How do I teach my dog to retrieve? Many dog owners ask themselves this question. In this article you will read which aids are needed for retrieving, how to teach your dog how to retrieve step by step and what you can do if the dog does not want to retrieve.
What does retrieve mean?
Retrieve is originally a term used in hunting and refers to the bringing of killed game to the hunter. Today, retrieving is generally understood to mean the bringing in of objects such as dummies, balls or toys by the dog. The ability to retrieve is trained in most cases, but some dogs also retrieve on their own initiative.
Aid for retrieving
The retrieval can be trained with little effort. Only a throw object or dummy is required as an accessory. In addition, treats are helpful, with which the dog is rewarded after a correct execution in order to increase its motivation.
Every dog toy serves as a throwing object or dummy as well as a ball or a commercially available retriever. However, the object should not have any sharp edges and should be large enough that the dog cannot swallow it.
It is also advisable not to use an object that the dog knows as a freely available toy. This way he is better able to understand the difference between play and practice. So use your own retrieval training item that is placed out of the dog’s reach after the exercise.
»Tip: Working with a feed dummy can make retrieval training easier. Find out more about training with the feed dummy here.
For the dog, retrieving is a complex sequence of actions, each of which must first be learned individually. To do this, the overall process is divided into three steps:
- picking up the dummy,
- the return
- and as a last step the handover to the owner
A separate command is used for each action, for example “Apport” for the fetch and “Off” for the transfer of the dummy. The dog can also learn a command for a wrong action so that it learns the difference between right and wrong from the start.
It is crucial in each of the training steps to praise the dog for correct actions and reward him with treats, but not to punish him for undesirable reactions. This is the only way to keep the dog motivated in a playful way. The rewards used should be high quality and tailored to the needs of the dog.
Step-by-step instructions for retrieving
Step 1: As a prerequisite for dummy training, your dog should master the “Off” signal and hand over objects that are carried in the muzzle. Here you can read how to teach your dog “out”.
Step 2: It is best to secure your dog with a towline at the beginning of the training. So your dog doesn’t have the chance to run away with the dummy. Also choose a low-distraction environment to start training.
Step 3: Your dog must first gain the confidence that you do not take the prey away from him straight away and that a reward is given for carrying the object to you. It is best to use two dummies or food bags.
Step 4: Make the dog aware of the dummy and then throw the dummy.
Step 5: If the dog has picked up the food bag or dummy, give it a strong praise and attract it to you in a friendly voice.
Step 6: If the dog with the object in the catch is on its way to you, throw the second dummy in the other direction or let the dog eat from a food dummy. This way your dog learns that he does not have to bring the thrown prey to safety and that it is always worth it to come to you. Holding and presiding with the dummy can be practiced separately later, if the retrieval works.
Step 7: Always end the training session with the dog being allowed to eat from the food bag or with some food from you. So the arousal level drops again and you can pack away the retriever in peace. Signal the dog that the exercise is now complete.
Step 8: Over time, the owner increases the distance between himself and his dog, so that the item must now be actively brought to the command “Apport””. If the dog masters the retrieval, the dummy training can be varied in many ways.
If you should get stuck in training or need suggestions for further exercises, go to a trustworthy dog trainer. Many dog schools and dog sports clubs offer dummy training. When choosing a dummy group, make sure that the retrieval is built up positively.
Tips for retrieval training
- Secure your dog with a towline so that he does not have the chance to run away with the object.
- Be happy when your dog is carrying objects. Do not run after your dog – the dog should come to you with the prey and not vice versa.
- Let your dog know that the prey is worth coming to you. Throw in a second item, reward your dog with food immediately, or stroke it while the prey is still in the catch.
- Never tear objects out of your dog’s mouth, but do barter with the dog.
- If your dog tends to be very excited while retrieving, bring rest and breaks into the exercises.
- Dogs shouldn’t learn that every flying object is meant for them. Therefore throw the object from time to time, have your dog wait and fetch the object yourself. Instead of throwing the dummy, you can put the dummy down for your dog.
- End the retrieval exercise if the training is working well and the dog is still motivated. Having the item successfully brought two to three times is completely sufficient, especially for young dogs.
Many owners still have their dog fetched sticks. However, the risk of injury is relatively high. Dogs always have to be treated at the veterinarian because they have injured their mouth or throat area with a stick. In the worst case, a stick gets stuck in the ground and the dog impales its tongue or throat. The risk of injury increases, especially when there are several dogs present and this increases the excitement of the animals. It is therefore better to use suitable retrieval objects such as dummies, food bags or dog toys.
»Tip: Because of the risk of injury, do not teach your dog to wear sticks. Use only items for retrieval that are suitable for your dog.
At what age do you have to retrieve?
In principle, retrieval is suitable for all ages and for all breeds. It even makes a lot of sense to teach puppies how to spend items early. However, care should be taken to keep the training sessions as short as possible for puppies and young dogs and not to put too much strain on the joints. Wild ball games should be avoided until the dog is fully grown. Until then, it is sufficient to throw or lay the retriever a few meters and have the dog brought two or three times. Also keep in mind that young dogs come to change their teeth. This phase may be associated with pain in the mouth area, so that retrieval training must be paused during this time. Older dogs can also learn to retrieve. Do the same here as described above.
What to do if the dog doesn’t want to retrieve?
Some dogs recognize exactly what is required of them, but show no interest in retrieving them. Often the reason is a lack of motivation on the part of the dog, which can be counteracted in a playful way. This is done, for example, by a catch game in which the owner deliberately shows and presents the dummy to lure the dog, but without leaving it to him. You pull the object away from the dog above the floor – not towards it. With these tricks, the owner mimics the dog’s natural behavior to arouse his interest in a playful manner. If your dog is not yet an enthusiastic retriever, the rule is: less is more. Have your dog bring the item only once and then pack the dummy away again. In this way, the motivation for retrieving usually remains higher than if the delivery game is requested too often.
If these tips have no effect and the dog does not fetch further, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I got the retrieve wrong or with too much pressure?
- Have I chosen the wrong reward for my dog in training so far?
- Is my dog changing teeth or does he have other symptoms, which is why he does not want to retrieve?
- Is the retrieval item suitable for my dog?
- Maybe my dog prefers another form of employment?
Be sure to subtract the rewards from the daily ration of the feed to avoid being overweight.