Is Your Dog Really Ready for Force-Fetch? 

Northern Flight Retrievers!

Published in 
 The Retriever Journal
Jun/July 2007


Is Your Dog Really Ready for Force-Fetch?

written by Butch Goodwin
      
of                     

Northern Flight Retrievers  

Hardly a month passes that I don’t get a phone call from a retriever owner inquiring about sending his dog to my kennel for force-fetch training. The owner usually explains that he either doesn’t have the time or the inclination to do the training, or he feels that he doesn’t have the expertise to do the job himself. Similarly, many owners have called “force breaking” or “conditioned retrieve”) isn’t for the squeamish and is best left to a pro. Some of the callers even go so far as to tell me they want to get their dog through force-fetch training at an early age because the result will be some sort of a “super dog” that will never, ever put a foot down wrong, even with minimal training, in the future. (If only that were true!)

Before the owner can continue, I ask the question, “Is your dog ready to be force-fetched? ”To which I always seem to get the same reply, “He has his permanent teeth.” But when I respond with, “That’s good, but is he ready to be force-fetched?” most callers are left stumbling for an answer.

A youngster having his permanent teeth is definitely a prerequisite to any form of mouth conditioning or force-fetch training — you don’t want to make him fetch or hold if his adult teeth are coming in and his mouth hurts — but it certainly isn’t the only consideration.

I’m not going to rehash the various techniques for force-fetching a dog. Those have been described in detail by other writers in more books and pages of RJ than I can recount I do, however, want to give you some insight into force-fetching and then leave the decision of whether it’s necessary in your particular case up to you.

The whole process of force-fetch may have greater "life" results than simply teaching the "fetch


I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say that the majority of hunting dogs in the field have never been through force-fetch training. I, personally, have known of a sizeable number of dogs that have never been through anything more than simple “fetch-and- hold” mouth conditioning and have successfully competed in All-Age field trials and Master Hunter level tests.

Conversely, I am familiar with dogs that have been forced and re-forced, time and again, by very qualified trainers and still occasionally refuse to pick up badly torn-up birds or enter icy water. I guess what I am saying is that force-fetch is not necessarily the panacea or cure” that some would suggest. But if your dog shows a tendency toward hardmouth — crushing or tearing-up birds — if he violently’ shakes birds or bumpers or consistently drops birds, or if he exhibits dominant behavioral traits, it is a wise choice to put him through a thorough - force-fetch program.

...the secondary results of force- training may actually be more beneficial than the actual-fetching. These can include strengthening the dominant position of the trainer, reinforcing the pecking order, and boosting the dog's confidence.

If you have made the decision that your dog should go through force-fetch training, there are requisites and some things that you should understand

First, his obedience must be strong and solid. The dog must be under control at all times and should have a strong desire to retrieve. If his obedience is not solid, or if he doesn’t have good enthusiasm to retrieve, back up and review the obedience, or continue to develop his retrieving desire.

Second, he should maintain good eye contact and pay attention. In other words, he should be focused on the task that he is being asked to perform. Along the same lines, you should have worked on eliminating any escape or avoidance behavior that he might demonstrate. (If you have questions about recognizing and eliminating escape or avoidance responses read “I Really Don’t Want To Do This,” May/June, 1999, RJ.)

Dogs that avoid maintaining good eye contact or show any of the other escape or avoidance characteristics when being trained or under pressure are not ready to move ahead to mouth conditioning and force-fetch. If your dog repeatedly tries to avoid looking at you, tries to bolt, lies down, flips, or displays any other avoidance behaviors during obedience, correct the problem before moving on.

Third, deciding what age is best to begin force-fetch training is more determined by the dog’s yard-work skills and field training than by his age. We just established that the dog’s obedience should be strong without a lot of avoidance responses. You also should have developed a burning desire in him for both retrieving and for birds.

Likewise, he should be acclimated to gunfire, and willing to enter the water and swim strongly without hesitation.

If your dog is headstrong — especially the juvenile-delinquent type — consider starting the force-fetch training earlier in order to give him a better idea of his position in the pecking order and to demonstrate the trainer’s authority. If your dog is even the slightest bit timid about birds or not particularly aggressive about retrieving, consider more confidence-building training with live birds and throwing marks into the wind or sparse cover before moving ahead.

Fourth, force-fetch doesn’t start with pulling a string on the dog’s toes or pinching his ear; it starts with control, both physical and mental. Many years ago, a very well-respected professional trainer told me that force-fetch has less to do with fetching than it does with “life.” I didn’t really understand his meaning at the time, but it didn’t take long after force-fetching a few dogs for it to sink in: Force-fetch training doesn’t start with the actual
forcing; it begins with the dog accepting the trainer’s authority. The force-fetch process will then reinforce that relationship between the dog and the trainer by adding focus, structure, and
effectiveness to the program.

What the trainer was trying to tell me was that the secondary results of force-fetch training may actually be more beneficial than the actual fetching. These can include strengthening the dominant position of the trainer, reinforcing the pecking order, and boosting the dog’s confidence. This leads the dog to perform his tasks with enthusiasm and style, and without question. But remember: It all stems from a general agreement between the dog and trainer from the outset that the trainer is the top dog. If your dog doesn’t accept you as the leader of his pack, continue to sharpen and reinforce his obedience until he respects you before moving ahead to force-fetch.

This year old male Chessie is actually very obedient but has decided to become a defiant "teenager." choosing to jump on the trainer to avoid obedience. He would be a good candidate to begin force-fetch.

The object of force-fetch training is to teach the dog to fetch and hold on command and to clean up and control any mouth problems he may have. But the by-product of force-fetch deals not only with retrieving but producing a dog that understands he must comply with all commands. He learns that there is no escaping that compliance whether that includes retrieving from icy water or the heaviest of cover.

If you make sure that he is ready for force-fetch training before begining, the overall results may just be the launching pad for all the focus direction, and responsibility the dog will have for the rest of his life.

The End

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