Why two working gundogs are better than one

Gundog puppies: should you get another and when is the right time?

If the gundog training bug has bitten you, you might be tempted to get another puppy, especially if you are surrounded by friends with multiple labradors, spaniels and HPRs.

As the saying goes: “I liked it, so I got one in every colour”.

If your first dog has been a dream, you’re probably looking to replicate that success, doubling down on your training to progress further.

If your first dog has been a challenge, a puppy presents with it the possibility to start afresh, implement everything you’ve learnt as a handler, and rectify a few of the mistakes you might have made the first time around.

Depending on how far you want to go, a carefully chosen, well-bred, and Kennel Club-registered puppy could allow you to explore opportunities you’re perhaps unable to have with your current dog, like entering working tests and field trials.

While the thought of a new puppy might fill you with optimism and excitement, it is also a serious commitment.

If your gundogs are indoor family pets, as well as workers and training companions, getting a new puppy can seem like much more of a daunting consideration compared to someone who already has a handful of kennel dogs.

It is more than just a case of checking to see if you have enough space on the sofa and can afford the extra food costs and vet bills. It is also a question of having time to dedicate to each dog individually, as well as together, and the practicality of fitting in within the existing family home dynamic.

If gundog training is your hobby, and you’re not planning to have a large pack of working dogs in your lifetime, you might be wondering if it is worth getting one more.

In this blog, we’ll explore why having two dogs is a good idea, how it can help you progress with your training and the opportunities it opens up in the competition and field sports world.

Then, assuming this is enough to pique your interest in getting a second gundog, we’ll look at when is a good time to get another puppy, how to find a breeder and what other considerations you need to make when choosing your second dog.

Do you get more opportunities when you have more than one gundog?

If you only go rough shooting, have a peg dog, or are lucky to have found a smaller local shoot, having the one dog will probably not hold you back.

If, however, you want to work as part of the picking-up team on a large commercial shoot, you’ll probably have already discovered that most gamekeepers favour handlers with two dogs or more as they can cover more ground more efficiently.

For those of you who enjoy working tests, having more than one dog entered in different levels of the competition makes the day more exciting and enjoyable and, of course, opens up more opportunities for you to be placed.

Two of my favourite working test memories were when I was living in Surrey. One time, Angus won the Novice, and Benji got a certificate of merit in the Open at a Kennet Valley walked-up test on field trial lines. At another, Benji won the Open test, while Grace went on to win in the Puppy class at a Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust charity test.

Having more than one gundog will also reduce the likelihood of you having to miss out on or say no to training opportunities.

There is nothing worse than your dog getting ill or injured or unexpectedly coming into season when you had something booked and paid for that you were really looking forward to and don’t want to cancel at the last minute.

Our gundog holidays are an excellent example of this - if you had another dog at a similar level, provided they hadn’t also picked up the same illness, you wouldn’t have to miss out on your training trip.

Avoiding a forced break from your hobby

On the subject of injury and illness, one of life’s greatest sadnesses is losing a good working dog.

While contemplating the end when your gundog is in its prime isn’t a nice thought, you’ll inevitably have to plan for their retirement and old age.

Consider how long it has taken to get your current dog ready for the shooting field or up to competition standards. Three, four, maybe five years?

Now consider this - if you only ever plan on having one dog at a time, would you be willing to take that much time off in the future? For example, would you be happy to miss several shoot seasons in a row while you trained up a new puppy?

(NB: If you only ever have one dog at a time, you will also need to add on another couple of years as most dogs are retired from working quite a few years before they pass away.)

While the gundog training journey is as much a part of the enjoyment for many, if your real passion is the shoot days, the trials and the working tests, then chances are you’ll want to avoid pressing pause on these for a few years.

Getting a puppy at the right time not only avoids this and makes the transition between your dogs seamless, but you will also find that training your puppy is easier when you have an older, experienced and finished dog to bring out.

Training benefits of a second gundog

It is much easier to train a gundog when you have more than one. Many people are surprised at how quickly their young dog picks up on their role and what’s expected from them simply by copying the older dog.

Recall, for example, is made that much easier as your puppy will naturally want to follow your current dog as they run back to you on the whistle. You’ll also notice that your new puppy will want to copy your older dog when they heel, sit, and, as they get older, even stop on the whistle.

In terms of progressing your training for both dogs, whether you have one dog or five, one of the main things we want from our gundog is steadiness and the ability to watch other dogs hunt and retrieve calmly.

If you only have one dog, you are limited to only being able to practise this in group training classes. However, when you have two dogs, there are unlimited training possibilities to improve your current dog’s abilities while also getting your new recruit accustomed to working alongside other dogs and being patient when it is not their turn.

You will not be able to do this with your puppy at first, and you will have to train them in the concept of steadiness separately. In fact, you will have to dedicate a lot of additional time to separate training sessions in the early months.

But it will not be long before your puppy is ready to progress to lessons in honouring other dogs while they are working, and you will be able to take your gundog training further for both dogs without having to commit to weekly group classes.

When should I get another gundog puppy?

The first thing to be aware of is the time commitment of getting a puppy. As mentioned, you will need to carve out extra time in your schedule to train your two dogs separately and together.

You will also need to consider the time and energy required for toilet training, instilling general house manners, and proper socialisation.

If you’re planning to move house, get a new job, or have a baby in the next few months, you’ll probably want to hold off on plans to get a new puppy.

In terms of deciding when is the right time, you might also want to consider the weather. It is often overlooked, but it is most advantageous to get a puppy in the spring and early summer. The (hopefully) better weather will make toilet training less arduous, and the longer, lighter evenings will also help you fit in the extra hours of training and socialisation.

Getting a puppy in March or April is also an excellent way to ensure you don’t get tempted to rush your puppy onto their first shoot.

At just six months old, they will undoubtedly be too young when the first shooting season rolls around, but they will then be about 18 months old by the second. This is still too young for some to do all day, but it is a much better opportunity to take them out for one or two drives and ease them in than if they were an autumn/winter puppy and just turning one.

What age gap should I leave between my gundogs?

When it comes to planning your second gundog puppy, it is a good rule of thumb to wait until your current dog is three or four years old.

By this time, they’re likely to be fully trained - or close enough, as we know, there is always more to work on and tidy up! It will make life much easier for you as puppies can pick up bad habits from rebellious adolescent and part-trained dogs just as quickly as they can good habits from a reliable, fully-trained dog.

Obviously, nothing is stopping you from getting a puppy if your current dog is one or two years old. Still, you should also consider that you will have to care for two elderly dogs at the same time, and if you are planning on having two males, you will likely have to deal with some testosterone-related tension.

On the flip side, you don’t want to wait until your older dog is too old, either.

Waiting until your older dog is over eight can present different challenges, such as your older dog being too old to tolerate a small, bouncy and energetic puppy.

You also want to be able to take advantage of training together, and if your older dog is retired or slowing down, you will lose out on this.

How to find a responsible gundog breeder

If you have decided that you would like a second gundog and now is a good time to get a puppy, you can start looking for suitable litters that meet your requirements.

There are thousands of gundog breeders in the UK. You might have got your first dog from a family friend without much research. But for your second, I cannot stress enough the importance of looking for pups from fully health-tested parents.

Remember, too, that while you only “need” a Kennel Club registered dog if you plan to compete, finding a registered litter assures you that your puppy is indeed what the breeder says they are. You also have a higher likelihood of finding a reputable breeder who prioritises the dogs' health, welfare, and responsible breeding.

Of course, KC registration alone does not guarantee the quality or health of a puppy, and it's essential that you do your research to ensure that the pup is precisely what you’re looking for.

Visit breeders in person and ask to see Mum at minimum and Dad if possible. Be sure to find out if Mum and Dad are working dogs and can pick game nicely. If you want to compete, find out if they have won any awards, as this will give some peace of mind as to any eliminating fault.

Ideally, you will also look for puppies which have been raised in the type of environment that matches yours. It is much easier to house-train a puppy that was born and brought up in the home as they will already be accustomed to household noises, smells and routines.

If you are thinking about getting a labrador puppy soon, please check our breeding page, Windlemoor, for information about upcoming litters and dogs standing at stud.
Grace is currently in whelp with a litter sired by Harry. Both are proven working dogs, and Grace has competed in working tests and novice field trials. If you would like more information, please email me at info@completelygundogs.co.uk