With this article I hope to give you some more information about force fetch to help you better understand the concepts behind it and why you should do it with your dog.
First off let’s talk about what the process actually is.
The process in a nutshell: You pinch the dog’s ear or wrap a cord around two of the dog’s toes and squeeze them together to the point of mild discomfort. When the dog opens its mouth to whine you put the object in their mouth and simultaneously release the ear or toe pinch. When done properly with a lot of repetition the dog learns that the discomfort goes away as soon as they can get the object in their mouth. Eventually the dog will associate the command “fetch” with the pain of the pinch, or later electric shock, and lunge at the object on command.
Why is that necessary?
The challenge behind training any hunting companion is to create a true team player. The dog needs to be independent, hard charging, and bold to be able to endure the rigors of hunting, while still being able to focus in on their handler and comply with what they’re asking of them.
Today’s military drill instructors have to be harsh in training their new recruits to reprogram them to be able to take and carry out orders in the most hostile environments. Many athletic coaches for the first few weeks of their training season will push their athletes relentlessly in hopes to break them down as individuals to later build them back up as a team.
The same goes for force fetch. When training a gun dog, we spend the first portion of their lives socializing them, building their confidence, and instilling the passion for the hunt in them. When they’ve fully matured and understand what we’re asking of them we start to break them down to become more of a team player. That’s the idea behind force fetch; we do it to condition the dog to retrieve the object without any objection or other option.
This method of “turning off pressure” like you see in force fetch training, is the backbone or foundation for many other aspects in retriever training such as: collar obedience, taking casts, holding a line, de-cheating water marks, driving through cover, holding lines through water, and many more.
What are the benefits?
Well imagine a hunt with an unforced dog. What if after sitting there and shivering for 20 minutes the dog decides it’s too cold to get back in and retrieve a bird? How would you get them to get the bird then? Would you try and coerce them through play or excitement? Throw rocks by the bird? Maybe shoot the water near it? Heaven forbid you get into deep freezing water to get it yourself!
Our dogs are probably the most important tools in conservation. They find and deliver our downed birds. If we didn’t have them people would lose birds and go shoot others. Dogs also deliver the birds in a condition fit for the dinner table.
Hard mouth, chomping at the bird, tug of war, butter-mouth (loosely holding it), dropping a bird to get another bird, dropping the bird half-way to you, dropping it at your feet, and any other form of poor delivery to hand are things that force fetch can fix. Force fetch also establishes the “alpha status hierarchy” with your dog. It can empower and embolden your shy or soft dog. It can bring even the most bold and stubborn dogs down.
What are the cons?
As you can see from above, force fetch has some great benefits to a dog’s training and overall attitude when done properly. I’ll say that again…when done properly. My prerequisites to start the force fetch process are: The dog’s canines are fully grown in or in other words, they physically are able to do the task I’m asking of them. They have the drive and excitement for retrieving. They’ve been introduced to and are understanding pressure through their leash work. They have been collar conditioned.
Whether it was the rookie backyard trainer that thought he knew what he was doing or the pro trainer that blamed the dog for not having the proper gene pool to handle the excessive amount of pressure he was putting on the dog; force fetch can be seen as cruel or inhumane due to improper use. It shouldn’t be cruel, that’s not the point. That’s why it’s so important that you educate yourself first and seek out help if you don’t know what you’re doing!
Many trainers out there would argue that teaching the dog how to properly “hold” is all that you would ever need. Or if the dog ever did do poorly it was due to a poor set up or the dog was missing a step in their training.
My personal opinion: every dog is different, they come from all types of backgrounds and have different traits. Not all force fetch protocols work for every single dog, that’s why it’s important to be flexible and ready to mold your program to what the dog needs. But overall, I think conditioning the dog to retrieve 100% of the time is absolutely necessary! I can’t express this enough. I’ve seen unforced dogs who were great in the field hunting turn around and refuse to learn handling. I’ve seen unforced dogs who were consistent while training but in a $80 entry fee hunt test would rather lay down and chew on a bird instead of bring it to me.
You never know what an unforced dog will decide to do. It’s not worth it to spend all the time, money, and preparation into hunting or competing for them to not be consistent 100 times out of 100 or not have some sort of recourse if they just decide not to.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or let us know how we can help if you’re struggling to force fetch your dog!
Lynn, B. (2010, March 22). Must You Force Fetch? Outdoor Life. Retrieved September 2, 2016, from http://www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/gun-dogs/2010/03/must-you-force-fetch