How to train puppies to have a "soft-mouth?"

Discussion in 'Cast & Blast' started by Mayfly Aviator, Oct 4, 2010.

  1. I took our 4 month old yellow lab out last night bird hunting for the first time with a couple seasoned bird dogs to get him trained up and stoked for birds. We let him mouth the bird (Hungarian Partridge) and he just sank his teeth in and tried to eat as much as he could. We pulled the bird out of his death grip, but the bird was pretty roughed up. My hunting companion gave the pup another smell of the bird later on and and the same thing happened, but this time the pup pulled the head off and swallowed it...

    Has anyone else had this experience? Looking for advice on breaking him of the habit while he's young.

    Thanks :thumb:
  2. My $.02 he's young. You've got way more training for you and him to do. The good thing is he has a prey drive and knows what he wants (birds). You need birds to have a bird dog. I would seek professional advice if your budget allows.
  3. Agreed that we've got a lot of training to do. This is just the first of many trips out, actually the second is tonight. Interesting idea about finding professional advice, thanks.
  4. Not to worry mate.
    Very young pups that turn out to be soft mouthed can start out the same.
    I used bird wings attached to a cord and start with very short retrieves, yes there will be some chewing.
    Don't play tug-a-war with your pup, if you have not already, don't start.
    If you have played tug-a-war, you need to stop.
    There are many good books, read one or two.
    Ya got yourself a hunter there, treat him well.
  5. First thing...good! As previously stated your dog has prey drive and it's alot easier to work on toning that down than it is to do the opposite. I've see dogs look at training birds and basically turn around and walk away. In those cases it's near impossible to get them interested.

    I'm only on my 2nd dog so I'm far from a seasoned trainer. My current 3 year old did the same exact thing when she was the same age as yours. She was only a few months old and we were out on the opening day of grouse. Too young to hunt but I wanted her along for the sights and smells. I was lucky enough to tag a few birds that day so while eating lunch I tossed one into some bushes and walked the dog to the area. She grabbed that bird and had no intention of letting it go...she was completely jacked up to have it. I was a little concerned also at the time but glad to see the drive was there. All cases (dogs) are different but today she has the softest mouth of alot of dogs I hunt over. Work with your dog on general OB and trust right now and worry about that as things play out.

    Good luck to you!
  6. It comes with force fetching. I don't mind if young dogs eat a few birds. Send you dog to a pro for two months if you have never forced a dog or are unsure as to how to go about it. This is also a great time to get your dog conditioned to being steady to flush & shot.
  7. I agree. Still young and may have been too excited. Clip the wings off the bird and wrap them around a dummy. Perhaps introduce a pigeon after obedience training. IMO its way too early to determine if the dog needs force training.

    I did have a 2 year old ESS that developed hard mouth and needed some negative reinforcement a few times. I used a plastic dummy with nails driven through it and just barely poking out. It provided negative reinforcement for the behavior at the precise time it happened.
  8. It depends what your aspirations are. If the goal is to have a hunting companion that will put up a few birds, find cripples and bring them to your general location then force fetching is usually not necessary.

    If, however, the goal is to have a finished gun dog that will always deliver to hand regardless if the bird if more pissed than hurt and / or gut shot and a bloody mess, run complex blind retrieves, etc. and always get you invited back to hunt secret stashes that puke biblical numbers of birds then force fetching is mandatory.

    Those that understand forcing also know that it is somewhat of a misnomer and doesn't have to be a brutal process, but a process by which you emphasis to the dog what behavior is acceptable, and a process that both trainer and dog can be engaged in, it not genuinely enjoy.
  9. Interesting..I've had 4 black labs in the past. All were soft mouth with absolutely no training. Just could be the pup..I've been lucky I guess. Obedience was another issue. My male in the 70's brought to hand 2 mallards without me firing a shot..retrieved from a Skagit slough. Perfect condition.
  10. We don't play tug-a-war with him as I've heard it confuses dominance lines etc. I'll look into a few books as I'll be on a plane 2 of the next 3 days and have some time. If anyone has a specific recommendation I'd like to hear it.

    Thanks for the comments.
  11. Good to hear that you've had similar experiences. I've heard that the most important thing is just to get them out at this age. I took him out again last night for an hour and he's starting to move around on his own ie leading the way nose to the ground etc.

    Thanks! :beer2:
  12. Great comments. Interesting to see the variety of responses. I should have stated up front that West will hunt quite a bit, but it's not my intent to raise a perfect hunting dog. He's a pet first, fishing buddy second, and bird hunter third. I really just like to get out there with him for exercise and mental stimulation. Sure I'd like him to point (he's been pointing at things, but so far they've been grasshoppers and mice...) and retrieve effectively, so I'll need to balance my training. I thought about sending him to a pro but discussed this with a few buds that bird hunt with their dogs, similar to the level I'll hunt, and they all recommended getting him out with other dogs to learn from. It would be nice to have him ready to roll, but I'll keep it in-house for now, keep taking him out with other dogs, working with dummies (maybe pigeons as suggested), and going through general obedience training.

    Really appreciate the responses, I learned quite a bit from each...

    Cheers gents!
  13. What training method are you using? Pick up some good books and train your dog using them. I really like the Smartworks program

    It doesn't so much sound like your dog is hard mouthed as he just wants to keep it and eat it. A hard mouth dog will crush the bird, but usually aren't nearly so interested in mauling it or eating parts. Some young dogs will do that- try using frozen birds if you want to do any bird exposures. Solid OB followed by force fetching will solve the problem, though.
  14. Good recommendations. I looked briefly at the Smartworks program and will consider it. He loves ice cubes, frozen carrots, etc. so not sure if a frozen bird would lead to the right behavior but will consider it. I'm not entirely sure what force fetching is, but I imagine that most books will cover it.

    Appreciate the comments.
  15. Here's a good book you might want to look into.

    It's a "Pointing Lab" book but disregard that part. I do own a PL but I think there is alot more to take away from this book with regard to building a solid foundation for the growth of your pup and told in a simple easy to understand way.

    It's easy to get caught up in so many things with regard to training that you wonder if you're doing the right thing. There's always exceptions but 9 times out of 10 if you establish trust and work on general obedience while they're young everything else should fall in place.
  16. When you use a freshly killed bird or a frozen bird, you have to maintain control over the situation the entire time. If you want to introduce him further to birds, have him on a check cord (just let him drag it). Toss the bird, let him pick it up and drag him back to you while calling him to you, all the while being very positive and encouraging with your voice. Take it from him and toss it again. Repeat no more than 4 times per session.

    If you're having trouble getting him to release the bird (or dummy), you can always try this trick I've used with puppies- grab the dummy in one hand and then grab the flap of skin connecting either rear leg to his abdomen in the flank area. Pull up quickly and the dog will release the dummy. Let go just as quickly. With a puppy, I would toss the object immediately and let them retrieve it again, just to emphasize that you don't want to take the toy, you just want to continue the game.

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