Freighter is off to begin his retriever training with a professional trainer. Many of you have asked what is involved with this kind of training. I have attempted to explain it, but I am no expert and it can be a complex subject. Unfortunately this post turned out kind of long even though I tried to pare it down.
If you are a regular reader you know that we have spent the last few months building Freighter’s enthusiasm to retrieve without correction or pressure. Now it is time to formalize his retrieving including “fetch” and “hold”. This will be done through a process called “force-fetching”, “force breaking”, or ” the trained retrieve”. I imagine some of the positive only trainers reading this are thinking to themselves: “Yikes! How can anything that has force in its name be good for the retriever?”. Force-fetch may be one of the most misunderstood and under valued training processes by people unfamiliar with retriever training. So what is force-fetch and why is it important?
Two well known retriever trainers, John and Amy Dalh, authors of the book, “The 10 Minute Retriever“, have described it this way:
Force-fetching is the process of making a dog absolutely reliable in its bird/dummy handling and delivery. It converts retrieving from a matter of play to a matter of obedience. It provides a foundation of confidence for advanced training–no matter how confusing or stressful a situation, the dog knows that going when sent is the right thing to do. This confidence is the basis of greater style and intensity than is possible in any play-retrieve.
Although many owners are uncomfortable applying systematic direct pressure (i.e. pain) to their dogs, it is far more humane to force-fetch, and yields infinitely better results, than to situationally reprimand a dog that lacks the foundation to understand clearly what its trainer desires.
First published in The Retriever Journal, February/March 1998
In other words it is a training process, using some form of compulsion, to make the dog go and pick up an object in its mouth, carry it, and then deliver it to hand. But if the dog naturally retrieves why the need for force-fetch?
A Primer On Force-Breaking is an article written by another retriever trainer author, James B. Spencer. This is an excellent article that goes over the basics of force-fetching, including what is involved, the reasons to do it, and a brief history. Spencer writes the reasons for force-fetching are as follows:
Most experienced retriever trainers routinely force-break their dogs for several reasons. First, it insures reliable delivery to hand. The non-force-broken retriever often drops birds rather than delivering them. This is especially aggravating in water work, where the dog drops the bird on the shoreline to shake water from his coat. A force-broken retriever normally won’t drop birds, but even when he does, he’ll pick them up again on the command Fetch.
In multiple marks, reliable delivery to hand improves the dog’s marking by smoothing the between-bird transition. The force-broken dog delivers each bird at heel and then focuses on the next bird to be retrieved. The non-force-broken dog may play various games with the bird, tossing it up, dropping and picking it up, lunging after it and so on. These not only waste time, but they also dim the dog’s memory of the birds remaining to be retrieved.
I have highlighted two reasons that are important to us. Long time readers to this blog might remember that I mentioned that Thunder did not start formal retriever training until he was almost 17 months old. This was because we did not know anything about hunt tests. He was going to be a hunting dog, and as such may not have needed formal force-fetch. However, once we decided to play the retriever games, I can tell you that he had many of the problems that Spencer writes about in his article. He would go out and do a very difficult retrieve and then blow it by not bringing the bird directly back to his handler. Even though he was eventually force-fetched the problems he had early on before force-fetch still rear their ugly heads at tests now and again, ie dropping birds in the water and going around the back of his handler before coming to heel to deliver the bird to hand. We wish we had done force-fetch when he was younger. Heck, we wish we knew then what we know now about training.
Not every dog playing retriever games is force fetched and I don’t want to suggest that they are, (a majority probably, but not all). Some people do not feel they need it, which is their choice. You can google “force fetch” and no doubt read all kinds of horror stories about brutal methods used. Maybe some trainers use those methods, but the ones (plural) we have known do not. There are various methods and as any good trainer will tell you, no one method or process will be beneficial to every dog. I will not lie and say it doesn’t include some discomfort for the dog, but when Freighter is finished with the process, I expect him to be the same happy-go-lucky puppy. However, he will understand that fetching is his “job”, including holding the bumper all the way back to his handler, coming directly to heel, and delivering to hand. But force-fetch is much more than fetch and hold. The things he learns now will provide the base for learning more advanced retriever skills later. Force-fetch is about introducing the dog to control so that eventually we hope he will retrieve the things we want, in the order we want, and bring them back in the manner we want.
Some readers have asked how long Freighter will be with the trainer. Right now he is there for at least a month because that is how long it will take to complete force fetch, (could be longer, could be shorter). Darrin, our trainer, does his force fetch as a very gradual process. Many people do their own force fetch, but we would rather have the professional trainer do it because if done incorrectly you can set your training behind when you have to redo parts of it and we really want Freighter to have a solid force-fetch. Some people do it a bit younger than 7 months; however, Darrin has worked with Freighter since he was small and we left it up to him when he felt that he was mature enough. We are in no real hurry because we hope Freighter will have a long retrieving career. In all likelihood Freighter will probably stay longer than a month to get some training beyond force fetch, but we will decide that toward the end of the 30 days. Of course we miss him, but we plan to be at Darrin’s training this weekend, (provided the weather cooperates), and will hear about his first week.