Training for Retrieval
March 31, 2021
Your new puppy has just arrived into your home and being the inquisitive animal that he is, he will want to check out his new surroundings. As he ventures from room to room no doubt your puppy will come across many items of interest to him.
Your first course of action therefore, before even thinking about introducing your puppy to "retrieve", is to manage his environment appropriately. Ensure your puppy doesn't have access to things that you don't want him to have such as shoes, the washing and even your wallet. Ideally, you will provide your puppy with "his" toys such as balls, squeaky toys and/or soft, plush toys.
Your puppy will naturally pick up something of interest to him. Great - encourage him to come to you and be ready to reward him with a small food treat. If your puppy runs away, simply ignore him because if the chase game begins this is what the puppy will think is right and will continue to do so. What your objective should be is that when your puppy brings something to you he will always be positively reinforced, so you should encourage this behaviour as many times as it presents itself.
If your puppy offers something that he can have, praise and treat him and give the toy back or throw it and encourage his return. If however, the item that he presents is not a suitable dog toy, after rewarding him with a food treat, simply place the article out of reach and replace it with a more appropriate toy of your choice.
Remembering that a puppy will tire easily, only play this game a couple of times before putting his toy away. His retrieving session should always be short, enjoyable and viewed as a special game to play with you. Practice regularly inside your home before venturing outdoors.
For the older dog, that has not had this background, instead of throwing the article, simply teach your dog to take it from your hand then treat with food. Repeat this exercise many times until your dog is happily taking the article from your hand and happily releasing it to you. At this point of time, your dog is ready to move on to the next step.
Gradually, move the article away from your dog and towards the ground so that eventually the article is approximately an arm's length away so your dog has to physically move to retrieve it. Every time he picks it up, brings it back and gives it to you - treat immediately - great work!
Finally, introduce your dog to retrieve at a greater distance by throwing the article a short way. Again, if he brings it back - treat immediately. If your dog decides to run away with his article, do not chase but wait patiently. When he realises that he hasn't involved you in "his" game he will ultimately return to play "your" game of retrieve. At this stage you will need to go back to the previous level to reinforce and build his confidence and understanding of the exercise. Once fully established, try again by throwing his article a short distance. Remember that the retrieve should always be a fun and exciting game to play.
A word of advice to finish on regarding retrieving is to always ensure that the article you have sent your dog to retrieve is safe, i.e. no sharp ends such as sticks. Sticks and other similar objects can be dangerous if they are poking out of the ground and your dog, in his enthusiasm, grabs the stick it could pierce his mouth or the back of his throat. Youch! Possible costly vet bills too. Soft toys (watch out for removable eyes) or articles with rounded ends are ideal.