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Shirley's Retrieve

Getting a grip!

By M. Shirley Chong


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The lesson this time is retrieving. It's a handy skill, one that any healthy dog can master.

For this lesson, you need a dog with a healthy mouth. If you haven't taken a peek into your dog's mouth recently, take a minute to do it now. You want to get a good look at all the surfaces of the teeth plus the gums. Healthy teeth are white with no yellowing or other discoloration. They meet the gum line cleanly -- no tartar buildup. The gums should be pink and should meet the teeth cleanly without any puffiness or redness. Check all the surfaces of the teeth and look for hairline vertical lines (which may indicate a fracture of some sort). The teeth behind the canines (fangs) should be symmetrical with their opposite tooth -- same shape and size. Take a good sniff, too - it should smell damp and sort of doggy but not overwhelming or unpleasant.

If the above does not describe your dog's mouth, your dog needs to see a vet! Don't do retrieve work until you know that your dog's teeth and gums are healthy. There's nothing so likely to put a dog off retrieving as biting down on something and having it hurt. If your dog has had a veterinary tooth scaling, wait for at least three days before doing any retrieve training -- the gums can be a bit sore and achy after a scaling.

You can do this lesson with puppies but make sure your puppy is not teething. Teething normally starts around 16 weeks of age, but individual puppies vary quite widely. If you're training a puppy, make a point out of checking the puppy's mouth every single day -- you can clicker train this and make it into a pleasant ritual.

When you notice that your puppy has started losing teeth, stop training the retrieve until three weeks after all of your puppy's teeth have come in. Training the retrieve this way tends to build enthusiastic retrievers. The very last thing you want is for your puppy to grab the dumbbell and get an owie!

Step 1 -- Getting ready

Pick out an object for your dog to retrieve. The obedience classic is, of course, a dumbbell. The retrieve object can be anything the dog can comfortably pick up. For purposes of this discussion, I'll just call it a dumbbell. At the very end of the lesson, I'll outline how to teach your dog to retrieve any object.

A well-fitted dumbbell should be wide enough for your dog to bite down on it comfortably -- this means that it has room for the width of the jaw, plus the flews, plus any excess hair your dog might have (some dogs don't mind getting their hair in their mouth, some dogs absolutely hate it). Within reason, snug tends to work better -- helps keep the dumbbell from sliding back and forth in the dog's mouth.

The bells should be as large as possible in relationship to the length of the bit. However, check your dog's face out with the dumbbell in the dog's mouth -- the highest point of the bells should be below the eye. You should be able to see the dog's entire eye over the bells. A dog can retrieve a dumbbell that has higher bells but such a dumbbell can cause jumping problems - it's hard to jump over something you can't see!

If you have a plastic dumbbell, make sure the bit has some texture to it. I've seen turned plastic or nylon dumbbells that were so smooth that they were spinning in the dog's mouth.

Pick out a bunch of treats that your dog enjoys. Make sure your dog knows what the clicker means. Gather everything into one place: dog, dumbbell, clicker, treats (this is the hardest part!).

Step 2 -- Mental preparation for handlers

I visualize the criteria for the initial training of the retrieve as being organized into a set of concentric rings.

The largest ring contains any possible interaction the dog can have with the dumbbell: looking, pawing, nose touching, licking, tooth bumping, muzzle flipping, mouthing (meaning any interaction that involves the dog opening his/her mouth and moving their mouth over a piece of the dumbbell), etc, on any part of the dumbbell (bit or bells). At this level, the trainer clicks for any interaction with the dumbbell. The dog may look at the dumbbell, then lick the dumbbell, then look again -- all of these things should be clicked!

The second ring contains only part of the above interactions: looking, nose touching, muzzle flipping, licking, mouthing, or tooth bumping on any part of the dumbbell. Pawing is eliminated.

The third ring contains: nose touching, licking, tooth bumping, or mouthing on any part of the dumbbell. Looks and muzzle flipping are eliminated.

The fourth ring contains: nose touching, licking, tooth bumping or mouthing only on the bit of the dumbbell. Interaction with the bells of the dumbbell is eliminated.

The fifth ring contains: licking, tooth bumping or mouthing on the bit of the dumbbell. Nose touching the dumbbell is eliminated.

The sixth ring contains: tooth bumping or mouthing on the bit of the dumbbell. Licking is eliminated.

The seventh ring contains: mouthing the bit of the dumbbell. The dog may just encircle the bit with their mouth without biting down or there may actually be a grip. Tooth bumping is eliminated.

A word about handling the dumbbell

In the initial stages of training the retrieve, a very common error I see is that as the handler is getting ready to train, the dumbbell is left within the dog's reach or sight.

The dog is eager to figure out what will be clicked, so they look at the dumbbell, lick it, nose bump it, etc -- and the handler isn't paying attention! The handler is fiddling around with getting the clicker out, getting the treats within reach, or whatever.

By the time the handler is ready to start clicking the dog, the dog is convinced that the interaction with the dumbbell won't be reinforced today -- after all, the dog just got done doing a ton of interacting with the dumbbell and it wasn't reinforced!

Keep the dumbbell behind your back, in your pocket (for Toy-sized dogs), on a table out of the dog's sight or in the training bag. Get everything ready, then bring out the dumbbell when you're prepared to click.

The second most common error I see is handlers who click after the dog has interacted with the dumbbell and is in the process of pulling away. Teaching the retrieve is a test of timing.

Late clicks can create a dog who actively avoids the dumbbell -- after all, that's what they've been clicked for! Better to click too soon, while the dog is still moving towards the dumbbell than to click too late, after the dog has started moving away.

Playing computer action games or using a TV remote to manipulate a video are good ways to improve your timing without messing up your dog.

Step 3 -- "This is a Very Important Object"

Each of the steps that follow ends in a goal for that step. Work on that step until your dog is solidly meeting the goal for that step, then move on. The "test" determines whether or not the dog is meeting the goal. Remember that dogs are context specific learners (what they learn in one place under one set of conditions they don't necessarily apply to other situations). Whenever you significantly change the context, back up one or more steps until you've reached the level your dog is solid at, then progress forward again.

In general, the more repetitions you do, the more solid your retrieve will be. Make haste very slowly -- building a really solid foundation with this exercise will pay off for the rest of your dog's life.

It's impossible to predict how fast any given dog will learn each step. As a general rule of thumb, each step takes one to three training sessions to complete (a training session being 150 clicks or so). If it is taking your dog much longer than this to meet the goal for each step, stop and think over what you're doing carefully.

If you have a toy-sized dog, the easiest way to give this many food treats per session is to use the dog's regular meals. Soak the food in water until gloppy, then use a spoon to give the dog a tiny taste of dinner for each click.

I strongly recommend keeping a log of training sessions, including which step you worked on, the specific conditions you were training in (place, time of day, major distractions), how many attempts the dog makes, and how many clicks (successful trials) the dog gets.

When you're organized and ready, take hold of the BELL of the dumbbell. Get your fingers off the bit or be ready to click even if you're bleeding because the dog grabbed finger with bit (we're hardnosed dog trainers in these lessons)!

Pull the dumbbell out with a modest flourish and hold it out toward the dog. Click for anything in ring one: looking, pawing, nose-touching, etc. As soon as you click, whisk the dumbbell out of sight as you give the dog a treat.

At this point, all you are trying to do is communicate an important message to the dog: "This is a Very Important Object. " At this point, all you want is to get the dog reliable about interacting with the dumbbell.

Hold the dumbbell in a slightly different position each time you pull it out; a little higher, a little lower, to the right, to the left, closer to you, further away from you, etc. Hold the dumbbell itself in different positions (from horizontal to vertical).

Goal: The dog will immediately interact with the dumbbell every time you pull it out, even when you move the dumbbell around into other positions (all within the dog's reach).

Test: The dog gets 20 clicks in 20 trials in one session.

Step 4 -- Heads, not feet

Whip the dumbbell out but don't click for any paw touches. Some dogs never think to paw the dumbbell, some dogs never think to paw it when you're holding it in your hand and some dogs try out pawing right away.

Pawing can become a problem later on in training -- some dogs really like to play hockey with the dumbbell before picking it up.

Goal: the dog will immediately interact with the dumbbell every time you pull it out -- but does not touch it with its feet.

Test: The dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials in one session. If you have a dog who is really focused on pawing it, you might spend more time on this step before going on.

Step 5 - Narrowing it down further

Hold the dumbbell out and click for anything in ring three (that is, don't click for paw touches, looks or muzzle flips). Remember to hold the dumbbell in many different positions!

Goal: The dog will immediately interact with the dumbbell by nosing, licking, tooth bumping, or mouthing any part of the dumbbell while it is held by the handler.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials in one session.

Step 6 - Focusing on the bit

Hold the dumbbell out and click for anything in ring four (that is, omit clicking for paw touches, looks, muzzle flips, and any contact with the bells of the dumbbell).

This is an important step -- it lays the foundation for a correct pickup. Time spent making sure the dog is focused only on the bit of the dumbbell is well spent and will save much aggravation later on in the dog's training.

Goal: the dog will immediately interact with the dumbbell by nosing, licking, tooth bumping or mouthing the bit while it is held by the handler.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials in one session.

Step 7 - Dropping the nose bumps

Hold the dumbbell out and click for anything in ring five. Click only for licking, tooth bumping or mouthing the dumbbell (omit clicking nose bumps, etc).

Goal: the dog will immediately interact with the dumbbell by licking, tooth bumping or mouthing the bit of the dumbbell while it is held by the handler.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials in one session.

Step 8

Hold the dumbbell out and click for anything in ring six. Click only for tooth bumps and mouthing.

Goal: the dog will immediately interact with the dumbbell by tooth bumping or mouthing the bit of the dumbbell while it is held by the handler.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials in one session.

Step 9

Hold the dumbbell out and click for the only thing in ring seven: mouthing/gripping the dumbbell.

Don't worry about whether there is any contact by the teeth or the firmness of the grip. All you want is for the dog to consistently place his/her mouth over the bit of the dumbbell.

Goal: the dog will immediately interact with the dumbbell by mouthing or gripping the bit of the dumbbell while it is held by the handler.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials in one session.

Step 10: Starting all over again

At this point, you should have a dog that immediately reaches out to take the dumbbell in his/her mouth as soon as you hold it out. Now we're going all the way back to the beginning again--with one difference. Now you're going to place the dumbbell on the floor.

If you have a dog with drop ears, you might find it easier to do this step with the dog's ears restrained in some manner. You can use a snood (loose fabric tube that coated dog handlers use to keep the ears clean) or Vetrap the dog's ears up and out of the way (Vetrap is the colorful bandage that sticks only to itself). Some dogs with lots of hair on their ears don't mind having the hair on the ends of their ears barretted together to keep the ears up and out of the way.

If none of the above are practical, try sitting on the floor with the dog to change your line of sight or put the dog up on a grooming table or bed to get the same effect. Not to worry, this is just for two training steps!

Place the dumbbell on the floor a comfortable distance from your feet. Go all the way back to the beginning and click for looks, nose flipping, pawing, nose touching licking, tooth bumps or mouthing. If you've laid a good foundation in the previous steps (no cheating!) your dog will very rapidly get to the point where s/he is mouthing or gripping the bit of the dumbbell on the floor.

At this point, it can be helpful to make a ceremony of giving the dog two treats (small ones, of course) every time s/he mouths or grips the dumbbell and only one treat for any other interaction. Don't just hold out two reinforcers--let the dog eat one reinforcer, then offer the second one. Dogs don't seem to notice the volume of a reinforcer as much as they notice the two distinct reinforcers.

Goal: the dog will immediately mouth or grip the bit of the dumbbell on the floor.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 11: Dumbbells can flyyyyyyy!

Now you're going to stop clicking the dog (for awhile) and start clicking the dumbbell. What you want to do is click that dumbbell into flying. Dumbbells are very altruistic things, so your dumbbell wants you to give the dog the treat for each click.

Place the dumbbell on the floor and keep a sharp eye on it. If you've laid a good foundation previously your dog will immediately go and mouth/grip it. Keep a very sharp eye on the bells of the dumbbell. Click for any movement of the bells at all. When dumbbells are learning to fly, they're like little birds--they sort of quiver and hop a bit before actually taking flight.

As soon as you click, your dog will most likely take his/her mouth off the dumbbell and look at you for the treat. This is very much what you want to see! This forms the foundation for a good "Give!"

Goal: the dog immediately puts his/her mouth over the bit of the dumbbell and causes it to move slightly.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 12: Well, dumbbells can hop, anyway...

Place the dumbbell on the floor and keep a very sharp eye on it. Click for any movement of either bell off the floor.

Again, what you really want to see is your dog dropping the dumbbell when you click. This can be really hard for people with a lot of experience with methods of teaching the retrieve where you never ever positively reinforce the dog for dropping the dumbbell. Keep in mind that if your clicks are wel timed, you are actually clicking the dog while the dumbbell is in his/her mouth (and not specifically for dropping the dumbbell). Take a deep breath, calm your worries and do it.

Goal: the dog immediately places his/her mouth over the bit of the dumbbell and causes one bell to lift off the floor.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 13: Young dumbbells can hop reliably

Place the dumbbell on the floor and keep a very sharp eye on it. Click only for those instants when both bells are off the floor.

Goal: the dog immediately places his/her mouth over the bit of the dumbbell and lifts it off the floor.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 14: Dumbbells as ankle biters

Place the dumbbell on the floor and keep a sharp eye on it. Click any time the dumbbell flies 2-4 inches off the floor, about ankle height.

At any point now, the dog is going to be dropping that dumbbell right on your foot. It's a good idea to try to keep your feet out of the way (those &¢£!¢ things hurt!). It helps to sit with your feet wide apart. If you have to move your foot out of the way, do it smoothly so as not to startle your dog. If you don't manage to keep your foot out of the way, suffer silently while you give the reinforcer. Some dogs don't seem to care if you cry out in pain but for other dogs it's a punisher and you'll end up having to re-build the interaction with the dumbbell--it's a lot easier to just avoid the problem. Steel toed boots are another option!

Goal: the dog will immediately lift the dumbbell 2-4 inches off the ground.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 15: Short flights

Place the dumbbell on the floor and click for any lifts of 4-8 inches (about halfway up to the knee).

Again, it helps to do lots of clicking (if you laid the foundation up to this point properly, you'll be clicking at a high rate) and to dole out an extra reinforcer for higher flights.

Goal: the dog will immediately lift the dumbbell 4-8 inches off the ground.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 16: Leaping!

Place the dumbbell on the floor and click for any lifts of 8-16 inches off the ground.

This seems like a very large increase in criteria but it's not really. At this point, dogs suddenly realize that they could be looking back at you while holding the dumbbell and they tend to lift it higher. Smile, click, enjoy the process--your dog is really making that dumbbell fly off the ground!

Goal: the dog will immediately lift the dumbbell 8-16 inches off the ground.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 17: Flight!

Place the dumbbell on the floor and click for any lifts 16-24 inches off the floor (this is knee height for most people).

If you have a toy dog, you may be saying "but that's higher than my dog's head!" Yep--it's true. If you have a toy sized dog, click for all lifts up to your dog's normal head position while standing. This may mean that you can skip ahead to the next step.

For those of you with medium or large breed dogs, this is the high risk time for toe crushing. The dog is getting that dumbbell a good distance off the ground and many dogs will sort of spit the dumbbell so that it sails out in an arc as it drops. Remember to suffer in silence.

Goal: the dog lifts the dumbbell to knee height or to their normal head position while standing.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 18: Prepare for landing

This is an intermediate sort of step. You click for the same amount of lift as in the previous step but you are moving your non-clicker hand at the same time. Your goal is to touch the dumbbell with your fingertips while it is in your dog's mouth or falling to the floor after your dog spits it out.

It's time to consider the role of dominance in handedness. For most people, it's easier to catch something with the dominant hand. However, as baseball and softball players all over the world demonstrate, it's not that difficult to learn how to catch with the non-dominant hand (they wear gloves on the catching hand and throw the ball with their dominant hand). If you find it fairly easy to do things with your non-dominant hand, then move that hand while your dog lifts the dumbbell off the ground. If you know that you tend to fumble things with your non-dominant hand, then move your dominant hand as your dog lifts the dumbbell.

Goal: the dog continues to lift the dumbbell no matter what you do with your non-clicker hand; your goal is to touch the dumbbell while it is in your dog's mouth or as it is falling out of your dog's mouth.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 19: Houston, the dumbbell is about to land!

Place the dumbbell on the floor and click the dog for lifting the dumbbell while you move your hand towards the dumbbell. You want to get to the point where your hand is always under the dumbbell as it drops so that it falls into your hand.

If you have a small dog, it's much easier to do this step with the dog up on a grooming table, agility pause table or on the furniture. Or sit on the floor with the dog. Do whatever is easiest and most comfortable for you to get your hand into position.

A very common mistake people make at this point is to try to take the dumbbell out of the dog's mouth. They snake their hand forward fast and it spooks the dog. Or they manage to get a grip on the bell and they clunk the dog's teeth as they move it out of the dog's mouth. Both of these things are Very Bad Things. You will pay a penalty--your dog will stop out of arm's reach with the dumbbell, your dog will mouth the dumbbell as they get near you (roll it around and chew it as they carry it) or stop retrieving altogether. You don't want these things to happen. You really don't. SO LET THE DOG DROP THE DUMBBELL INTO YOUR HAND!!!

Let your dog control the dumbbell at all times from the pickup to the give. You'll save yourself so much grief.

< span class="bold">Goal: you can move your hand so that the dumbbell always falls into it.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 20: Safe landings

Place the dumbbell on the floor. You're still clicking the dumbbell--now you're going to click that dumbbell for landing in your hand. Make an effort to have your hand in position every single time.

You may occasionally fumble the dumbbell. Not to worry, as long as it touches your hand on the way to the floor.

You may find it helpful to touch the dog's chin with your fingertips as you move your hand into position. If you can't reach to do this, not to worry--it's not a signal or cue to the dog, it's just something that helps some handlers orient their hand to where the dumbbell will fly.

Goal: The dumbbell will drop into your hand.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 21 -- Not-so-safe landings

This step requires a little finesse on the part of the handler. You want to make it slightly more difficult for the dumbbell to land in your hand so that the dog is eased into placing the dumbbell in your hand instead of just letting it drop.

Start out by making sure you catch the dumbbell at least four times in a row. Then move your hand very slightly less towards the dumbbell and see if the dog manages to get the dumbbell into your hand. You're still clicking the dumbbell for landing in your hand.

If the dog manages to get the dumbbell into your hand when you aren't moving your hand quite so far, do four more repetitions at that level, then move your hand just a tiny bit less.

If the dumbbell misses your hand, pretend nothing happened. Your dog may just stand and look at you, in which case, you can admire your dog's beautiful face. Or, more likely, your dog assumes you didn't see what just happened and grabs the dumbbell again. This time, make sure the dumbbell lands in your hand. Do four more repetitions, making sure that the dumbbell lands in your hand, then move your hand just a tiny bit less.

Be patient! Don't go for huge leaps forward at this point. This step may actually take two training sessions to accomplish. Try to keep up a success rate of 80%, which means four tries out of five should be successful.

You will notice your dog making more and more of an effort to get the dumbbell into your hand.

Goal: your dog moves to place the dumbbell in your hand, rather than dropping it randomly.

Test: the dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 22 -- Distance

You now have a dog who picks up the dumbbell and places it in your hand. In this step, you are going to gradually increase the amount of distance between the pick up and the delivery.

Start out placing the dumbbell in the usual position near your feet. Continue to click for the dumbbell landing in your hand. With each successful repetition, move the dumbbell no more than three inches further away from your usual spot. Three inches is approximately the length of your index finger. I mean literally three inches, no more. This seems like a very short increase--this is what I call the "oak" principle, as in "mighty oaks from small acorns grow."

Work until your dog is going approximately six to eight feet away to retrieve the dumbbell.

Congratulations! You now have an itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy genuine retrieve!

Goal: your dog will immediately move to pick up a dumbbell placed six to eight feet away.

Test: your dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 23 -- Giving it a name

Now you're going to teach the dog the cue for give. I use the word "Give!" but you can use any word so long as you are consistent.

For this lesson, say the word "Give" just as your dog is placing the dumbbell in your hand. Do at least 40 repetitions. You are still clicking the dumbbell for landing in your hand.

At some point, your dog may notice something has changed and pause while holding the dumbbell. Say nothing, keep your hand in the same position and admire the beauty of your dog's face. Let your dog think it over and figure it out. You have nothing to gain and everything to lose by trying to "make" the dog give you the dumbbell. If you try to hurry the dog, all you get is a hunk of wood and a lost opportunity for your dog to understand.

Goal: handler says "Give!" just before the dog opens his/her mouth to deliver the dumbbell.

Test: dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 24 -- Stimulus control

Now you're going to work on getting some stimulus control. If you've laid your foundation patiently and correctly, you already have a dog who always gives you the dumbbell (rather than running off with it and chewing it, for instance) and does so promptly. Now you're going to get the "hold onto it until I say Give" part of stimulus control.

Place (or toss) the dumbbell about six feet away. Then get your hand out of the picture by putting it behind your back or holding it up in the air. You want to make it impossible for your dog to put that dumbbell in your hand right away. Let your dog hold the dumbbell for a split second, then move your hand smoothly into position to take the dumbbell as you say Give.

If your dog drops the dumbbell, say nothing and set up for the next trial. Next time, make it just a little easier for your dog--don't have your hand so far away or move your hand a little faster to catch the dumbbell. Make sure you have 4 successes in a row, then try again.

If your dog stands there, holding the dumbbell and looking quizzical, HOOORAY! That's exactly what you want. Practice 4 more times at that level (hand in the same position, same speed in reaching out, same timing saying "Give," etc).

Keep moving your hand just a tiny bit slower and then making sure your dog gets 4 successes at each new level.

Goal: your dog will hold the dumbbell for three seconds before you reach out and say "Give."

Test: your dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 25

In this step, you are going to teach your dog to hold onto the dumbbell until you say "Give!" no matter what you do with your hands.

Have your dog retrieve the dumbbell. When your dog approaches you to give you the dumbbell, extend your index finger and curl your other fingers (as if you are pointing at something). Slowly move your finger towards the bell and gently touch it. If your dog drops the dumbbell, SAY NOTHING. Shape your dog to pick it up again. Try to touch the dumbbell with just your index finger again.

When you manage to touch the dumbbell with your index finger while your dog is holding it, open your hand and take hold of the bell while saying "Give!"

Slowly increase the amount of time you spend stroking the dumbbell with your index finger before saying "Give!"

Goal: your dog holds the dumbbell while you touch it with one finger until you take hold of the dumbbell and say Give!

Test: your dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials

Step 26

Start out touching the dumbbell with your index finger. Then extend your second finger so that you are touching the dumbbell with two fingers. Then shift your hand so that you are holding the bell and say "Give!"

When your dog is comfortable with the above, start adding in your other hand. Extend the index finger of your other hand and touch the bell with both index fingers.

Work in gradual steps until you can touch the dumbbell with both hands with all your fingers extended before you say "Give!" What you will notice happening is that you take hold of the dumbbell and hold it still while your dog opens her mouth and moves her mouth away from the dumbbell.

Goal: your dog holds onto the dumbbell until you say Give! then backs mouth away from dumbbell.

Test: your dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials

Step 27

Your dog has been doing an itty-bitty true retrieve for some time now. It's time to give it a name!

I use the words "Take it!" I don't use "Fetch!" because I feel like I'm hollering a ghost alert. <G> You can, of course, use any word or short phrase as long as you are consistent about it.

Toss the dumbbell a short distance away and say "Take it!" Your dog will go to pick it up--after so many repetitions, your dog knows exactly what to do with that dumbbell.

Click when your dog makes contact with the dumbbell. Chances are your dog will continue to pick up the dumbbell and bring it back. If your dog aborts the retrieve, follow through with the treat. Next time, wait until the dumbbell is in your hand before you click.

Repeat at least 40 times. This also gives you a chance to practice "Give."

Goal: your dog immediately moves to pick the dumbbell up when you say Take It, then returns the dumbbell to you.

Test: your dog gets 20 clicks out of 20 trials.

Step 28

This is a very important step--you're going to teach your dog "only pick it up if I say so." For people interested in obedience competition, it's important that the dog not anticipate the retrieve. For *anyone* it's important to teach your dog not to pick up anything unless you say so--if you drop a carving knife, for instance, you certainly don't want your dog to pick it up!

Hold your dumbbell in one hand, up out of your dog's reach. Click and treat your dog when she sits or stands still watching the dumbbell. Yes, you're clicking and treating for not retrieving!

Move the dumbbell in teensy tiny increments closer to your dog's reach. Continue to click and treat for standing calmly at each move closer.

As the dumbbell gets closer to your dog's level, she may try to grab it. Just whisk it up and out of her reach without saying a word. Wait until she's standing or sitting calmly, click and treat. Repeat moving the dumbbell closer to your dog's level.

As your dog figures out this new aspect of the game, start moving the dumbbell around in patterns in front of your dog. Continue to click and treat for calm behavior. If your dog grabs for the dumbbell, whisk it up and out of the way.

Goal: your dog calmly watches the dumbbell as you hold it in your hand and move it around.

Test: this is not susceptible to a hard and fast test. Be honest with yourself--what you are looking for is calm alertness, not trembling eagerness to grab!

Step 29 -- Getting ready

Hold the dumbbell in your hand and do a quick review of "Take it"! Click and treat as soon as your dog grabs the dumbbell. Do 5 trials.

Then hold the dumbbell up just a little out of your dog's reach and say nothing. If your dog tries to grab the dumbbell, whisk it up and out of your dog's reach. Click and treat when your dog is sitting or standing calmly. Gradually move the dumbbell closer to your dog's level while clicking and treating for calm behavior.

Once your dog is standing or sitting calmly with the dumbbell at her level, tell her to "Take it!" You may have to make kiss-y noises or wiggle the dumbbell a little to encourage her.

Do five more retrieves in a row, then alternate clicking and treating for not retrieving.

Goal: your dog sits or stands calmly; when given the command "Take it!" your dog immediately moves to grab the dumbbell.

Test: alternate the two exercises until your dog is solid on both.



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