It’s an important step in the foundation of a hunting dog’s training
Talk to anybody who’s trained retrievers long enough and the topic of “force fetch” will inevitably come up. Most consider it an absolute necessity in building the dog we want.
I’ve seen plenty that have been force fetched and plenty who haven’t, and I can tell you I’ll never train another dog without force fetching it. Ronnie Wilkinson of Tri Parish Retrievers (225-939-2398) would definitely agree. He also helped me with force fetching my current Lab. You can follow the group at Tri Parish Retrievers on Facebook.
“Force fetch is the foundation that introduces the dog to pressure which will transition into other forms such as collar pressure as the dog advances in training. It all starts with fetching on command where the dog learns that it must do what the handler wants to avoid pressure,” Wilkinson said.
What is force fetch? Its applying pressure teaching the dog that the pressure ceases with the desired outcome. It begins the transition to more advanced and formal training as the dog ages out of the puppy stage.
There are several steps to it and most associate force fetch with the dog learning to “fetch” on command starting with ear or toe pinching. This is a pretty hard task if never done before. If anyone hasn’t, I’d urge them to seek help from someone experienced with it or have a professional do it. Not force fetching correctly can cause a lot of issues which can become more problematic later.
How to start
To begin the process, the dog should be five to six months old with its adult teeth in. The dog is placed on a table off the ground at a height comfortable for the handler to work with and leashed tightly to restrict movement so it can’t squirm around or try to get off the table. Pressure is applied via ear pinch or toe pinch (ear pinch is easier for me.) When the dog opens its mouth, a bumper is quickly put in it and the pinching stops.
With repetition, the dog soon learns that “fetch” means that if it takes the bumper, the pressure stops. Anticipate that the dog is going to be nervous being on the table and may try to bite so wearing a leather glove on the hand with the bumper is a good idea, which I’ve learned the hard way. This is a natural reaction, so its best not to discipline the dog since it doesn’t know any better and is anxious.
Patience and knowing when to quit are key. Some dogs get it in a couple of days, others might take longer. If the dog shuts down, stop and start again later.
When the dog reaches for the bumper without pressure, they’ve figured it out. Then a move to “hold” is made where the dog will hold the bumper in its mouth until taken via the “drop” or “give” command. When starting on hold, the dog is likely going to want to spit the bumper in the beginning, so somewhat firmly gripping the dog’s mouth while repeating “hold” will teach it that it has to hold it until told to give it up. Ensure that the dog’s teeth aren’t between the dummy and its cheeks causing pain while being gripped. Once at a point where gripping the dog’s mouth isn’t necessary, keep making them hold it.
Discourage it from rolling it in its mouth or holding the bumper by the end. Tapping the dog under the chin on the “hold” command, reinforces the concept. The goal is to get to the point where the dog holds the bumper for a few minutes with the handler several feet away while the dog is still on the table. If the dog is loose or even on a leash, the tendency to run is too great, so keeping it on the table avoids that issue.
The process advances from the dog reaching for the bumper right in front of its nose to reaching down to pick it up off the table and holding on its own. Once it has this down, moving to picking up the bumper off the ground on the “fetch” command while leashed is the next step all the while reinforcing “hold” with the dog at heel before taking the bumper.
Moving on, a row of bumpers can be set out with the dog at heel and fetching them (called walking fetch or ladder drill) on command and progressing until a bumper can be skipped and the dog only picks up when given the “fetch” command.
Once through force fetch, your dog will be on its way to more complicated tasks such as marking, steadiness, honoring running blinds and more.