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Occasional bird eating

Dear Trainers,
I have a real problem with my otherwise excellent gundog. He is 1/2 English Spaniel and 1/2 Black Lab. Both parents are hunters. He is 7 years old. I had him since he was 8 weeks old. I trained him myself (I know you hate to hear those words). He is the best retreiver I have ever shot over and others have said the same. In all the years we've been working together we've only not found three birds. He's even broke through thin ice to retrieve. And, (I mention this because of one your your other questions) he has caught birds as they fly off (you were right on the mark: they both were farm-raised pheasants). My dog took to retrieving and hunting almost so naturally that I feel like I hardly even trained him. He works a perfect area around me, works ALL day, never runs deer, was never gunshy. In fact, he loves when a gun goes off because he thinks it's time to retrieve. I worked him as a pup usings first dummies, then scented dummies, dummies with feathers, then off the rope, then real birds. He went through all that with flying colors. Hunted for several years without incident. The past three of four of years, though, he's decided that every 1 in 10-15 birds is his to eat. I don't seem to be able to break of this. Any suggestions? I would really appreciate the help!


Dear Jerry:

The cure for eating birds is really quite simple. Force break your dog to retrieve. Although you have an excellent natural retriever, you said yourself he almost trained himself. Well, he has also trained himself to eat an occasional bird. Force breaking will allow you to teach the dog what is expected of him and if he needs correction he will understand what he is being corrected for. There are several force breaking methods out there. I use the Delmer Smith method and have had great success. Choose whatever one looks good to you and stick to the program. Force breaking takes time, commitment and lots of patience but if you stick with it and don't skip any steps you will have a solid retriever that you can fix if he develops any bad habits like eating birds.

One other option you might try. If the dog is stopping during the retrieve to eat. You may be able to re-enforce the "come" command to keep him from stopping. It's kind of a way around the problem instead of a cure. But with a 7 year old dog it might be worth a try.

Good luck in your training.
Joe Riches

PS. Most of us love people who train there own dogs. That's why we try to help out with this web page.

For more information on eating the retrieve and force fetching, try:
What is the "Forced Retrieve"? - BIll Corcoran
Eating the retrieve - Jan Burkholder
Sitting still, plucking the bird, and vests - Jan Burkhol der

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