Jeremy has been breeding gun dog for over 25 years. He is a member of the Kennel Club and lives in Lancashire and is well known as a writer on country sports and rural issues.
Mark is an ‘A’ panel Kennel Club judge for spaniels and has represented England six times in international gundog events. He trains and breeds labradors and spaniels at the Cheweky Gundog Kennels in Yorkshire.
Teaching the ‘hold’ by pushing a dummy into a dog’s mouth is not an easy exercise and should only be undertaken by an experienced gundog trainer. While carrying a dummy is natural for a retriever in training, the act of forcing a dummy into its mouth – no matter how gentle – is very unsettling. Most dogs refuse to grip the dummy which means you then start to exert force to maintain the hold and the whole exercise disintegrates into a negative training situation.
If you are adamant about teaching the ‘hold’, seek expert help – but there may be another solution. I find that the sudden spitting out of a dummy can be the result of the handler’s over-keenness to take the dummy from the dog’s mouth in the early days of training.
It’s important to not hurry, which is why I prefer to train a dog to sit in front of me with the retrieve and not take the dummy straight away. If the dog is taught to sit you allow it to feel good about itself for the few seconds before you take the dummy. It builds up the dog’s confidence about what it has done.
If you have a young dog that starts to spit out a dummy when you have progressed to say, a 1lb training dummy, it’s worth going back to basics and revert to a small canvas puppy dummy that the dog can carry easily and so is less reluctant to drop. Undertake a normal retrieve but as the dog approaches take a step back and then start to walk away, encouraging it to carry the dummy and walk at heel. Encourage the dog and make it feel really proud of what it has achieved.
Be in no rush to take the dummy but do whatever you need to – even sit on the floor if necessary – to make the dog give you the dummy without dropping it. Use the same dummy so that the dog will bond with it.
If you have have any gundog related questions/queries then please send them in to: Gundog Questions, Shooting Gazette, PO Box 225, Stamford, Lincolnshire, PE9 2HS.