Hardmouth In Spaniels

Jim Keller

"A hardmouthed dog renders birds unfit for the table," Jim Keller said. "When you clean a bird, it shouldn't show punctures, teeth marks, or crushed ribs."

Jim said that hardmouth can be hereditary. If the sire or dam is hardmouthed, the pup will very likely develop this problem. Then he added that this fault is so severely penalized in spaniel field trials and hunting tests that you can usually avoid hereditary hardmouth by selecting a puppy from lines that participate successfully in these sports.


Certain hunting mishaps can lead to hardmouth. Perhaps the most common is retrieving a badly shot-up bird. While retrieving such a bird, even the softest-mouthed spaniel cannot avoid getting a taste of the meat, which seems like raw steak to him. Next thing you know, and predictably, he'll start chewing on it. It doesn't take many such incidents to create a serious hardmouth problem. To a great extent, this is an avoidable problem, in that no one should shoot a bird so close to the gun that it gets badly shot-up.


Jim pointed out that certain trainer errors can lead to hardmouth. One of the most common is what he calls "Happy Mouth." The owner does a lot of play retrieving with his youngster every day because it's fun for both dog and owner. The trouble is, the owner doesn't create any structure for the dog. It's all fun and games. Thus the dog develops a play attitude toward retrieving and starts mouthing the retrieved object on the return, on delivery, or both. This habit can carry over into serious retrieving, which can lead to hardmouth.

"Have fun with your puppy's retrieving," Jim said, "but define a structure. For example, use a retrieve to reward good work in obedience training."


Other trainer errors that can lead to this problem are using retrieving objects that are so soft that they encourage chewing; using objects that squeak when squeezed and thereby encourage biting down; and using soggy dummies and birds.


Jim said that if your dog develops a hardmouth problem, you should stop all retrieving while you fix it. The cure he recommends is what he calls the "conditioned retrieve."

(Others call this training process by several other names, such as "force-fetch," "trained retrieve," and so on). This is a structured program in which the dog learns to hold, pick up, carry, and release various retrieving objects (dumbbell, dummies, and finally birds).

Preventing Hardmouth


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

 

Space doesn't allow a complete description of the conditioned retrieve here. However, through the years, it has been described multiple times in this magazine. Jim pointed out that good basic obedience training is an absolute requirement for this conditioned retrieve program.

He said that an amateur, even a beginner, can successfully train his spaniel in the conditioned retrieve. Many have done so through the years, so if your spaniel develops a hardmouth problem, you should "have a go at it," as they say in Merry Old England, whence our spaniel breeds came. However, if you attempt it and feel at some point that you're making zero progress, perhaps even regressing a bit, Jim recommends that you invoke the assistance of an experienced amateur or professional trainer.

As a final thought, Jim added this: "The conditioned retrieve will minimize the environmental influences of hardmouth, but it won't cure the genetic influences. If your dog's hardmouth is truly hereditary, it will never be completely and finally cured, although the frequency of its occurrences can be reduced and at least partially controlled.

However, no matter what, it will pop up now and then, usually just when you think you've finally cured it."

This tip is from Jim Keller of Wildwind Kennels, 1368 Webb Road, Knox, ME 04986; (207) 322-6236; website www.wildwindkennels.com; e-mail jim@wildwindkennels.com. Jim has been training professionally for 20 years. He trains all sporting breeds for hunting, but specializes in training spaniels for field trials. A regular field trial competitor, he has titled many spaniels in both U.S.A. and Canada. He won the 2006 English Springer Spaniel U.S.A. National Open and has placed in several other national championship trials. He doesn't breed dogs.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 8

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 8

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 8

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 3

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 3

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 3

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 14

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 14

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 14

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 10

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 10

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 10

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

From the 2019 SHOT Show, here are a several new upland shotguns that caught our attention. Shotguns & Ammo

New Upland Shotguns for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

From the 2019 SHOT Show, here are a several new upland shotguns that caught our attention.

Some shotguns not only look good, they're also built for shattering those orange disks that can give us so much grief. Shotguns & Ammo

10 Great Shotguns for Sporting Clays

David Hart

Some shotguns not only look good, they're also built for shattering those orange disks that...

A step-by-step analysis on what to expect from your dog Puppies

Your Pup's First Year

Bob West - September 23, 2010

A step-by-step analysis on what to expect from your dog

Profiles

Gun Dog Breeds: Standard Poodle

James Spencer

"Poodles hunt? You gotta be kiddin' me!"

See More Trending Articles

More Training

Puppy training should start the moment you pick up your new gun dog. Training

Retriever Training from Day One

Tom Dokken

Puppy training should start the moment you pick up your new gun dog.

The hard part about training gun dogs is getting them to go against their natural behaviors. Training

Unnatural Behaviors: Training Gun Dogs to Hunt

Tony J. Peterson

The hard part about training gun dogs is getting them to go against their natural behaviors.

The first 12 weeks of your gun dog's life are vital to social behavior down the road. Training

The Socialization Period for Gun Dog Puppies

Ed Bailey

The first 12 weeks of your gun dog's life are vital to social behavior down the road.

These puppy principles can make your training experience more successful. Training

3 Ways to Make Gun Dog Training Easier

Jerry Cacchio

These puppy principles can make your training experience more successful.

See More Training

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Gun Dog subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now