Make sure your command consistently results in a retrieve.
For the most part, gun dogs love retrieving because it pleases their handlers and fuels their desire to hunt. Sometimes, though, a dog will refuse to fetch due to factors such as freezing water, foul-tasting birds and fatigue.
To prevent this, use the conditioned retrieve training drill to teach your dog there are consequences for non-compliance. It’s not easy, quick or fun, but the end result is a reliable retriever. Here’s how to make sure the “fetch” command consistently results in a retrieve.
Though not essential, this drill initially works best on a training table because the raised platform simplifies the process. The primary gear includes a thick wooden dowel (about 20 centimetres long), a leash, training bumpers and, ultimately, frozen and live birds. Start by practising the “hold” and “give” commands for a few days, and praise the dog for successfully obeying.
The next step involves ear pinching to get the dog to grab the training dowel (toe-hitching or stimulus from an e-collar can also work). Simply press the dog’s ear against the collar buckle, command “fetch” and the dog will sooner or later open his mouth. When that happens, pop the dowel in his mouth and immediately stop pinching the ear. Then command “hold” (with praise), before ending with the “give” command. Repeat this drill over several weeks until the retrieve conditioning is complete. Ultimately, the dog should learn to avoid an ear pinch by automatically picking up the dowel whenever he hears the “fetch” command.
Once your dog is consistently picking up the dowel on the training table, it’s time to incorporate short and long retrieves on the ground. Toss the dowel a short distance, then command “fetch.” Keep the dog on a check cord, and if he refuses to fetch, bring him back and pinch his ear while leading him to the dowel. Once the dog is consistently returning the dowel, start using bumpers instead, followed by real birds.