Every knowledgeable dog trainer has his own unique way of teaching a dog his hunting skills, as do I. I like to flatter myself by thinking my techniques have been developed over many years of observing dog behavior and implementing the proper time table and techniques that dogs understand naturally.
So when I was asked by a young trainer, when should I begin force fetch with my pup? I found it difficult to give an exact answer without some explanation. To begin with, you have to consider the physical and mental condition of yoiur pup, such as: he should have his permanent teeth in place before you begin Force fetch and needs to be mature enough to handle the rigors of formal training. if you are attempting to force fetch a dog that is older than a year old, the animal is coming into training with baggage, (he thinks he has life figured out to at least some degree) and chances are you will be forced to change the amount of pressure, the steps, or timing you normally follow to get the job done. Some dogs simply do not handle pressure as well as others and again you must adjust your training program to compensate to the dogs needs and understanding of the situation.
Hopefully, I am getting my point across about the complexities of when to begin force fetch or any other disciplined skill you teach. Now, if everything is in its proper order, here is the routine I follow. Every new trainee is given a week or so to get adjusted to his new surroundings, new people, kennel life, birds and general everyday training procedures. During this time I work primarily on developing my trainee’s desire to get birds---It’s impossible to train a dog that does not want birds. At this very impressionable time I also introduce him to the choke chain and leash by taking long, undisciplined walks, this also helps to strengthen my working relationship and give me an initial read as to just what type of temperament I am dealing with.
Whenever I feel the pup is ready, (usually around the ten day mark) I begin a more aggressive heeling format, introducing the youngster to a designed level of demands, preparing him for the next skill to be learned, force fetch. How well he is handling the elevated level of heeling will determine exactly when I begin the force fetch. Force fetch can be a traumatic time a young dog’s life, so your timing as to when you begin really has to be tuned into the dog’s readiness to accept the next level of training. This is where the novice trainer is handicapped, because it takes experience to understand when that time has come. If you begin too late, the dog will take advantage by making the force fetch process more difficult; if you’re too early you’ll depress the dog and probably have to stop the force fetch drill to regain his positive working attitude by shooting him some birds.
My advice for a novice trainer is to take your time when teaching the heel and sit drill. Do a more thorough job than you would normally by increasing the discipline level slowly over this longer time frame. In this way your dog will still be under a disciplined format when you feel the time is right to force fetch the animal.Have fun training!
Grady Istre writes every other week on dog training and can be reached at reibar.com.