Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.
There is one common trait you’ll find in bird dog folks: They like to brag about their dog. There are many attributes that contribute to a “brag dog”. The quality of the nose, the search pattern, staying steady to wing and shot, honoring and, the final step, a reliable retrieve, are all the ingredients for a superior performance.
The reliable retrieve is often the most difficult of these attributes to obtain. A reliable retrieve means the dog searches for the dead bird quickly, locates the bird, picks up the bird immediately and directly delivers the bird to hand in table ready condition. There are no detours, no dropping the bird and no chewing.
Occasionally there will be a puppy that is just a natural born retriever. He’ll do all of that with very little work. Most often, however, there will be at least one of the steps that aren’t completed properly. Some of the most common faults are picking up the bird and thinking it belongs to them, which results in a yelling session to try to get the bird from the dog. Hard mouth is also a common trait.
The one training method, which is used to ensure that all steps in the retrieve process are performed correctly, is the force fetch. This column discusses the theory of the force fetch. The force fetch is a step-by-step process, which teaches the dog to pick-up, to hold and to deliver. Failure in teaching force fetch means that one step was not completely learned before proceeding to the next step. The word “force” is used because negative reinforcement is applied to achieve compliance with commands. The negative reinforcement is typically an ear pinch or a toe pinch.
During application of negative reinforcement, a dog will often struggle to get away, lie down or even try soft biting to avoid the ear or toe pinch. The dog must be taught that the negative reinforcement only disappears when they take the training dummy or chock and hold it. If this basic step isn’t completed properly, you’ll never successfully complete force fetch training.
In addition to recovering your shot birds, there are many positive results that result in a properly executed force-fetch program. Dogs having completed force fetch will be more compliant with all commands. They’ve learned that you’re the boss and there are no other options but to comply with your desires. They’ve learned that you own the dead birds…not them.
The force fetch is not a training technique that I recommend a novice attempt. I feel you should always learn the complete process from a professional trainer before attempting yourself. There are, however, a few things you can do to make the process go smoother before taking your dog to a professional trainer.
The first step before taking your dog to a “pro” is to simply have fun in the yard with retrieving. Most pups will chase a bumper and pick it up. They will think it belongs to them and not return it but that’s okay. Playing in the yard with your pup and a bumper will help develop an excitement and interest in retrieving behavior. In addition, put your dog through a basic obedience course. If your dog learns basic obedience commands, he will have learned how to deal with pressure.
If you want your buddies to see your “brag dog” in action this fall, start a force-fetch program this month. Your chest will swell with pride when your dog delivers game to your hand.