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Pro Tips: Thoughts On Force-Fetch, Spaniels

Pro Tips: Thoughts On Force-Fetch, Spaniels

Larry Hennessey

"Spaniels should retrieve naturally," Larry said, "and love doing it. So I don't force-fetch them just to get them to retrieve. No, I do it to teach them to come straight back to me with a bird and then to hold it until I tell them to release it to me. I also use it to prevent or cure hardmouth and other mouth problems."

Larry teaches spaniels to hold on the command "Fetch" and to release on the command "Give." He doesn't bother teaching them to reach and pick up because they retrieve naturally, so they don't need anything beyond hold and release.

Larry doesn't start force-fetch until the spaniel has pretty well mastered the basics of its life's work, like obedience training, quartering, gun-proofing, flushing birds, and natural retrieving. Using those as prerequisites, he knows he's working with a good prospect, not wasting time on a potential wash-out.

Having started to force-fetch a dog, Larry conducts two or three 15-minute sessions per day until he completes the task. He uses a training table with a rope stretched between two posts, one at each end. To give himself hands-free control, he attaches the dog to the rope with a slip lead. He uses a combination of the toe-hitch and the lip-pinch force techniques to get the dog to open its mouth. He first uses a 12-inch hardwood dowel, but then switches to a dummy, then dead birds after the dog is holding and carrying reliably.

All through the process, he really "gets in the dog's face" whenever it drops what it's supposed to be holding or carrying. On the other hand, as long as the dog is performing properly, he praises and pets it. That way, the overall program is quite positive and the dog doesn't come to dread and resent it.

In finishing the job, Larry stresses having the dog carry a dead pigeon straight to him from a distance, then hupping in front of him and holding the bird until he commands "Give" and takes it.

Thoughts On Force-Fetch

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


"That's the sort of polished retrieve I'm looking for," he said. "That's why I force-fetch a spaniel. As a matter of fact, why else would I put a good hunting spaniel that retrieves naturally up on the table? Oh, sure, if one has a mouth problem, like hardmouth or sloppy-mouth, I cure him with force-fetch, but spaniels worth their salt don't need it just to learn how to retrieve."

Larry said that the most common force-fetch mistakes made by amateurs are not doing the job completely and being too soft on their dogs. They sometimes skip steps or don't complete one step before moving on to the next. Even worse, they often don't insist that their dogs perform properly every time. The dog develops a "maybe so and maybe no" attitude towards the force-fetch commands of "Fetch" and "Give."

He feels that an amateur who doesn't have time for regular daily sessions until the job is completed should consider having a pro force-fetch his dog. Also, the person with a very soft or high-strung dog should consider professional help, as well.

This tip is from Larry Hennessey of Whispering Pines Springers, 6787 Eaglesham Road, Three Lakes, WI 54562; (715) 546-2418; website; e-mail Larry has been training professionally for 17 years. He trains all sporting breeds for hunting, but specializes in training spaniels for field trials, hunting tests, and hunting. He participates in spaniel field trials and hunting tests. He breeds field-bred English springer spaniels and Welsh springer spaniels.

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