See Spot Fetch. Part III.

Putting it all together

One of the biggest problems I encounter with my obedience students is the desire to try to go from basic retrieving training to a full distance retrieve too quickly. I have found that the time spent initially in training retrieving using small increments will in the long run save time. I would rather let the dog experiment when I can give immediate feedback rather than later when I can't. This is why I break the training down into so many small steps. I am not trying to imply that my dogs never make mistakes once I put the whole retrieve together. They certainly do! However, I can evaluate the mistake and go back to an exercise that the dog understands to correct the problem. If I put the retrieve together without intermediate steps, I have no way to let the dog know which part of the multi-behavior chain I didn't like, and I have no way to show the dog how to be successful. With those comments in mind, its time to build the formal retrieve.

Step 1. Adding a Front with the Dumbbell

Prerequisite: A dog that can pick up the dumbbell off the floor and walk with it. If your dog does not have a good stay you can still work on this, but you will need an assistant to restrain the dog as you move away.

Remember that you had to teach the dog to hold the dumbbell while rising from a sit to a stand? You will probably have to teach the dog to hold the dumbbell while going from a stand to a sit. Start by having the dog take the dumbbell in a standing position. Remind the dog to HOLD and have the dog sit. Reward & Praise. Hopefully, this was executed perfectly. If the dog tried to spit out the dumbbell, patiently show the dog that he can sit even though a foreign object is in his mouth. Next, you will ask the dog to do a recall with the dumbbell in his mouth. Have the dog sit and take the dumbbell. Leave the dog and go only a few feet away as if practicing fronts (not a full recall distance yet). Call the dog into the front reminding the dog to HOLD. Reward & praise. If the dog should spit out the dumbbell, have the dog pick it up. The dog gets neither punishment nor a treat for this behavior, but does get to try again for the reward. You will have to use your judgement at this point as to when to give the dog a verbal negative for not holding the dumbbell and work at helping the dog succeed. When the dog is successful, increase the recall distance until you can do a full recall with the dumbbell.

Step 2. The Distance Pickup.

Prerequisite: A dog that can pick up the dumbbell off of the floor and also can do a recall with a dumbbell.

Note: if at any point the dog is unable to perform the desired behavior, don't get upset. Help the dog by reverting to an earlier training step and work through the problem.

Place the dumbbell a few feet in front of the dog and have the dog take it. Don't worry about a return and front. Go with the dog and reward the retrieve. Increase the distance (don't be tempted to try 5 feet one time and 50 feet the next time!) When the dog will go out 10-15 feet, don't follow, but rather tell the dog to COME as he completes the pickup. Handle the exercise as a recall.

Step 3. A Full Retrieve

Prerequisite: A distance stationary retrieve.

Place the dog in a sit-stay. Hook a finger of your left hand into the collar so you don't have to worry about the dog breaking the stay. If you have a dog that doesn't stay well, just restrain the dog without a stay command. We are working on the retrieve at this point. You'll get to work on the stay later. Throw the dumbbell a short distance. Send the dog. As the dog does the pick up, tell the dog to COME. You don't want him to run around and play with the dumbbell. This is the reason up to this point that I have not done any play retrieving with the dumbbell. You may also need to remind the dog to hold the dumbbell. If your dog doesn't come immediately, you will have to work on that. Sometimes the movement of the dumbbell awakens the dog's chase instinct. Throwing the dumbbell only a short distance should help prevent this problem. If all goes well, slowly increase the retrieving distance. If you are patient, you should have a full retrieve in a relatively short period of time.

Next time I'll discuss improving the stay, what to do about dogs that want to pounce on the dumbbell and other assorted games. Good luck and happy retrieving.

Direct suggestions, comments, and questions about this page to Arlene Courtney,
Last Modified November 23, 1998