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How can I stop my gundog from dropping the dummy? (And other dummy training problems.)

Problems with dummies

gundog with a dummy

Advice on gundog dummy problems

Q: How do I stop my gundog puppy spitting the dummy out? I have tried placing it in her mouth while saying ‘hold’.

A: 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.

gundog with dummy

A dog that has dropped the dummy following a water retrieve. It should deliver the dummy to hand.

Don’t rush things

It’s important not to 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 reverting 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.

Puppy won’t give up dummy

Q: My puppy is reluctant to give up a retrieved dummy. What should I do?

A: I imagine you have always held out your hand to take the things she has brought back to you and you have probably done this from a standing position. But as youngsters develop they can sometimes start to perceive this ‘out reach’ of the hand as a sort of barrier – literally a signal that keeps the pups at arm’s length from the handler.

When playing with very young pups:

  • Sit down on the floor, particularly if there’s the likelihood a pup will bring something back in a playful retrieve.
  • Keep your legs apart, open your arms and create a funnel into which the pup can get close to you.
  • You can even let a young pup put its front feet on your chest while still holding the dummy.
  • Give lots of vocal praise and although you shouldn’t rush to take the dummy from the pup, make sure you take it before the pup decides to drop it of its own accord – something that becomes instinctive with each pup. Some hold on forever, others less so.
  • As the pup moves on to canvas dummies this method encourages it to bring the retrieve into ‘your space’. It avoids pups becoming reluctant to enter your space.
gundog dummy problems

A poor retrieve – the dog is turning away and circling the handler

Adolescent dogs

Q: My 10-month old Labrador is coming on well in most respects but he’s reluctant to let go of the dummy when he brings it to hand. How do I go about taking it from him? I don’t want to get into a wrestling match, but I would like to know the best way of getting him to open his mouth and let go. Any suggestions?

A: Getting into a wrestling match is the worst possible thing you could do with this dog. He needs to be treated carefully.

You do not say if this is a kennel dog or one that lives in the home, if it’s the latter then it might have become possessive over items picked up in the house, and is reluctant to let go.

What you need to do is get the dog to sit quietly in front then get him to offer up the dummy by carefully placing one hand under his bottom jaw. Now, and very gently, use a thumb and finger on the other hand to lightly open the dog’s mouth and with a lot of praise take the dummy from its mouth. As you do so, use the word ‘dead’.

It is never usually long before a dog realises that it will be praised for giving up the dummy when it hears the ‘dead’ command. Consistency is everything in dog training so make sure you keep up the exercise to avoid the dog returning to old habits.