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Perfecting the Delivery
By Joe Law
8 September 2010


One of the many things that set a gundog apart from other breeds is that all gundogs must have a “soft mouth”. Put simply, this means that a gundog has been genetically designed not to mark or damage in anyway the game which it retrieves.

With this in mind one could think that getting your gundog to deliver the game back to you the handler will be easy, and for some it is, but this area is one which has created major problems for many handlers.

DeliveryDelivery can pose many problems to a new handler, they can intentionally or unintentionally put that much pressure on the dog that the dog tightens its jaws and thus damages the game. In this instance the fault is with the handler not the dog. Delivery doesn’t need to be stressful for the handler or the dog.

Another common problem is snatching the item of game from the dog, this can again have the dog tightening its grip or can have the dog spitting the game at the handler on return. Again the fault is with the handler not the dog.

So take the time to evaluate your gundog, does it like to carry things? Does it willingly bring anything it picks up straight back to you or does it parade around? Does the dog spit an item out at your feet and demand you throw it again?

If you have a dog which naturally holds and always brings the item back directly to you, all you have to do is polish this natural reaction into the finished response, and make sure that in the process your handling ability isn’t teaching the dogs bad habits like the ones mentioned above. But in many cases this will not be where you are starting from with your dog.

The formal delivery begins with the recall, you want the dog coming back when called (or whistled) straight to you and sit in front. Whilst a sit is not required for retrieving trials it is best for the novice dog to complete the delivery from a sitting position as it proved the dog is stationary at the delivery and looks far tidier.

From the recall we need to have a hold, this as mentioned the dog may do naturally if not you may have to condition the dog to hold. The simplest way this is achieved is to GENTLY open your dog’s mouth, put a soft dummy into its mouth and gently press up on the bottom jaw. The pressure you apply should be just enough to prevent your dog from opening its mouth. Gently stroke your dog with your other hand and quietly give the command hold. Initially just wait until the dog is not resisting then gently command give.

This exercise can be done whilst you’re inside of an evening. Please don’t over do it, short sessions but frequent will always give better results than long occasional sessions. In a very short period the dog will take the dummy by itself and sit there holding it whilst you’re stroking its head. Make sure you don’t snatch it from the dog, ask the dog to give it to you and then gently take it from the dog and praise profusely.

Another alternative is simply making holding part of a retrieval game. Throw out the dummy, the dog retrieves it and you ask it to hold, only if the dog does hold will you throw the dummy for the dog again, this too can be built up into a formal delivery.

As with all training, praise a correct response lavishly, leave no doubt in the dogs mind what is right and what is wrong. In this manner the dog can modify its own behaviour to obtain the reward (praise).

For Australian trials the dog is required to a) deliver in front of the handler (as opposed to delivery at the side like some of the US trials) and b) the dog MUST be stationary at the time of delivery (unlike the UK field trials). So make sure that your final training result keeps these two important factors clearly in mind.

Photo by Lara Sedgmen

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Dogs NSW magazine, November 2010.

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