By Gary Koehler

Eventually there comes a time when retriever owners must face the unpleasant fact that their four-legged hunting partner is no longer fit for the field. Waterfowling can be tough on dogs. As much as you may want to extend your retriever's hunting career, there is no reason to expect more from your old duck dog than he can give.

Many waterfowlers choose to get a puppy while their veteran retriever is still around. They envision a gentle, gradual passing of duck hunting duties from one dog to the next. Unfortunately, puppies present all kinds of challenges, and not just for humans. Here's expert advice on how to make the transition as smooth as possible for both old dog and new.

"I like to see people start looking for a retriever pup when their current dog is around eight or nine years old," says Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi. "It takes about three years to get that pup to a finished level, so if you are replacing a seasoned retriever it's better to do that while he still has some hunting in him."

Because dogs are territorial by nature, some experts recommend choosing a neutral site like a park to let the older pooch and pup get acquainted before you bring the newcomer home. However, Stewart says there's no place like home for proper canine introductions. "Sit down in the house and introduce them that way, with everyone in the family there," he advises. "They're going to live in the house together. That's what they need to learn to deal with."

Proper introductions are important to make sure the dogs get off on a good footing. If your older dog is aggressive toward other canines, use caution when bringing the pup into the home. "You have to be extra careful if the older dog is aggressive," Stewart says. "Make sure he's under control, and do not give the pup all the attention. This is the older dog's house, after all."

Expect a lot of sniffing during that first meeting. If the puppy gets too rambunctious, do not be surprised if the adult dog quickly alerts the youngster that it's time to back off. Older dogs are often quick to let a puppy know who's in charge. Be careful not to let the pup pester the veteran too much. In time, a clear pecking order will emerge. The two dogs will come to an understanding about the social order and their respective roles within the pack.

Food can be a bone of contention early on. Your older dog has an established eating routine, while the pup is still learning proper feeding protocols. "The puppy has no right to the older dog's food or toys," Stewart says. "That's where trouble can start. I would feed them in different places so there is no question about whose food is whose."

Puppies have more energy than older dogs and need more exercise, so be sure to provide it. Obedience training is a good place to start. Bringing your older retriever along on some of these outings can be good for both dogs. "Puppies can actually rejuvenate older dogs," Stewart says. "In almost every case I can think of, the older dog will become a caretaker and get a spring in his step. Remember that this is a group dynamic. The puppy will watch and learn."

What the puppy watches and learns can include both good and bad behaviors. "Watching an older dog relieve himself outdoors can definitely help a pup with housebreaking," Stewart says. "On the other hand, if your older dog is a whiner, that will likely produce another whiner. Breaking will produce breaking."

Stewart recommends using a puppy's inclination to follow the lead of a veteran retriever to your advantage. "If you have a pup who doesn't pick up a bumper, for example, send the older dog and have him retrieve the bumper," he advises. "Then make a big deal out of it. Praise the older dog when he does things the right way. Ideally, the pup will catch on quickly."

One Dog at a Time If you have more than one retriever in the house, introduce each dog to the pup on an individual basis. Meeting the entire gang at one time may be too much for the pup to handle. Allow a limited amount of play.