Mouthing and Responsiveness       


Young dogs in the excitement of a retrieve may start to roll or mouth bumpers. Is it a force fetch
issue, a nervous, high drive dog or the result of too much pressure (actual or perceived)??. I've come
to the conclusion it is a quickly acquired habit which can be difficult to deal with because the dog
is not being responsive. Responsiveness must be a two way street, and some dogs do not have an established understanding of this concept. One approach is to deal directly with a lack of responsiveness using a “Focusing Drill”.

Working in the yard, the “mouthy” dog is “amped” up with some fun bumpers. Then on a front sit wearing a choker collar and leash, the dog is asked for eye contact. Concentrate on getting good, extended eye contact before having the dog fetch a bumper out of your hand. Don't give him the bumper until he is literally staring at you. The session not takes on a different tactic. It is based in
slowing the pup down. Quietly, slowly and calmly create a stark contrast with the previous wild,
no rules, "amped" exercise.

update: Having recently started a pup using Hillmann's program, his program demands that the
dog be in an excited state when teaching. It is is entirely possible to teach a dog to be responsive
and in control of his action when excited. Attempting to teach when the dog is calm and relaxed
is contrary to what has been proven to be more effective. Problems may happen when a dog is excited. Teach then to deal with it in that context. 

When the dog moves the bumper in any way say.....Sit - "chuck him with a quick snap of the choker collar up under the chin" - Sit......all the while asking for eye attention.....look. When he focuses on you, the mouth generally "changes". This is a basic application of indirect pressure in
a calm, stable situation.

The use of “no” can create problems at first because the dog will not know exactly what he is doing wrong. So delay the use of “no” until the dog absolutely understands. This can be a tough call, but it is worth the wait. Work slowly and quietly.

Also, expect eye contact before giving the “drop/give” command. Allow the dog time and wait him
out. When he
drops the bumper in your hand, hide it behind your back and again demand eye contact. Repeat for effect, go slow and quit when there is some improvement in that session. One
key to this drill is the dog must be able to complete the delivery with a drop/give command. It is not his forever. 
(see notes: below)

Do this every day for awhile (and five minutes is too long). It is all good if this is perceived as a calm game. The dog will begin to understand the reason you are "chucking" him because eye contact makes him more responsive to your expectations. When this happens the dog has started to develop a deeper understanding of being responsive. He learns a new focus. Teaching is now going on and communication is improved.  Move on to birds only after the new "expectation" is well ingrained.

Several things happen here with daily repetition 1) the dog becomes more responsive and aware of you with regard to handling a bumper, 2) the correct response to an indirect pressure on sit with regards to the bumper is established, 3) while enhancing the dog’s responsiveness, the trainer becomes more responsive and 4) a quiet mouth appears. It takes two to communicate (and be responsive). This drill is not just about the dog.

Watch the dog in training and expect responsiveness when delivering a bumper or bird using the same cues and routine (
even if you have to wait a bit). Give the dog time to gather his mind. When the dog is focused on you and there is a meaningful “conversation”, expectations are clear and corrections will register.

In every training situation, there has to be an open channel of communication. If a dog’s responsiveness is weak (no two way exchange format), teaching becomes a major chore.

note: Anxiety can be difficult to extinguish. "Mouthing" may be caused by early on "taking" the
         retriever from a pup too quickly.  Awareness is often an "after the fact" acquired skill. 

note: This is an excerpt from the "remote drop link" dealing with "drop" and/or "give" expectations.

My pups are taught to "give" a bumper during force fetch. Therefore, it is necessary to make a transition to "drop". One might ask, why not just start with "drop" from the beginning? I guess the meaning of "drop" during force fetch doesn't fit well with me. 

The easiest way is to eventually chain "give" with "drop" way before actually doing "remote drop". Once I have a dog retrieving and delivering well with "give" (usually in pile work), I will start taking hold of the rope on a bumper and ask the dog to release it with "give" and let it swing down away from his/her mouth. Pretty soon I phase in "give" with "drop" and eventually "drop the give”. 

The dog now will deliver by waiting for me to take a hold of a wing or leg of a bird so that on "drop" the bird falls down away from the dog (just like with the string on a bumper). In no way are you actually taking the bird or bumper from the dog’s mouth. The expectation is "open mouth and let it fall out" on command.

                      updated 05/05/15