If a dog retrieves a bird and then mangles it, so the bird is not fit for the table, this is called hard-mouth. It's not a quality you want your gundog to have either. Here's how to avoid it.
- A dog can become hard-mouthed as a consequence of an accident or some type of mishandling. There are several training exercises to try to see if it is possible to overcome the problem.
- Steer the dog clear of any live game. This means no runners or flappers.
- When picking-up keep retrieves short and simple; nothing complicated and make sure you see the dog pick-up and deliver to hand. Don’t lose sight for one second.
- Once the dog has lifted the retrieve, recall her, and as she delivers, teach her the ‘dead’ command. This should prevent her from wanting to hold on to the retrieve.
- Make sure you work her as often as possible and give her lots of retrieves. Give her lots of praise if all is well when she retrieves with no complications.
- If you feel things are improving and there are no concerns with the short retrieves after a few outings, you could then increase the distance, but don’t allow her any runners or flappers during the current season.
- Remember to give lots of short retrieves and plenty of praise at the beginning and only increase the distance if you feel things are improving.
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Is my dog hard-mouthed?
Q: I recently had my spaniel put out of a trial for hard mouth. It was a hen bird that was lightly touched and had run a long way but died on the way back. I felt the bird and there was slight damage on one side of the ribs. However, the dog had already had two dead birds in his first run and they were all right, or rather I assume the judge was happy as they were not shown to me. Surely with the skill involved in picking the runner, the slight damage could have been overlooked? A good game-finding dog was excluded from the awards by eliminating it.
A: A hard-mouthed dog may not damage every head of game that they retrieve and judges have to make an informed decision for each bird brought back. I once saw a cocker spaniel make an absolutely fantastic job of collecting a running hen at the run-off stage of an open stake up in Scotland. It did everything perfectly throughout the trial, but unfortunately the bird was flat on its return. This dog was eliminated but I never saw it put out for mouth subsequently.
However, that does not excuse the dog for damaging the lightly wounded bird. Judges must not overlook any eliminating faults and would be breaking the rules if they did. They will show some leniency, however, if there are any extenuating circumstances that could have caused the damage, such as pulling a bird out of thick cover or having to force it back through thick cover after it has been picked.
Hopefully your dog will not do this again. Plenty of experience retrieving freshly shot game could help your dog handle live birds more carefully. Picking up for a few days before another trial may be the answer.
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