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Pro Tips: Thoughts On Force-Fetch, Retrievers

Pro Tips: Thoughts On Force-Fetch, Retrievers

"Some people want their dogs to sit in front to deliver," he said. "I can train them that way. Others want their dogs to sit on either the right or left side, perhaps first going around behind them. I can train them that way, too. Personally, I prefer to have a dog come in to my left, turn beside me, and sit on my left side. That facilitates setting him up for the next retrieve.

Randall Polley

"Well-bred retrievers retrieve naturally," Randy said, "but many of them have faulty deliveries. Some don't bring the bird all the way in, like if they drop it on shore to shake water from their coats and then don't pick it back up again. Others develop a bad habit of dropping the bird at your feet, or even a few feet away.

"Force-fetch solves those delivery problems very nicely for me. But I wouldn't recommend it for a retriever that doesn't retrieve naturally. Such a dog won't ever amount to much, so why waste all that time on him?"

In force-fetch, Randy teaches the dog to hold, carry, reach for, and pick up a dummy or bird on the command "Take" (which suggests he has a strong obedience background), and to release it on the command "Give."

"More recently," he said, "I've been using 'Thank you' as a release command. I read somewhere about someone using that and I liked it, so I've started using it myself."

Thoughts On Force-Fetch

Don't miss tips for your pointer, here, or your spaniel, here.


Randy doesn't use a table. He does it the old-fashioned way, on the ground, which can be tiring, but which encourages a person to keep each session short. He uses the lip-pinch force method. He starts with a small plastic dummy, then introduces various other retrieving dummies, and finishes with dead birds.

His only prerequisite is that the dog has been obedience-trained. Once that is done, he will force-fetch the animal whenever it begins to have a delivery problem in regular field work. When this happens, he discontinues field work while force-fetching the dog, which usually takes about six weeks, with two or three sessions a day. When he's finished the dog delivers very reliably.

"But regardless of where the dog sits or how he gets there, the important thing is that he holds the bird until told to release it. That's why I force-fetch dogs in the first place. If the dog holds the bird like that, everything goes smoothly between retrieves. If he doesn't hold it as he should, things go from bad to worse."

Randy feels strongly that force-fetch should be a positive experience for the dog. He recommends frequent, short sessions, lots of praise, and a minimum of corrections.

"Think of it as teaching," he said. "If you keep that in mind, you'll go more slowly and you'll be more positive, and the end results will be happier for both of you. Look at it this way: If every time your kid touched a TV knob, you threw a shoe and hit him in the back, you'd have a tough time getting him to touch a TV knob when you wanted him to, wouldn't you?"

Randy recommends that the amateur, if he has time, should force-fetch his own dog rather than turn the animal over to a pro. He has found that, if the owner force-fetches positively, the dog and owner bond very strongly during this process. However, he suggests that the beginner should spend some time with a pro learning how to go about force-fetching his own dog.

"Of course, if you don't have time to do it yourself, and many busy people don't, you should have a pro do it. But I really recommend doing it yourself if possible, because working your own dog can be a most rewarding experience for both of you."

As a final thought, Randy added this: "Do your force-fetching to your own specs, not those of the guy on TV or the guy you watched at a trial. Do it for you and for your dog, not to impress anyone else. Have fun and enjoy your dog.

"A dog wants to learn all his life. What he learns and how well he learns it is up to you. Care for him, love him, and he'll give you more in return than you can ever imagine."

This tip is from Randall Polley of Bear Lake Kennels, 27103 East 220th Street, Ridgeway, MO 64481; (660) 872-5522; website; e-mail Randy has been training professionally for 20 years, specializing in training retrievers for hunting and field trials. He participates in retriever field trials. He also obedience trains all large breeds. He breeds Labradors.

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