Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Is there a better way?

The retrieve is an important part of the bird dogs repertoire of skills, and essential for certain breeds to perform in order to garner a Field Champion Title or any Pointing breed dog to achieve a Senior or Master Hunt Test Title.

For those lucky dogs (and their owners) to whom the retrieve is natural, this generally avoids an essentially unpleasant training regimen for both dog and trainer.  "Force Fetch".  It is an expression that must equate to the dog as oral surgery, root canal and prostrate exam all rolled in to one would for the human.  There are many extolled virtues of this arcane method of training to which I admit I have performed and in absence of another method will continue to do so.  Short answer is with the vast majority of dogs, it works.  At the end, the dog picks things up and brings it back to you.  God love the dog, they often even seem to come to enjoy it. 

I look at the changes in training methodologies and techniques over the years since I started doing this as a boy as a great advancement.  We are better by leaps than we were 40 years ago - in everything it seems but the retrieve training.  This has been bothering me for a long time now.  I think it has finally festered to the point in my mind that I very much am open to finding another, a better way.

I am currently engaged in my own experimentation of clicker training the retrieve with three dogs,  two of which are owned by Janet and myself, the third a client dog whose owner was interested in seeing whether it would work.  At worst, I am convinced it will do no harm to their overall ability to learn the retrieve, and at best I have an option in teaching in a more positive manner.  We are about a week in and so far I'm pleased with the results.  The dogs are eager to try and gradually making improvement.  Each dog is progressing at a different rate.
Tools for the Positive Trained Retrieve

As I get further with my experiment, I'll post progress.  Wish all of us, dogs and trainers alike - good luck.


  1. Keep it up. This is all great stuff.

  2. I'm really looking forward to seeing your results on this. If it does work (and if our Riley has any hunting potential) we'd love to have your help training her with this new method. :D

  3. I'd love to! Have you gotten Riley started on birds yet?

  4. She's been exposed to birds - mainly pigeons, ducks, and crows at the park. We did take her to Hastings and she ran around in the field and was extremely excited to find a pheasant wing on the ground. She strutted around with it for a bit and then tore it to bits... haha. She also got to see/smell a live pheasant hen Bailey/Rod found that was injured. In the past week I've been working on her retrieve in the house. She is now consistently bringing objects to my hand and dropping them when I tell her. We look forward to meeting you on Saturday! :)