Force Breaking
The controversial training method explained by Andy Kohly

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.


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.


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:

Toe Hitch
Ear Pinch
Electronic Collars

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 experiences.

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 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 Section Leader of Arizona Outdoorsman Magazine


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