Probably no other aspect of gun dog training invokes more debate
than force breaking. As many professional trainers view force
breaking as a valuable tool as do those who consider it an outright
act of cruelty. Despite all the controversy, I still receive many
requests for information on force breaking. While I do not intend
for this article to be viewed as a “how to” guide I do want to share
basic premise behind force breaking.
HISTORY OF FORCE BREAKING
From all I’ve been able to find, force
breaking came to be sometime during the 1800’s and was developed by
gun dog trainers of that era as a cure for everything from hardmouth,
eating birds to ensuring retrieval to hand. By and large, force
breaking has retained it’s original intent and is still used for the
very purposes for which it was designed today.
METHODOLOGY OF FORCE BREAKING
The force breaking process begins
with a wooden dowel or piece of PVC approximately 2” in diameter and
6” long. The dog is placed on a table, tailgate or other platform
not only to get the dog to a comfortable height for the trainer but
also to get the dog out of his element and cause him to focus more.
The command fetch (or whatever your command happens to be) is given
and a stimulus is applied while the “buc” is inserted into the dogs
mouth. The stimulus is then halted at the moment the dog has the
“buc; in place in his mouth and the dog is praised profusely. This
is repeated for several iterations until the dog willing picks up
the “buc” and holds it until told to drop or release. If the dog
spits out or drops the “buc” before being given the command to do
so, stimulus is again applied until the dog has the “buc” resting
securely in his mouth.
Various forms of stimuli have been
used and each are touted by their practitioners as the best but
because I have seen all of these forms of stimuli work equally well,
I believe one is just as good as the other. These forms include the:
The toe hitch is accomplished by
using a small piece of cord, which is secured to a dog’s front paw.
The cord tied to the foreleg just above the paw, and is wound
between two toes and the remaining end of the cord is dropped
between the two toes. Upon the command Fetch, the tail end of the
cord is pulled to the point that the dog yelps and the “buc” is
inserted into his mouth and the pressure on the toes is released.
For a better idea of how the toe hitch is accomplished experiment on
yourself. Place a pencil between your first and second fingers at
the point at which they join the hand. Squeeze the two fingers
together and you’ll gain a clear understanding of what your dog
The ear pinch seems almost to need
little explanation however for it to be effective, use a sturdy 1”
leather collar and ensure it is snug on the dogs’ neck. Slide your
hand under the collar and pinch the ear against the collar or
between the thumb and forefinger. The purpose of the collar is to
provide a good handle or a solid point at which to apply pressure to
the ear. The ear pinch follows the same methodology as the toe
hitch, which means the command is given, pressure is applied, dog
accepts “buc” and then pressure is released. More draconian variants
of this method do exist and involve the use of hand tools but
hopefully no one reading this is interested in employing them.
The electronic collar is sometimes
used for force breaking and works by providing stimulus in the same
manner as those listed previously.
THE TRAINING OBJECTIVE
The objective behind force breaking
is to teach pup that once given the command “Fetch” he must pick up
and hold an object in order to cease the stimulus. If during the
training session pup drops the “buc” stimulus is immediately applied
until the dog has either picked up the “buc” himself or at least
allowed it to be inserted into his mouth once again. Once force
breaking has been done properly, if the dog ever shows signs of
mouth problems in the field, often times all that is required is to
tap the toe or ear and the dog will remember the lessons learned.
As for how long this process takes or how many sessions are
required, there is no set, textbook answer since each dog is
different and learns at it’s own pace it could take from hardly any
time at al, to a long, arduous and painful process.
While I agree that force breaking is effective and a good tool for
addressing mouth problems, I happen to disagree with those who
believe that each and every dog out there should be force broken. I
shudder to think of how many good dogs may have been ruined by being
force broken when they really didn’t need it. A case in point would
be a Springer owned by a friend of mine who attempted the process on
his own and with little information or experience. The end result
was a dog that went from being a fair retriever to not retrieving at
all and a dog who became visibly frightened at the mere sight of a “buc”.
If you believe force breaking is appropriate for your situation but
have never attempted it, the best advice I could give would be to
attend a club seminar in which folks experienced in force breaking
are present or seek the wisdom of a professional. Think of it this
way. Would you feel comfortable flying in an aircraft in which the
pilot has no training or experience in flying what so ever????
I thought not……
Andy Kohly is Gundog Editor and
of Arizona Outdoorsman Magazine