The Training Ring – Force Fetch - July, 2015

The words “force fetch” congers up all sorts of different meanings for people. If you have been around retriever trainers at all, you most likely have overheard the discussion about the value of teaching a dog to “force fetch.” Some trainers prefer the Amish method – which is working with the dog’s natural desire to retrieve to mold them into a finished retriever. Others, me included feel that in order to have a reliable retriever it is necessary to force fetch your dog. Before I get too far along I want to add that if you are planning to run your dog in an HZP test you will significantly increase the odds in your favor of successfully passing the test if you take the time to force fetch your dog.

Now you might be asking, “Exactly what is force fetch?” Amy Dahl (author of The Ten Minute Retriever) defines force fetch as, “The process of making a dog absolutely reliable in its bird/dummy handling and delivery. It converts retrieving from a matter of play to a matter of obedience. It provides a foundation of confidence for advanced training–no matter how confusing or stressful a situation, the dog knows that going when sent is the right thing to do. This confidence is the basis of greater style and intensity than is possible in any play-retrieve.”

It is a training process that teaches your dog to retrieve on command, not because the dog wants to or feels like it. “Fetch” will be another command in your vocabulary like sit, come, heel, kennel, etc.

Evan Graham (author of SmartFetch) believes that force fetch is more than just one thing. In his opinion it is a definable process with clear cut goals:

  • Establishes a standard for acceptable mouth habits.
  • Provides the trainer with a tool to maintain those habits.
  • Provides the trainer with a tool to assure compliance with the command to retrieve.
  • Forms the foundation for impetus (momentum).

When I force fetched Inga (my first Drahthaar) there was very little information available to me and I did not personally know anyone that had any experience with this process. My option was to jump in and tackle it myself or send Inga to a professional trainer. I decided to take on the job myself and started reading all I could about how to train a dog to force fetch.

Luckily with the advent of the Internet there is a wealth of training information available to you. Another resource is North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) chapters. These chapters have individuals experienced with this process and are more than willing to help you train. To find a NAVHDA chapter near you go to http://www.navhda.organd double click on local chapters and contacts. If you do not have a NAVHDA chapter nearby, please let me know and I can hopefully put you in contact with someone who might be able to get together with you for some hands-on-training.

I want to list some of the resources that are available to you to help you with this process.
These include books, videos, and articles found on the Internet.



  • Smart Fetch by Evan Graham – You can purchase this book through the mail or from one of his online distributors, go to Evan’s web site at The book is easy to read and comprehend and Evan has included great pictures and diagrams. I have recommended this book to a number of individuals and they all agree that it is well worth the investment.
  • Tri-Tronics Retriever Book by Jim and Phyllis Dobbs – You can purchase this book from Gun Dog Supply at   There are sections on how to select a pup with good working potential and how to get started early with “puppy head start” training that awakens the pup’s desire to learn.  The reader is then carefully educated on the proper introduction of the Tri-Tronics collar.  The collar introduction program utilizes Jim and Phyllis’ highly successful techniques for teaching reliable responses to commands, while not impairing the dog’s enthusiasm and style.
  • The 10 Minute Retriever – How to Make an Obedient and Enthusiastic Gun Dog in 10 Minutes a Day by Amy Dahl – This book can also be purchased from Gun Dog Supply.  I have this book in my library and find it a great reference book to the others I have listed.  It is easy to use for the absolute beginner and yet informative for the serious student of retriever training.  The text has the information first time retriever trainers’ need.  The emphasis of this training method is on obtaining necessary control and good manners while maximizing the dog’s enthusiasm by establishing training situations where the dog desires to cooperate.  Primary importance is placed on developing and enhancing the desire to retrieve, from early puppyhood onward.


  • The following tapes listed can be purchased from Gun Dog Supply (
  • Tri-Tronics Part I Hold (Video) and Tri-Tronics Part II Fetch (Video) or you can purchase Tri-Tronics Part I & II Hold & Fetch as a Video Set by Jim Dobbs – These tapes are geared toward teaching typically non-retrieving breeds (spaniels and pointers) to retrieve.  While the tapes include the use of an electronic collar, the steps outlined in the tape can be utilized without an electronic collar.  These tapes are a companion aid to the Tri-Tronics Retriever Book.
  • Gun Dog:  The Trained Retrieve by Bob West and Roger Sparks – This tape covers proven table training techniques, then moves to ground training. Also prevents problems like hard-mouth before it begins and you will get a dependable delivery to hand.

Internet Information:

There are a number of web sites that offer informative articles on the force fetch process.  I have listed a few of my favorites below.

  •– This site contains an very good assortment of retrieving training articles put together by John and Amy Dahl.  Articles include training retrievers and training puppies.  The information is available to you for free so be sure to check it out.
  •–  This  web site is hosted by Jim and Phyllis Dobbs, formerly associated with Tri-Tronics.  Their training library contains excellent articles for pointers, retrievers, and general obedience.
  • –  This is the web site for Mike Lardy, one of the most successful professional retriever trainers around.  His web site has training tips and   information available for sale, including video tapes and training manuals.

When I talk to people about force fetch they immediately get intimidated and psyche themselves out.  The purpose of this article is not intended to outline the entire force fetch process, but rather give you an idea of what the process entails.  I do not begin the force fetch process until my dogs are at least 7 months old and they have their permanent teeth.  I also evaluate the  young pup’s mental stability as I want to make sure it will be able to take the pressure and stress of force fetch.  To make things easier on both you and your dog, the early stages of force fetch should be done on a training table.

I have briefly outlined the various steps that I use in teaching my dogs to force fetch below. I developed and refined my force fetch program over many years and it is a process that works for me. I do not expect any of you to take these abbreviated steps and begin training your puppy. But I did want to give you an idea of what the process entails.

  1. Introduce the pup to the training table
  2. Introduce the pup to gloved hand by having it hold hand
  3. Have pup hold gloved hand while walking back and forth on the training table
  4. Introduce pup to various other retrieving bumpers by holding each item
  5. Have pup hold the retrieving items while walking back and forth on the training table
  6. Have pup jump on and off the training table while holding a retrieving item. If it is dropped, place it back in the mouth and tell pup to “fetch”
  7. Secure the pup to a post on the training table and introduce the ear pinch. Hold gloved hand in front of the dog, say “fetch” and at the exact same time pinch the pup’s ear. When the pup’s mouth opens up immediately place r gloved hand in the mouth. THE SPLIT SECOND THE GLOVED HAND IS IN THE MOUTH STOP THE EAR PINCH! The pup learns that the pain ceases when the item is in the mouth. The timing of this step is very critical.
  8. Hold gloved hand in front of the dog and give one fetch command. If the dog does not make an attempt to grab the hand, pinch the ear. Again, once the hand is in the dog’s mouth immediately stop the ear pinch.
    The goal is to eventually see the dog start to grab for the gloved hand when held in front of it.
  9. Once the dog is starting to grab the hand on command, start holding it a bit farther away so that the dog has to lean a bit to take it. If there is any hesitancy, pinch the ear. The dog should now know that an ear pinch will follow if it does not retrieve the item.
  10. Switch from the gloved hand to retrieving bumpers. Remember; do not select an item too heavy at this point, knobby bumpers are the best.
  11. Hold the item in front of the dog a bit farther away so that the dog has to take a step to take the item.
  12. Hold the item in front of the dog so that the dog has to take multiple steps to take the item.
  13. Eventually get to the point where the item is held in front of the dog and make it walk the entire length of the training table to take the item. Remember it will take a lot of smaller steps (figuratively not literally) to get to this point.
  14. Start holding the retrieving right in front of the dog, but lower it each session. Ultimately want to place the training dummy on the table and have the dog retrieve it from there. This will take a few sessions. To help the dog learn how to pick up the bumper off the table place the ends of the bumper on bricks. This will hold the bumper off the table and permit the dog to pick it up. If the dog seems confused when the bumper is placed on the table, place one finger on one end of the bumper.
  15. Once the dog is picking up the bumper off the table right in front of it, start moving the bumper a bit farther so that the dog has to now start taking a step to retrieve it. Remember, only give the fetch command once and if the dog does not comply, pinch the ear.
  16. Ultimately place the bumper at the end of the table, give a fetch command, have the dog walk to the end and pick it up, and return
  17. If using an electronic collar, now is the time to transition from the ear pinch to the electronic collar to rein force the “fetch” command. Have pup fetch a piece of 1/2-inch PVC plastic pipe from your hand. If there is any hesitancy on the dog’s part, pinch the ear. Now slide a piece of PVC plastic pipe on the antenna of the transmitter. Hold it in front of the dog and command “fetch.” At the same time the ear is pinched give low level stimulation (probably a level 2) to the pup. The level of stimulation was determined when the dog went through the Three Part Introduction to the Electronic Collar. The minute the pup takes the plastic pipe stop the ear pinch and stimulation. Pull the transmitter away so that the pup is now holding onto the PVC pipe. After three or four times the ear pinch should be discontinued and only use stimulate with the collar to reinforce the fetch command. Eventually the dog will grab for an item upon command without any stimulation. This is the goal, to only use the collar to reinforce a known command similar to how the pup was taught in the Three Part Introduction.
  18. Repeat the steps whereby the pup walks and takes the dummy from your hand (farther and father each time) and the steps to get the pup to take the dummy from the table. Should be able to more fairly quickly through these steps as you are now just reinforcing the fetch command with the electronic collar (if necessary).
  19. Now move to the ground and repeat the process. Should be able to move fairly quickly through these steps, using the collar to reinforce the “fetch” command.

I can not give you a firm timetable on how long it will take you to get your dog through the force fetch process, that depends on a number of factors. However, I believe if you follow the process outlined by Evan Graham in SmartFetch you will be able to train your dog to be a reliable retriever. The key is not to skip any steps and use plenty of praise.

A Word of Warning – As you already know there are numerous Internet discussion lists and forums out there in cyberspace. I realize there will be a real temptation to get on a forum and ask questions regarding force fetch training. I can assure you that if you ask a question you will get more than one response, sometimes with conflicting information and/or recommendations. Remember, just because someone replies to your question and offers advance does not mean that he/she is an expert. If you do post to a training forum, you will most likely have to spend time sifting through the various replies in order to find someone that really does have the experience you are looking for. If you run into any problems in your force fetch training, please do not hesitate to contact me. I might be able to find someone close by to help mentor you.

Remember get a good book and/or video for reference, take your time, and do not forget the praise! GOOD LUCK!!!