her to run the field with most anyone. As in the end that's all she really wants to do, run and hunt. She doesn't much want to be bothered with socializing when outdoors.... I have come to learn that is just who she is.
    She lives with a pack of 7 other dogs of 3 breeds, intact and altered and doesn't have problems. But they all have figured out their pecking order. And even the puppies will get to play with her once they are old enough to learn manners and how she wants to play. And in the end they all default to the humans and we are on top of any attitudes in the end.
    Keep doing what you do, you will never make everyone happy. Just the nature of working with dogs and owners. Sad when things happen but dogs will be dogs.

  4. Thanks everyone for the response. We've had exactly one incident in the 36+ years we've run dogs together that required Veterinary Care and that was a result of quick reciprocal bites on a play collision that was over as fast as it started. We were only a couple feet away as we were throwing balls for the dogs to chase.

    The owners were a young couple and we truly wanted to help them and the dog as much as we were able. As the dog was not responding quickly to treatment at their local vet, at our urging, we had that particular dog to UCD twice - stayed for the hours of wait time with the owner and paid all expenses for those visits - Sedation, X-ray, Ortho consult, flushing of the very small wound as it became infected (even though first aid and their local veterinary care had been prior administered), cytology, meds, etc. X-ray and ortho consult were negative for any ligament or CCL.
    The dog was then run within a couple weeks by the owner; on hikes, on runs, swimming and playing in the ocean and mountain pools for months, wrestling with their other dog, playing fetch, chasing birds, etc. We received an E-mail to us months after from the owner that the dog was fully recovered and re-conditioned and ready for hunt tests...
    As the saying goes - "no good deed goes unpunished". All of a sudden we're vilified by the very people for whom we sacrificed our time, emotional and financial resources to help as the dog goes lame a year later. Guess folks always need someone else to blame. In that one case out of all those many years and literally thousands of dog interactions - it seems it's our turn.
    The Good news is the dog seems to be recovering nicely. We wish them all a happy and full life together. We know what we did for the dog and owner was above and beyond. Knowing that, we can handle being the caring villian.