Some thoughts on force fetch training for retriever gundogs:

1. My current practice is to get as much of fetch done with play as possible. Some dogs get it simply from kicking the dummy with your foot and saying “fetch it up” playfully. Many more will get it from using a tennis ball. Roll the ball. When dog fetches and brings the ball to you, immediately reward dog with a short toss. We have all seen house dogs that learn on their own that bringing the ball to a human produces a toss. All you need to do is associate a signal (command) with that behavior.
I have found that I can get probably 80% of dogs to fetch from ground and deliver to hand with play training. The other 20% go through the “force fetch – Light” program.

2. I am training gundogs and thus am only concerned with delivery to hand. I am not concerned with advanced Field Trial lining behaviors, thus I am not concerned with forcing to go

3. I have found that the lighter the pressure (pinch), the faster the overall process proceeds. You want to use just enough pressure to make the dog uneasy so that he wants to escape. Then you provide the escape path which is the dummy in mouth.

4. When the dummy is in the dogs mouth: lots of reward with petting and praise. You are defining the behavior you want. It is very simple.
-Dummy not in mouth - feel bad
-Dummy in mouth- feel good

5. As I look over all the past dogs I have force fetched I am fairly sure that the biggest problems and the longest overall training times usually were the result of too much pressure (pinch). There is a human tendency to try to make a dog’s response faster by increasing the pressure. With many dogs this is counter productive. A slow response to pressure is generally attributable to fear and higher pressure simply produces higher fear level with limited learning. The way to increase response speed is with reward. This is somewhat counterintuitive for humans. The petting and praise when dummy is in mouth generally provides the speed up of response.

6. I have found that if I use extremely light pressure, just enough that the dog is uncomfortable, and do not worry about speed of response (apply the light pinch and let him find the escape route at his own speed) then I can force fetch a dog generally in 10 to 15 sessions of 3 to 5 minutes. Many dogs can get it in 5 or 6 sessions, especially when an element of play is incorporated.

7. Last but not least, the definition of the level of pressure is determined entirely by the dog, the human’s opinion is not relevant.

8. All the above being said, I use canvas dummies and tennis balls exclusively in early training because they are comfortable for a dog to carry and lead to minimum mouth and delivery problems. This tends to minimize the time I have to spend on force fetch and maximize the time I can spend on the more important behaviors of whistle stopping, directional casts and blind retrieves.

Best Regards,
Robert Milner