Lesson 35: Teaching Fetch (p. 222)

Evaluating Pup Retrieve Drive
Teaching Fetch to a Pup
Transitioned Into Duck Hunting
Nice tool that integrates retrieve with a gun. (Ringo & Sidney @ PPR)

I like to begin fetch as a fun game, and add discipline later. To me, retrieving is a task best trained through positive reinforcement, as opposed to forced training. My retrieving Lacys may not be as polished as dogs that are trained by force fetch training methods, but they definitely understand the task, and do it out of desire.

Step 1: Assuming you have a Lacy that has retrieving tendencies, begin with a ball or his favorite toy. Move him to an area that has few distractions. Simply toss the item where he can see you throw it, and as he chases it, give the “fetch” command.

Many people like to use the dog’s name only to instruct him to retrieve an item, which is fine. Others use the dog’s name, followed by the retrieve command. Use of the dog’s name is generally used in order to distinguish which dog you want to retrieve the item.

Having a dog wait, and allowing the commanded dog to make the retrieve, is referred to as honoring another dog’s retrieve. Teaching a dog to honor another dog’s retrieve is difficult to train, and not necessary if you only plan to have one dog by your side while you hunt. However, if you do plan to teach your dog to honor, you may want to use his name as the command, or in conjunction with the retrieve command.

Step 2: After you toss the item, your Lacy should chase it and at least pick it up, assuming you have picked a good retriever candidate and you have used an item that he likes. After he picks it up, call him back to you in a very gentle and positive voice. Avoid stern commands, as he may think that he is in trouble and drop the item.

Do whatever you have to in order to encourage him to return with the item. Sometimes, kneeling down to his level is enough. Other times you may need to flop down on your belly and plead with him. Make it fun, and encourage him to bring you the item.

If you can get him to bring the item back to you, or even near you, pick it up and praise him. If he seems excited and happy, toss it again and repeat the sequence. If you can get him to retrieve the item 10 or more times in a row, you should be well on your way to developing a fun retrieving game that can be shaped into bird retrieving.

Retrieving does not always come so easily with a Lacy, or any dog for that matter, including dedicated retrieving breeds. There are a series of less than optimal behaviors that may result from this exercise.

If your Lacy chases the item but does not pick it up, then you might try a different item that he is more comfortable putting in his mouth. You may also try holding the item in your hand and get him excited about biting it, before throwing it. You are going to have to find a way to get him to pick something up, or your game of fetch will never develop.

If your Lacy chases the item, picks it up and runs off with it, try a firm “come” command. If he turns in your direction, meet him in the middle and praise him as if he had brought it all the way back to you. At a minimum, you should be able to get him to stop with the item. Then you can pick it up, praise him and throw it again.

Do whatever you have to do in order to complete the sequence of you throwing the item, him chasing it and picking it up, then you getting it back. Keep the training positive, and gradually make adjustments, until you can get him to at least bring the item toward you. You can refine his retrieve later, but you have to get him into the game of fetch in order establish a foundation for training.

Step 3: To refine his retrieve, create a funnel point which guides him directly back to you. Sometimes you can stand in front of his bed or other soft place that he generally takes his favorite items to chew on. Two long sticks can be used to block him if he is skirting to the side of you and passing you by. In water, you can stand at the point of an inlet that is surrounded by steep banks. Whatever you do, you need to get him to complete the sequence of throw, chase, pick up and return to you. Follow with praise whenever he completes the sequence.

In time, the game of fetch will become natural and exciting for him. Then you can begin to add some steps to the sequence. You will know that he is ready when he brings the item back to you and no longer desires praise, but shows eagerness for you to throw the item for him again. Teach him that in order for the game to continue, he must get the item back to you.

Step 4: Next, you will want to begin conditioning him to place the item in your hand. Since he is now excited for the next retrieve, he will be puzzled when you do not immediately pick up the item and throw it again. This is exactly what you want to do when he does not put it in your hand. Add a step to the game and demand that he put the item in your hand in order to be given the next toss.

At this point he may eagerly pick the item back up, hold it in his mouth and look at you. If he does this, reach down and attempt to take it from his mouth. If he holds it until you grab it, praise him verbally and throw it again right away. You are conditioning him for completing the retrieve all the way to your hand.

If he drops the item before you can grab it, urge him to pick it back up, and when he does, try to grab it again.

If he does not eagerly pick the item up, try kicking it a few inches and see if that encourages him to pick it up. If he does, return to the sequence and carry on. If he does not, try kicking it further.

Repeat the sequence based on his response. Continue the revised sequence until he consistently completes the handoff.

If you cannot get him to pick the item back up, go back to the previous sequence (without the handoff) and spend some more time fostering the basic retrieving game. If he is excited about the game of fetch, you can work on the handoff over time.

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