See Spot Fetch. Part I.

To Have and to Hold.

Step 1. Holding an Object

Prerequisite: A dog that will remain calm as you access his or her mouth.

The first step in teaching the retrieve is to teach the dog how to hold the dumbbell correctly. Ideally, the dumbbell or any other object should be held tightly just behind the canines. Dogs often want to throw the dumbbell to the back of their mouths where they can chew on it, a behavior that is best prevented from the beginning rather than corrected later in the training process. HOLD means to grip the object in the mouth until commanded to release it. Although you can teach the hold with any object, I begin with a finger because it is easy for me to tell exactly when the dog establishes a grip. You might want to cover your hand with one of your new training gloves before beginning. In this exercise, you will open the dog's mouth as described in last time's introduction. Now, instead of popping a goody into the mouth, insert your gloved index finger just behind the canine teeth. Gently close the mouth with the other hand and praise. If you use a clicker and can coordinate its use in this application, click just as the dog exerts pressure on the finger to mark the behavior. Using a release word such as GIVE or THANK YOU (not the OK type release word that you use to signal the end of an exercise), allow the dog to open the mouth releasing the finger as you drop in a treat. As the dog becomes familiar with this game, interject the word HOLD to coincide with the dog exerting pressure on your finger. Remember to always give a verbal release to indicate to the dog when it may cease to hold. When the dog has learned to grip with the HOLD command, you are ready to progress to holding other objects. The food tube is a good object to use next because the dog should grip it easily (particularly the dog who has previously been rewarded from the tube in training.) Place the tube in the mouth with a HOLD command. On your GIVE command, release the food treat into the dog's mouth. Once the dog has the idea of holding the food tube, begin raising your criteria -- remove your hand from the tube for longer and longer periods of time. If the dog should spit the tube out, just pick the tube up and replace it in the mouth. The dog will quickly learn that food rewards only come when the tube is held correctly until a command is given to release it. The dog will also learn that the release never happens until you have a firm hold on the tube. If the dog tries to chew the tube, be patient -- don't ask the dog to release the tube until the chewing has ceased. Wait the dog out on this one. Our dogs are capable of learning the rule of the food tube -- master must play because self-reward isn't possible! Once the dog has mastered holding the food tube, you can move on to holding a dowel. For some dogs, a bridge can be employed to aid the transition to the wooden dowel by placing the aquarium tubing over the dowel for a few repetitions before going to the dowel alone. When the dog masters holding the dowel, move on to the dumbbell. Progressively introduce holding other objects such as your cotton glove (you can roll it up using rubberbands to hold it into a shape like a dowel), leather glove and metal object. Using a number of different objects will help the dog to generalize the concept of holding. Be creative and introduce unusual objects not encountered in obedience. Want to do hunting tests? Try a bird wing and a whole bird. Try a dollar bill (preparation for a great parlor trick when coupled with scent discrimination), a newspaper or a can of liquid refreshment (preparation for another great trick.) Impress all of your friends by having the dog hold a whole hotdog or egg without eating it (pretty advanced). Remember the goal is for the dog to learn to hold an object without chewing or playing with it until told to release it. This part of the retrieving training should take a few days to a week or two depending on the dog and your patience.

STEP 2. Taking An Object

Prerequisite: A dog that can hold objects until commanded to release them.

Once the dog understands the hold, it is time to let the dog start taking the dumbbell. Some dogs will start to initiate the behavior earlier than others. You may find that the dog may be inspired enough by the food tube to begin reaching for it during the hold training. If so, count your blessings. In this instance, pair your retrieve word (such as TAKE IT, GET IT, FETCH) with the reaching action. For dogs that have mastered the hold but have not been inspired enough to try to grab the objects, you will need to help them initiate the behavior. Although I have found that the food tube works well for teaching the TAKE to many dogs, you can teach TAKE using any of the objects with which your dog has holding experience. NOTE: since this training method takes advantage of the dog's food drive, you can increase efficiency by holding your training session before the dog is fed a meal. Use hunger to your advantage. To initiate the take, put a really delectable goody in the tube and have the dog hold the tube to get the treat. Next, put another goody in the tube, and tease the dog with the tube. Get the dog excited and let the dog win by grabbing the tube. Tell the dog that what he did was good verbally or with a click. The first time or two you should quickly give your retrieve release word and treat. The dog should be reaching for the tube -- you are not putting the tube in the mouth. Advance by giving the HOLD command as the tube enters the mouth and having the dog hold briefly before releasing the treat. Repeat progressively extending the holding time in small increments. As the dog gets into the game, pair your retrieve command with the taking action. To me, the retrieve command means to take a specified object no matter where it lies regardless of whether it is stationary or moving. At this point don't be tempted to throw the object for the dog to chase because you have not taught the dog how to hold an object properly while moving. From the dog's point of view, this is very different situation from the stationary HOLD taught in Step 1. It is important that you be patient with the dog that doesn't want to grab the object. I have seen this happen more frequently when dowels or dumbbells are used for teaching TAKE then when a food tube is used. It is important never to show anger or frustration. Keep the training light-hearted. If you get frustrated at any time in retrieving training, quit. Sometimes unemotionally crating the uninspired dog for a short period of time is useful. Let the dog sit quietly for a bit and then try again. The last thing that you want to do is to make retrieving a negative experience. Increasing food drive should aid your take training. Break your feeding schedule withholding dinner for a couple of hours. If the dog isn't responding, switch to a really special treat such as liver and let the dog know what's in the tube. The dog only gets the treat by reaching for it. Give lots of encouragement. When the tube is in the mouth, release the treat without asking the dog to hold. Repeat a couple of times and reward with the dog's dinner as a jackpot. NOTE: always quit all retrieving training before the dog get bored! A number of years ago, I trained an ES princess named Buttercup to retrieve from start to finish in one week (the complete retrieve). Yes, she was a very special dog. However, obedience was not inherently at the top of her list of daily activities. She was by nature adept at taking things -- off the table, counters etc. -- but take a non-edible wooden object from your hand on command? Surely you jest! This dog had absolutely no play drive so teaching a play retrieve was out of the question. Since she was very stubborn about anything that she found unpleasant, classical retrieve methods were not at all appropriate. She was trained to retrieve by the method described above using only a dumbbell (we hadn't discovered the food tube yet) and food. In preparation for each training session, I fed all the dogs except Buttercup. We would then sit on the floor with her bowl full of kibble next to me. Each successful hold got a piece of kibble from the bowl. After a few minutes of the hold training, both she and the food were put away. After a hiatus of about 15 minutes, we resumed the lesson. By the third session of the evening, she was grabbing the dumbbell from my hand trying to get the food more quickly. Within a day, she was grabbing the dumbbell off the ground. I have never had a less likely retrieving subject and also never had one who learned the retrieve so easily. Up until she died at 15 yrs. old last summer, you could get her attention by bringing out a dumbbell! I knew that Buttercup would do anything for food and just had to find the right way to use the motivator. In fact, each time that she competed in Open, she didn't get breakfast before going in the ring. Her filled food bowl was back at our setup, and she got to eat breakfast upon completing her performance. She happily did obedience as long as she got paid for it, and we earned a CDX never failing a retrieve exercise.

Stay tuned for the next episode -- the moving hold and fetching at a distance.

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