I was recently talking to a bird-hunting buddy of mine whose pointer pup is currently with a pro trainer, and one of the interesting things he mentioned was that she was going through force-fetch. Now the issue of force-fetch is probably one of the most debated and least-understood facets of gundog training.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, force-fetch (or force-breaking or trained retrieve) is, in short, a process by which your dog is taught to fetch on command, fetching as a learned behavior and a trained response to a command rather than natural instinct. That’s a vastly oversimplified explanation for an inherently complicated subject and process, and to many it sounds counter-intuitive, unnecessary and even cruel to force a dog to retrieve on command when (at least for retrievers) they already do it naturally.
However, proponents of force-fetch say it goes way beyond that, that properly done force-fetch lays the groundwork for everything that comes after, especially in terms of the dog understanding and handling training pressure. I’ve chosen to force-fetch all my retrievers, but I’m a big-tent guy so I respect anyone who chooses not to.
The issue of force-fetch, however, is largely a retriever issue. What I’ve never done is force-fetch any of my pointing dogs. Either through a subtle retriever bias or a lax attitude that pointers don’t really need to retrieve or that force-fetch is somehow counter-productive for pointing dogs, I’ve just never done it. And I know a lot of other pointing-dog owners who don’t, either. But I’m at sort of a crossroads with my setter pup: It’s time to force-fetch if I’m going to do it, and if she were a retriever, I’d be putting her up on the table about now. But I’m not entirely sure what benefit – from a pointing dog perspective – she would get from the experience. Would it – just like retrievers – lay the foundation for everything she must deal with as her training advances? Could it potentially affect her enthusiasm, her boldness, her range? Should I? Shouldn’t I?
Do any of you force-fetch your pointing dogs? What questions would you pose to a pro trainer in asking whether you should force-fetch your pointing dog? (Hint: I’m going to be doing exactly that, so your input is greatly appreciated…)