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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Pull the dog's head forward and up to develop a quick pick-up. The thumb is ready if the dog fumbles and drops the dummy.
Picking the Dummy Up From the Ground
This is another area where resistance is common. It seems that picking up an object from the ground requires a far greater subordination of will than does grabbing it from your hand, and most dogs need some convincing. We try to break it down into several parts: holding the dog training dummy lower, holding just above the ground, holding by the string with one end on the ground, standing with toe on end of dummy so that it is tilted up, and finally dummy lying on the ground. Progress through the different holding positions as before: when the dog is solid and reliable, move on to the next. Make sure, when the dummy starts contacting the ground, that it does not get dirty or sandy. Dogs don't like the feeling of grit in their teeth. Working on a lawn will keep it clean.

If your dog is one that totally balks at picking the dummy up off the ground, and you have tried going back to review previous steps, you might make some headway by giving in a little. Toss a dog training dummy forward far enough to be a short freebie and release the dog. Repeat but say, "Fetch!" as you release it. Repeat, shortening the distance--approaching the problem from the opposite direction, as it were. Sometimes, simply kicking the dummy to move it forward a little is all that is needed. Intuitively, it seems as though the dog must be forced through every part of this procedure, but experience shows that relenting a little at this point may be just as effective.

Some dogs will not respond to "easing up" with a short throw, but will squeal, thrash around, and direct their efforts to escaping the ear pinch by every possible means except getting the dummy. As mentioned previously, it is important not to establish a pattern of struggling with the dog physically. If you cannot physically restrain the dog, increasing the pressure may do the trick. You can press the dog's ear with a shotshell instead of your thumb; even get a studded collar and pinch the ear against that. Make the dog's need to stop the pinching so urgent that resisting your will fades in importance.

Reviewing with movement helps maintain a good attitude.
While many Labrador and Golden retrievers can be accelerated through force-fetch by using heavy pressure from the beginning, we do not recommend that inexperienced trainers use this heavy-handed approach. If you cannot reliably tell when the dog understands for sure what is expected, pressure becomes mere abuse. The cost to the dog's confidence, in you and in its work, is great.

By the time this issue is resolved, most dogs will dive on the dummy when you say, "Fetch!" but many will fumble it, lie down, or just be very slow to come up with it. This is continued resistance to your increasing authority, and the job is not done until it is overcome. As your dog lunges forward toward the dummy, move forward yourself so the dog remains in heel position. As soon as its jaws reach the dummy, pull its head up with your hand on the collar. This works best if you continue moving forward a step or two past where the dummy was lying. If the dog drops the dummy, correct--use a chuck under the chin or pinch its ear and place the dummy in its mouth. If it doesn't make rapid progress, you can increase the pressure by requiring it to pick up the dropped dummy (stay on the ear until it does).

When the dog executes these fetches reliably without correction, without your having your hand on its ear and collar, you are ready for the last step.

Stick fetch. By now the dog is lunging for the dummy.
Stick Fetch
Stick fetch accomplishes two things: it teaches the dog that distractions are no excuse to ignore a "Fetch" command and it transfers much of the momentum-producing power of the ear pinch to the stick, thus providing a basis for force-on-back.

Get a stick 30 or 40-inches long. You can have a helper wield the stick, or do it yourself. Don't make the stick any more obvious than it has to be. With the dog at heel, toss the dummy about three feet in front of the dog. With your hand on the collar and ear, say, "Fetch!" Immediately tap the dog on the hindquarters with the stick. Repeat "Fetch!" and pinch the ear all the way to the dummy. Repeat, varying how hard you hit the dog, sometimes not hitting it. Again, you want to make the dog think that by going fast it can avoid the stick. As it catches on, try using the stick and no ear pinch. Usually, not many sessions are needed (maybe 3-6). When the dog is digging out to beat the stick and seems totally reliable without any ear pinch, you are finished--you have successfully force-fetched your retriever.

Many trainers follow force-fetching with a "walking fetch" drill where several dog training dummies are lying on the ground, ten feet or more apart. Trainer approaches dummies with dog at heel and says, "Fetch!" as dog's attention focuses on the first dummy. Any refusals are corrected with the ear pinch. After the dog sits to deliver, the trainer can drop the dummy behind the dog for a later circuit. When performance is smooth, the stick can be added just as in the fetch from a sitting position. If the previous steps have been carefully done, the dog will soon be lunging eagerly for each dummy as soon as it sees it.

We then work on getting the dog to wait until it is commanded to "Fetch!" using repeated "Heel!" commands and jerks on the lead. Generally, we don't pursue this to the point where it is absolute--the dog's getting the idea is enough. Not all youngsters can take heavy drilling on contradictory ideas such as "Go" and "Don't go."

"Happy bumpers" can also be good for the dog's attitude.
The walking fetch drill makes the transition to picking up a dummy the dog finds on the ground, not only one which has just been thrown or placed by the trainer. Now the dog can be sent to a pile, the foundation for forcing on "Back!" and for blind retrieves. It can be sent, with appropriate hand signals, to side and back piles, making an introduction to casting. And, of course, the dog should deliver perfectly and you, as trainer, have the tools to enforce this: command "Hold!" as the dog emerges from water and considers putting the bird down to shake, and pinch its ear if a dummy or bird is ever dropped. While force-fetching is now complete, training has become more varied and interesting and we are sure you will want to continue.

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