1.5 YO Pup Will fetch pheasants but not grouse... ideas? Maybe afraid of feathers?

ZORP

New member
I have an 18 month old golden retriever female who has run into an issue. She hunted last year (we are in SD) and she retrieved her first pheasant fine. Due to scheduling conflicts and school, we didn't get to shoot another one last year. This year, we hunted grouse in MT a week ago and she had no problem finding the downed birds, but she refused to pick them up. She acted like she really wanted to but she just couldn't. I tried to keep encouraging her and play fetch with the bird to get her excited, but she would just pick it up for a second and then drop it. She has never been force fetch trained or trained professionally at all, I did it all myself. This is my first dog of my own. She retrieves bumpers, scented bumpers, pheasant dummies, and pheasant wings from the store like a champ.

Since she was 8 weeks old, she has been around pheasant wings that I bought at Scheel's. She has absolutely no problems picking these up and retrieving them, even if attached to a dummy. After the grouse hunt, I cut off all the wings and brought them home. Here, I tried again to get her to fetch them and she would not. I attached them to her favorite dummy and she would only pick it up by the part without feathers. I attached 6 wings, so the whole thing was feathers, and she picked it up by the rope. What a goober. I tried incentives like treats and no luck. I am not sure if she is afraid of the feathers or what her deal is. It's odd that she has no problem with the pheasant wings and has never been afraid of birds before. She was willing to fetch the pheasant wing immediately after she refused to fetch the grouse wing. And, she has caught live birds before while on walks and she has no problem bringing them back to us (we release them and they fly away). I left the dummy with the 6 wings outside in her yard area so she can smell it more and become more comfortable with it.

So, my question is, what should I do next?
 

jonnyB

Active member
Have heard of this before...distaste for grouse feathers.

I think this is temporary and the dog will eventually pick them up.

Good luck with your Golden - I'm on my fifth dog...
 

ZORP

New member
She has not been force fetched or collar conditioned. She's never picked up a duck because I don't hunt them. She's had no problem with the pheasant she retrieved last year and the pheasant wings she has been trained with.

I'm considering purchasing some pigeons or chukars locally and trying to get her some more experience with those.

Thanks for the ideas! I will look into those things.
 

A5 Sweet 16

Well-known member
I'm guessing she hasn't hunted enough to establish a trend one way or the other. She's experienced 1 pheasant. How many grouse?
What has been her reaction to shotgun fire?
Whatever you do, don't praise her if she doesn't retrieve. Even if she finds the bird. Encourage her from a distance until the cows come home. (don't get mad) If she happens to retrieve one, then make a HUGE deal of it. But if not, you go pick up the bird, but don't praise her.
 

ZORP

New member
This was her first time ever experiencing grouse. She has absolutely no issues with shotgun fire. We introduced gunfire slowly and she has done great with that. I think you are right that she just needs more experience to get more comfortable.

I agree, I did not praise her if she did not retrieve the bird. I gave her the command to retrieve repeatedly and, when she wouldn't do it, picked up the birds myself and did not give praise.

Thanks for the advice! I appreciate all the tips I can get. I will keep working to get her on more birds and work on these retrieves.
 

Dakotazeb

Well-known member
ZORP, there are one or two NAVHDA clubs in the Sioux Falls area. You might want to get in touch with some NAVHDA guys and see if they have any training days. I really think you just need to get her exposed to more birds. The retrieve should be pretty much natural with any quality field bred Golden. She's still young at 18 months so I'd see how she does this hunting season. If you are still having issues with her retrieving after this season you might want to consider sending her to a reputable trainer for force fetch (trained retrieve) training. I had a Brittany back in the 90's that wouldn't retrieve anything when he was young. At about age 3 the light bulb came on and he became one of the best retrieving dogs I've ever had without any force fetch. Good luck and keep up posted on how she does.
 

westksbowhunter

Well-known member
This is one of the reasons I never use wings in training with a young pup. Birds is what they hunt and birds is what they get during training. Start at 8 weeks with a clipped wing bird intro. They have that desire for life. Then in training periodically throw live or freshly killed birds. But most of the time dummies. You don't want to spoil them with birds, then progress to force fetch. You may have to start from scratch with a shackled pigeon or put the dog through a force fetch program. Throw the wings in the trash. You are getting encouragement from other posters on here with things to do when hunting. Hunting is not training. You need to train first then hunt the dog. If you want the dog to be a reliable retriever, quit hunting for a while and start yard work. You gave her the command to retrieve but without force fetch she doesn't understand the command to retrieve. You have to teach that.
 
Last edited:

ZORP

New member
Thanks for your advice! I totally understand what you are saying and I have been looking around trying to find some pigeons or chukars to buy. I will keep looking. We have taught the command to retrieve and we use it every day so I know she understands it, but you are right that we did not use force fetch training so maybe that association is not as strong as it should be. I think you are right about the wings, thanks again!
 

westksbowhunter

Well-known member
It's not that the association isn't strong it is that you have no means of reinforcement. For a retriever, not fetching is not an option. So when she refuses she is doing what she wants. It is your job as trainer to see that she does. In order to achieve that, you may have to put off hunting for a couple of months. If you continue to hunt without training, you will always have an unreliable dog. I don't want to sound like an ass but you have not taught it or she would do it. Teaching involves instruction, learning, and reinforcing what has been learned and taught. You have attempted to teach but your companion has not comprehended. Make that dog give you feedback of learning by performing the task correctly every time. Then you have taught.
 

ZORP

New member
You don't sound like an ass at all, I appreciate the advice and feedback, that's why I posted. Thank you!
 

goldenboy

Well-known member
Force fetch, collar conditioning, and yard work are all about obedience. It isn't about retieving. They will pick up what you tell them to because it is obedience training. Then when you are in the field the obedience is solid and they understand that they do not have an option of picking up a bird or not. It is hard work and a lot of repetition. I don't like to do it so I send my dogs to a trainer to teach this aspect. I learn from the trainer and then I try to keep up with that obedience. Good luck, she will get it. One more thing don't get angry with the dog. Just keep repeating the steps till she learns it.
 

ZORP

New member
Thanks all for your ideas and input. I really appreciate it. I don't pretend to know much about training bird dogs so I appreciate hearing everyone's inputs.

Just to give an update: Today we went and bought some pheasants, chukars, and quail at a nearby bird place since I had the afternoon off. She started off the same way she did with the grouse, just nuzzling the birds after finding them but not consistently retrieving. However, after lots of positive encouragement and more exposure, she began to retrieve all the way to my hand, like she does with dummies. Then, I made a big deal and gave lots of praise and a few treats that I brought along. This seemed to help her understand what her job was, because after that she retrieved all the birds back to me, and after each one I gave lots of encouragement. By the end of it, she was retrieving the rooster pheasants that I would throw out and hide. Once we got home, we played some more fetch with the pheasants in the yard to reinforce what we had done earlier, and she once again retrieved them back to my hand and received lots of praise. I will keep working with her, but this was an encouraging step and I was able to do it without utilizing force fetch training, professional trainers, or e-collars. I don't disparage those who use those methods, because obviously they work very well, but I just wanted to post my experience so others know that it is possible.

Thank you again for all your words of guidance and encouragement.
 

Labs

Active member
First question; has your dog been trained?

Second question: Has your dog been Force Fetched/Collar Conditioned?

If not, to your dog retrieving is a fun game to be played how & as long as she feels like it. If she refuses, as you encountered with the grouse, you have no tool in your tool box to correct it. In a nutshell and over-simplified, FF/CC transforms retrieving from a game the dog plays when and how it wants into a task to be performed promptly and correctly on command. FF/CC also gives you the tool to correct a refusal, and sooner or later most any dog will refuse.

I can't speak to any breeds but labs but in my experience, after FF/CC the labs I've owned and worked with have even more enthusiasm for training and retrieving. It's not like labs lack enthusiasm in the first place.

Good luck with you dog!
 

goldenboy

Well-known member
First question; has your dog been trained?

Second question: Has your dog been Force Fetched/Collar Conditioned?

If not, to your dog retrieving is a fun game to be played how & as long as she feels like it. If she refuses, as you encountered with the grouse, you have no tool in your tool box to correct it. In a nutshell and over-simplified, FF/CC transforms retrieving from a game the dog plays when and how it wants into a task to be performed promptly and correctly on command. FF/CC also gives you the tool to correct a refusal, and sooner or later most any dog will refuse.

I can't speak to any breeds but labs but in my experience, after FF/CC the labs I've owned and worked with have even more enthusiasm for training and retrieving. It's not like labs lack enthusiasm in the first place.

Good luck with you dog!
Exactly! one successful training session does not produce a trained retriever. Like I said before it is about obedience not retrieving. One person's definition of a retrieve can be different from someone else's definition. But I don't want my dog to drop the bird in the water before they deliver it to me. Some people call that good enough, but if I have to wade in to retrieve the bird that my dog dropped, that is not a retrieve. If the dog "finds" the bird for me but won't pick it up or retrieve it, that is not a retrieve in my book. Some people are fine with those "retrieves" but a time will come when you can't get to that bird that was dropped by a dog who was not force fetched then you will wish you had a dog that was obedience trained. I guess it is all in what you want out of your dog.
 
Zorp, give this a shot. Next time you drop a bird turn and walk the other way. I had a shorthair that would go to down bird and not pick up bird. I would walk the other way and lo and behold she would pick up bird and bring it to me. Never had an issue after that. I think sometime the dogs get confused with people barking commands at dog. Your dog is a retriever it's in the genes.
 

ZORP

New member
Zorp, give this a shot. Next time you drop a bird turn and walk the other way. I had a shorthair that would go to down bird and not pick up bird. I would walk the other way and lo and behold she would pick up bird and bring it to me. Never had an issue after that. I think sometime the dogs get confused with people barking commands at dog. Your dog is a retriever it's in the genes.
Thanks for the tip! I actually did this while we were practicing with the live birds and you are right, it worked. I agree that sometimes dogs get a bit confused when people are always barking commands.
 
Top