A New Technique to Prevent "Mouth" Problems

by Jim and Phyllis Dobbs

When we teach a dog to retrieve, we use two separate commands. The first command is "Hold" which means hold calmly, don't chew or drop. Secondly, we teach "Fetch" which means reach for the object and take it. .

Preventing mouth problems are addressed when we teach the command "Hold". In this article we will discuss a new technique, which we use for teaching the dog to hold properly.

Many retrieve problems can be traced to the dog's failure to understand how to hold the bird. You should teach the dog what "Hold" means before expecting him to retrieve on command. By teaching "Hold" first, your dog will know what to do with the bird when he retrieves it. That way, you will prevent problems such as chewing, dropping or playing with the bird.

Teaching a Calm "Hold"

To teach "Hold", we secure the dog to a post at the end of a table. Being tied up to a post removes the dog's option to move about and the table puts the dog at our level, making it much easier on our back.

With the dog fastened in the collar attached to the post, slip one finger of your gloved hand into the dog's mouth just behind the canine teeth. The dog will try to spit your finger out of its mouth, but don't let him. Stay calm and reassure the dog.

When the dog finally stops mouthing your gloved hand, immediately reward him by giving your release command and removing your finger from his mouth. This technique teaches the dog that by holding calmly he will get what he wants (getting your hand out of his mouth).

Be sure to give your release command just as you remove your finger. Trainers typically use "Out," "Drop," or "Give" as release commands. It doesn't matter which word you use as long as you use the same word each time.

To prevent the dog from dropping or chewing, we teach him that "Hold" means to grip firmly and not to let go until given the command "Drop". Even if you reach down and touch the bird, he is taught to hold onto it but, when given the command to drop, he must "spit" the bird out into your hand. Once it is in your hand you have taken possession of the bird and he is not permitted to nip at it or try to grab it.

Teaching the Dog to Grip

To teach the dog to hold properly, we use a "gripping stick" made of rolled jute, (1 inch X 12 inches long). A dowel of the same size wrapped in canvas will also work.

Now comes the new technique. We want the dog not only to accept holding the stick in his mouth but also to grip it firmly.

To teach the dog to grip, say "Hold" as you touch the stick. Then, immediately move your hand away from the stick. Repeat doing this until the dog doesn't drop the stick when you touch it.

If the dog releases the stick when you touch it, you can correct him with an ear pinch or by quickly grasping the top of his muzzle with your free hand. We tend to use the ear pinch with dogs that are relatively calm. For dogs that are excitable, grabbing the muzzle works well as it tends to subdue the dog and gives us an easy way to open their mouth.

If you grasp his muzzle, press his top lips against his teeth. This will be mildly uncomfortable and will cause him to open his mouth so you can replace the stick.

If you use an ear pinch, use mild pressure that the dog will find irritating. To do this, rub your thumbnail and the nail of your forefinger together with the earflap between. Do not pinch so hard as to mark the ear.

Whichever method you use be sure to have an extra stick available. We keep a second stick in our back pocket as the one that the dog drops is often beyond our reach.

Next, instead of just touching the stick, hold the end of it between your finger and thumb and say "Hold". If the dog starts to release the stick, say "Hold" and let go of it.

Repeat this procedure a few times until the dog understands that he isn't supposed to let go of the stick even when you take hold of it. He must wait until you give the command to drop it.

When you start training the dog to grip, you may need to achieve a balance between the "hold" and "drop" commands. If he doesn't let go of the stick when you say, "Drop", place a finger on his tongue behind the stick. Repeat the "drop" command as you wiggle your finger on his tongue. This will make him let go of the stick.

Now teach the dog not to let go of the dowel even if you pull on it lightly. The correction for letting go of the stick before he has been given the command "drop" is the same as before-ear pinch or quickly grasping the top of the dog's muzzle.

At this stage of training, if he doesn't release the stick on the first command, you should use a correction. Use either a nick with the e-collar or an ear pinch as you repeat the command "Drop". Addressing the "Drop" command here will give you control should he ever decide to not give up the bird.

Transition to Birds

As a final step, repeat the procedure of firming up the grip, but use a pigeon in a bird sock instead of the stick. Once the dog will grip a bird until given the command "Drop", you will have gained a lot more control over the dog's mouth. He will have a clear understanding that "Hold" means to grip firmly and "Drop" means spit it out!

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Dobbs Training Center
9627 Spring Valley Road
Marysville, CA 95901
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