Retrieve – Compulsive Method

By admin Posted in Advanced /

I’m amazed at the number of owners who tell me, “My dog won’t retrieve. I give up!” I usually respond by saying, “Let me try.” With the aid of a squeaky toy or quoits ring I soon can get the dog, not only interested in the article, but also to carry it for a while. Having demonstrated how it is done, I send the delighted owner away to get a similar article and train the dog. One week later they return to report that they did not have the time to purchase the specific toy their dog was willing to retrieve. In this case retrieve may be an owner/trainer problem. The “play method”which is rarely successful with adult dogs should be introduced during puppy training so that the puppy can associate Retrieving with pleasure.

However, it is suggested that up to 80% of dogs do not have the natural Retrieve instinct and have to be taught to retrieve using some form of compulsion. To these dogs retrieving will not be a game, but a formal obedience exercise. The compulsive method pressurises the dog to physically retrieve, whether he likes it or not, because he is ordered to do so.

There are many compulsive retrieve methods such as the Koehler method, which uses the pinched ear method in which the dog “chooses” between discomfort and retrieving. Although I do not recommend this method, I have had to use it in an extreme case, with great success. The Tom Rose back tie method similarly applies pressure on the dog’s neck whilst other methods such as the toe pinch, collar twist etc. all inflict a degree of pain or discomfort, forcing the dog to take the dumbbell. The dog then associates taking the object with relief when the pressure or discomfort is removed. 

The following Compulsive Method should not stress the dog at all. 

Commands: I prefer to limit my retrieve commands to, “Fetch” or “Bring” “Hold,” “Give” or “Aus” and “Heel” or “Fuss”. Other trainers may use, Take, Fetch, Hold, Bring and Finish/Heel.

Step 1: Getting the dog to take the article/dumbbell. Any soft article such as a rope-toy or a newspaper wrapped in tape etc will do.

When previous attempts to get a dog to retrieve have failed, a fair amount of resistance in trying to reintroduce an article into its mouth is likely to be encountered. Starting anew, you are going to need the dog’s full attention so you must start in a quiet, distraction free area such as a spare room. Patience and repetition with lots of praise are the rules. Tone of voice is very important for getting a dog to happily obey instructions. Before starting make sure you understand what you are about to attempt in each step.

Place the dog in the sit position roughly on your left-hand side with your foot or knee on the leash to prevent the dog from pulling away. With the index finger and thumb of your left hand over the upper jaw, gently lift the dog’s head upwards while coaxing the thumb into his mouth just behind the canine teeth. Gently push the article in your right hand against the dog’s upper lip, just below the nose. As he opens his mouth, gently place the article into his mouth, say, “Hold” and apply slight pressure with the right hand on the bottom jaw. If he opens his mouth and accepts the article, praise enthusiastically, “Good hold, Good dog” etc. Let him hold the article for a few seconds then say, “Give” and take the article. Praise and treat. Do not release the finger pressure too soon. All you want to do at this stage is for the dog to sit quietly while you praise him, rubbing behind his ear as you say the retrieve commands. Let the dog hold the article for only two or three seconds then say “OK” (Release command) and remove the article from his mouth. Repeat this step four or five times and then end the training session.

Repeat over the next week until the dog will take the article for at least 10 times without fail.

If the dog refuses to open his mouth, you need to find out if he dislikes the hands or the article. Remove the article and try and open his mouth again. If he does not resent the hands then it is the article. If he fights the hands then a new programme of introducing the hands must be done over the next week or two.  

Be as gentle as possible while you show the dog what you want him to do. Change the activity at the first signs of stress from the dog. Scratching behind his ear helps.

Repeat regularly until the dog happily accepts the article/dumbbell when presented. If the dog continues to resist taking the dumbbell on command, try changing the retrieve article for something else and if successful go back to the dumbbell again. Another compulsive method may have to be tried. Discuss other methods with the instructor.

Step 2: The Hold.

As soon as the dog happily takes the dumbbell, it is time to say, “Hold.” If he willingly holds it, praise him, “Good hold” etc. Wait a few seconds then say, “Give” and remove the dumbbell.

If the dog wants to spit the dumbbell out, be ready to immediately place a hand under his lower jaw and gently lift it up for a second or two while you say, “Hold” and then with a, “Give” remove the dumbbell. Do not force hold the dumbbell in his mouth. It may take a while for the dog to realise that you want him to hold the dumbbell in his mouth until you demand it back. In the beginning the hold must be very brief, but the time can gradually be increased. Praise enthusiastically when he holds the article.

Repeat this exercise until the dog will hold the dumbbell each time it is presented, then say, “Come with me” and encourage the dog to carry the article/dumbbell on a walk.

If the dog does not want to release the object given to him, be careful not to hurt his mouth by yanking or twisting it out of his mouth. Gently remove it in the same way as it was put into his mouth when he refused to take it earlier. If this proves to be difficult, offer a treat or a sharp pinch in the dog’s waist with the left hand should do the trick.

When the dog will take and hold the article faultlessly for at least 10 times, he is ready for the next step to actually go out and fetch the article/dumbbell.

Step 3: The Fetch.

This step is again broken down in different parts, as the dumbbell is moved further and further away. The commands, “Fetch,” “Hold” and “Give” must be used each time.

Reaching for a dumbbell held steadily only a few millimeters in front of his mouth is the next very important goal. Start as before in the sit position and gently take hold of his collar with the left hand while holding the article out of sight behind your right leg. Slowly bring the article forward while watching the dog. As soon as he looks at the article, quickly hide it again behind the right leg while the left hand restrains the dog from going after the article. Repeat the “hide-and-seek” game until the dog gets excited while being praised enthusiastically. Once it is clear that the dog wants to get hold of the article, say, “Fetch” and allow the dog to reach forward and take the article that is not moved any closer to him. When the dog reaches, even the slightest bit forward, you know that he is beginning to understand what you want him to do.

He must then “Hold” and “Give” as in the previous exercises. If the dog can do it successfully, the dumbbell is gradually moved further away until he has to move an arm’s length away. Praise and rewards must be given.

Picking it up from the floor: Next the dumbbell is placed on the floor directly in front of the dog and he is then encouraged to “Fetch” it. Gradually it is moved further away but always so that it is directly in front and in full view of the dog.

At this stage the leash must be used to “pop” the dog to bring the object to your front position before the “Give” is requested so that the trainer can receive it. Praise must be given for all successful retrievals.

Throwing the dumbbell is the next logical step.

Now the dog is given a “Sit-Stay” in the heel position. A longer leash is attached to the dog. The dumbbell is thrown a short distance in front of the dog and he is allowed to retrieve as soon as it hits the ground. It is important not to dampen his enthusiasm to get to the dumbbell.  As before, he is encouraged to hold and give. Praise must be given for successful retrieves.

Distance and Stays follow.

Next the dog is give a firm “Wait” in the heel position before throwing the dumbbell a short distance. The dog must now wait before the “Fetch” command is given. Gradually the distance of the throw and the length of the stay are increased. When the dog is steady in his stays, he is ready for the next step.

Off-leash work can now be attempted.

Do not rush the steps or proceed to the next step before the previous step has been mastered.

Problem solving:

Mouthing” is a condition where the dog does not have a firm grip on the article, but constantly “chews” at it and may even drop it on the way back before presenting it to the handler. It is suggested that the dog does this because he knows that the article is soon going to be taken away from him.

Method: Let the dog carry a “Tug” while next to you and then steal it out of his mouth. After a few times the dog will begin to maintain a firm grip on the “Tug” so that it cannot easily be taken away and he won’t drop it.

Motivating a reluctant retriever: Some dogs are slow at going out to fetch the dumbbell and even slower in the return. One way of improving their speed is to offer them something they like to play with such as a ball on a string, play tug or a very tasty tidbit when they return. A slow return gets nothing, but a faster one has great fun at the end. After a while the dog begins to understand and soon hurries back for the reward game.

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