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Force-Fetching Without "The Collar" - Part II

by Amy Dahl, Ph.D.

Amy Dahl is also the co-author, with her husband, John, of The 10-Minute Retriever - How to Make an Obedient and Enthusiastic Sporting Dog in 10 Minutes a Day.
Last issue we described how to teach your dog the most important part of force-fetching: to carry and deliver dog training dummies with a firm hold and without fumbling, rolling, or dropping them. With the "fetch" command, we condition a fast, positive pick-up and, equally important, establish the basis for reliably going when sent. When the procedure is complete, you will discover an added benefit in the dog's respect for, and appreciation of, your authority. Responses to commands become faster and more willing; in general, the dog seems to thrive on being given instructions and on learning, in place of the doubtful compliance typical of the unforced dog.

Introduction of the Fetch Command

Preliminary: grasp the collar, force dummy into the dog's mouth while saying, "Fetch."
This step is not difficult, but it is important for what follows. As when you were beginning the hold, place the dog training dummy in the dog's mouth, but this time say, "Fetch!" as you do so. Give the dog a chance to get a good grip on the dummy and hold it for a second or two, then take the dummy as you say, "Leave it!" or your release command. Continue to include movement and an occasional longer hold. Five to ten repetitions of "Fetch!" in one spot could be followed by holding while heeling to a new spot. Use your judgment regarding praise in this stage: for some dogs it is motivating, but others are distracted by it. You can always praise a dog that sits to deliver after an extended hold.

Spend enough repetitions so you are sure the dog understands that "Fetch!" means "the dummy goes in the mouth." Now get ready for a session that will last as long as it takes. It is time to expand the meaning of "Fetch1" to mean, "open your mouth and accept the dummy." Start with a review of the "Fetch!"-"Leave it!" routine. Then sit the dog, grasp hold of the tight buckle collar with your left hand, hold the dog training dummy in front of its mouth with your right hand, and say, "Fetch!" as you press the dummy against the dog's lips.

A common and reasonable response to the sudden discomfort is resistance--the dog clamps its mouth shut. This is fine, except that you are going to keep up the pressure until you overcome the resistance. It may take a few seconds or over an hour. If resistance is prolonged, repeat, "Fetch!" in a calm voice at intervals to remind the dog that you are asking it to do something specific. When the clenched mouth slackens, quickly roll in the dummy.

Repetitions of this routine should quickly become easier. Continue to practice until the dog readily opens its mouth on command. Now you are ready to progress to what most people think of as force-fetching: the ear pinch.

Reaching for the Dummy
Slip an empty shotshell into your pocket before the next session. As always, begin with some review. Then sit the dog. Take hold of its buckle collar and ear as follows. Slide the last three fingers of your left hand towards the dog's head under the collar, and curl them over the collar to grasp it firmly. With your thumb and index finger, pull the dog's left ear back over the collar (inside up) and hold it there gently. The "ear pinch" is administered by pressing with your thumbnail at the boundary between hair and bare skin (don't pinch yet). Depending on the size and strength of your hands, you may want to press against the dog collar or against your index finger.

Hold the dummy in front of the dog's mouth. Say, "Fetch!" while pressing the dummy against its lips and pinching its ear. If the dog opens its mouth, roll the dummy in and quickly let off the ear pressure as you do. Praise it. You want it to get the idea that the ear-pinch means, "get that dummy in your mouth!"

Administering the ear pinch.

If the dog clenches its mouth shut, you may be in for another extended session. Keep pinching and press the dummy harder against the dog's lips. Repeat "Fetch!" Again, keep your voice calm. If several minutes pass and the dog still does not open its mouth, get out the shotshell. Try pinching the ear between the metal casing and the collar, even the buckle on the collar. Persist! Eventually, the dog will give in and open its mouth. Be ready, roll that dummy in, stop the ear pressure, and praise the dog.

Fortunately, you usually don't have to fight this battle more than once (perhaps because the ear is getting tender, or the dog has decided it isn't worth it). After a fetch command, the dog (not you) should be holding the dog training dummy. Tell it to "Leave it!" as you take it away.

If your dog resists opening its mouth, just do 10-15 repetitions and end the session. If it complies readily, then after a few repetitions pinch its ear and say, "Fetch!, " but hold the dummy still and maintain ear pressure. Use your hold on the buckle collar to force the dog's head forward. As soon as the dog's mouth is approximately around the dummy, release the pressure. The command now means, "reach forward and take the dummy." Repeat.

As it starts to get the idea, stop pushing its head forward. You want the forward momentum to come from the dog. Soon it will try to grab the dummy before you can pinch it. Hold it back by the collar until you give the command. As when we restrain young dogs on marks, this restraint will increase its forward drive.

Start mixing in instances where you give the command and stop restraining the dog, but do not pinch the ear. Try not to be predictable about when you do and do not pinch--maybe pinch twice in a row, then do three fetches with no pinch. You want the dog to think that it is "beating the pinch" by getting the dummy fast. Any time it is slow, pinch! Now you can use a new standard for knowing when it is time to progress: if the dog is reliable at one level after several repetitions without a pinch, it is probably ready to move on.

Start holding the dummy four or five inches in front of the dog when you say, "Fetch!" When it is solid reaching this far, hold the dummy farther forward. Soon it will have to stand up in order to reach far enough. Now tell it to "Hold," then "Sit" with the dummy before telling it to "Leave it!" If you restrain it by holding the collar, it should start lunging aggressively for the dummy when released. If it doesn't, you may be trying to advance too fast--back up and work on a shorter reach. Be sure you are in position with your hold on collar and ear every time you give the command, whether you plan to pinch or not.

When your dog will lunge three feet and grab the dummy, whether you pinch its ear or not, you are ready to move on.
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