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Training dogs to retrieve


With your dog on leash and sitting at your left, tell her “Stay!” and place the dumbbell on the floor directly in front, so the dog can reach it by lowering her head. Hold the leash in both hands, low down and close to your body. Without moving your arms, give the retrieve command and follow the command with praise, such as “Take it—Good Girl!” The praise may encourage your dog to reach for the dumbbell, and if she does, pat and praise her! If she ignores it, the correction is one downward snap on the leash, with extra praise, after which, slip the dumbbell into her mouth, then pat her. By giving the command without moving your body, you teach your dog to start on the first command.

Remember, flattery will encourage a dog to do something when she might otherwise be stubborn, so be generous with your praise while teaching your dog to retrieve on command.

Praise is especially important when you apply pressure to the collar.

If you still can’t get your dog to pick the dumbbell off the floor on the first command, try an alternate method. Hold the leash in both hands as described above, but lengthen the leash so that the loop that leads back to the dog’s collar is four or five inches from the floor. Tell your dog, “Stay!” and place the dumbbell directly in front, then give the command without moving your body. If the dog starts, give praise. If she doesn’t, quickly stamp on the leash with the left foot to jerk her head down, and pick up the dumbbell and hand it to her. Timing in this exercise is of extreme importance. Give the command without body motion, and if there is no response, jerk the leash and give praise at the same time.

If your dog will pick up the dumbbell from directly in front, tell her “Stay!” and place it at arm’s length. The important thing is to have the dumbbell close enough that you WON’T HAVE TO MOVE YOUR FEET when you make a correction, yet far enough away that the dog must make an effort to “go” for the dumbbell. Give the retrieve command in a normal tone of voice, and follow the command with praise. If the dog starts, fine! That is just what you want her to do. If she doesn’t, snap the leash sharply toward the dumbbell, using either your hands or your left foot, and give praise when you do it. Follow by picking up the dumbbell and handing it to the dog.

When your dog will retrieve the dumbbell the length of the leash on a single command, throw it even further. Give the command, let the dog start, then run with her toward the dumbbell. When she picks it up, run backward, then encourage her to bring it to you and to sit in front. Square all crooked sits, and insist that the dog perform as perfectly as possible on the finish. Carelessness in little things creates problems later on.

By this time, your dog may think retrieving is a game. In this case, take the leash off, and hold the collar so the dog can’t start until you tell her. Throw the dumbbell, and just as the dumbbell stops rolling, release her and whisper the retrieve command. The dog should dart off immediately, and if she does, don’t forget the praise while she is picking it up. If she decides to chew the dumbbell, or to run around with it after she gets it, kneel, give a forceful “COME!” and follow the command with “Good Girl!” Keep demanding “Come!” and at the same time coax her by tapping the floor or the ground; but don’t run after her. If necessary, turn and walk away. Then, if she comes, pat her and make her sit; take the dumbbell, and after doing so, make her go to heel position.

If your dog starts for the dumbbell on command, then comes back without it, run forward and block her. Jerk her collar once, or kick the dumbbell toward her feet, and say “TAKE THAT!” in a demanding voice. After she takes it, run backward, and encourage her to come to you and sit in front. If you think she is going to drop the dumbbell (as many dogs do), be one jump ahead of her. Tap her under the chin and say “Hold it! Hold it!” To keep your dog from getting into a bad habit, NEVER let her drop an object without scolding her.

Cuff her nose lightly, say “Phooey!” then take the object from the floor or the ground (or have the dog reach for it), and make her hold it again. After a few moments, command “Out!” and take the object away.

You may have succeeded in teaching your dog the RETRIEVE ON FLAT exercise in play, but to show real obedience, she must still retrieve on command while the leash is on. When the time comes that your dog will start for the dumbbell on the first command, will pick it up, and will return to sit in front without your having had to use the leash (except for a crooked sit or a sloppy finish), try her in strange surroundings. Do short retrieves at first, then gradually lengthen the distance until the dog, on the first command, will dash out thirty to forty feet to get the dumbbell.

The praise which is given WITH every command while your dog is learning is gradually delayed: (1) To the point at which the dog is picking the dumbbell off the floor; (2) to the time when she has the dumbbell in her mouth and has started back; (3) until after she has come back and is sitting in front; and (4) to the time when she has delivered the dumbbell and has gone to heel position.

Paint your dumbbell white or a bright color. On certain types of floor, or in tall grass, a natural wood dumbbell is hard to see.

Practice THROWING the dumbbell. When you release it, give it a backhanded flip. This will help it land on a wooden floor without rolling or bouncing off to the side.

Finally, make home-retrieving fairly difficult, so that your dog will be dependable when in the Obedience ring.


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