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Training your dog to retrieve Article

I love dog training. As a foster for Golden Retriever rescue, I get lots of practice working with dogs who often have experienced little training before.
I use a clicker and treats. Treats need to be very small and very tasty, for example, a hot dog can be sliced in to 80 tiny pieces, toasted in the oven and kept in ziplocks in the fridge. Clickers are more successful that words of praise, because the mark they exact moment that the dog has earned his reward.
Teach the dog that the clicker means a treat is coming. You can buy clickers at your local Petsmart, Petco or online at or Click it and immediately give the dog a treat. Do this random times throughout the day until a click brings your dog running.
To teach retrieve:

1) Find an object the dog doesn’t mind having in its mouth but that the dog isn’t particularly interested in. Your socks or a tennis ball are not good choices if the dog wants to mouth and chew them, but don’t pick something distasteful to the dog either, like a metal set of keys.

2) Sit on the ground with your dog off-leash. Place the object between your legs and click the dog to come to you.

3) When the dog touches the object with his mouth or even gets close to it, click and treat. Gradually work up to only clicking and treating if the dog is actually touching it with his mouth. If the dog seems confused or disinterested, simply stop the session. Do not use commands or talk to the dog, because he doesn’t know what those words mean yet.

4) Repeat successfully at least 25 times to ensure the dog gets it. If he doesn’t, simply try again next day and the day after that. Expect only for the dog to be able to touch the object with his mouth at first.

5) Next training session start reinforcing only the times the dog bites the object. You have to repeat something 25 to 30 times before a typical dog will get it. Keep talking to a minimum and don’t worry if the dog wanders off; just try again later. Never scold or do anything to frighten the dog. You want him to find this a fun puzzle to solve.

6) After the dog is consistently biting the object, only reward if he picks it up an inch or so. Remember that the click ends the behavior, and the dog will immediately drop his prize for the treat. That’s OK. Remember too, that each time you change your criteria, a dog will get stressed and frustrated. Just patiently give him more opportunities to try and get it right.

7) When you are at this point, you might have been working with the dog for three days or three weeks. Dogs learn at different speeds. Each session should not last more than ten minutes, but you can repeat many times per day.

8) Continue patiently and slowly to raise your criteria. After a while, click and treat only when the dog holds the object for a few seconds without dropping it.

9) Start to move your hand under the dog’s mouth, so that when the object drops, it lands in your hand. Do not reward mistakes, such as the dog dropping the object in your lap. At this stage it is especially important to stay fun and positive. The dog will get frustrated when sometimes he gets a treat and sometimes not. So you need to make sure he’s calm enough to figure it out on his own.

10) Eventually you will be sitting in a chair, with the dog dropping the object in to your outstretched hand. Before you start throwing the object to retrieve, ensure the dog is very reliable about handing you the object. You want this behavior perfect so you won’t loose your Frisbie at the park.

11) When the dog is totally reliable about handing the object to you, start throwing it a few feet. Increase the distance gradually.

12) When the dog has mastered retrieve with one object try another object. Start using objects like tennis balls, that the dog will not want to give up so readily.

13) When the dog can retrieve any thrown object in your house, work with the dog in an enclosed fenced yard. Again, raising criteria slowly and staying patient is the secret to success.

14) Eventually, you’ll take the show on the road. You’ll be able to take that Frisbie and that dog to the park for a fun play session. At this point, you can start givintg the dog food only some of the time, and eventually fade out the food rewards altogether.

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  1. 1

    Thanks for contributing this article! I have a yellow lab for a guide dog who is very smart and wonderful at guide work, but I quickly lose patience playing fetch with him in summer because he never brings the ball back. I look forward to trying this clicker training approach this summer.

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