Retrieve: Compulsive Method

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Retrieve: Compulsive Method
The Retrieve exercise, in obedience competitions, requires a dog to “retrieve promptly” at different levels. Firstly an own article chosen by the handler, then a dumbbell and finally any article a judge may decide upon provided it is not glass, food or dangerous to the dog.

The dog must not play with the article or chew on it. He must bring it back to the handler when told to do so, sit straight at arm’s length in front of him, hold the article until ordered to release it and then, when told, return to the heel position.

From the above it is clear that retrieve is not simply a matter of chasing an object and bringing it back. Unless the retrieve is very carefully planned and controlled from the beginning, few dogs end up as reliable retrievers and most have to be forced or compelled to do so.

Although there are dogs that can be called “natural retrievers” because they enjoy picking up and running with articles it does not mean that they will do so on command. It is suggested that up to 80% of dogs do not have the natural Retrieve instinct and have to be taught to retrieve using a compulsive method. To these dogs retrieving will not be a game, but a formal obedience exercise. In competitive obedience the dog has to physically retrieve an article, whether he likes it or not, because he is ordered to do so.

However, the term “Compulsive method” or “Force” means that the dog is “taught” through repetition, like in the “Heel” exercise, to comply with the handler’s demands and standards. Everything is taught step by step until understood and accepted by the dog. The dog must happily obey the commands which, in this method, are neither threats nor requests.

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

Before you can teach a dog to happily sit and hold an article in its mouth and hold it until told to release it in your hands, you need to make sure that you know what you are doing. Re-read this article a few times so that you can feel confident in what you are going to do.
Because you want the dog’s full attention I always start to teach this exercise in a quiet room without distractions. Instead of a dumbbell I roll a newspaper into a short roll, neatly bound by a duct tape wrapping. In this way the article can be made to suit a small dog by using less paper. I also place four liver treats next to me on the table where my dog can see them. In this way I make use of short sessions of four each and my dog soon knows what he has to do to get a treat.

Commands: I prefer to limit my retrieve commands to, “Take it,” “Hold it,” and “Give.”

Step 1: Getting the dog to take the article (dumbbell), “Take it” and “Give.”
Place the dog in the front sit position with your foot or knee on the leash to prevent the dog from pulling away. Gently push the article against the dog’s upper lip, just below the nose. Say, “Take it” and apply slight pressure. If he opens his mouth and accepts the dumbbell, praise enthusiastically. Let him hold the dumbbell for one or two seconds only then say, “Give” and take the article. Praise enthusiastically and treat. Repeat until the dog will take the article a few times without fail.

If the dog refuses to open his mouth, hold the article in one hand just in front of his nose and with the other hand, placed across the muzzle, gentle prise his mouth open just enough for the article to fit and with a calm, “Take it” place the dumbbell into his mouth for a second or two and then quickly remove it with a “Give.” Praise and reward with a treat.

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 while the dog momentarily accepts the article when presented. At this stage make use of the dog’s willingness to spit it out by saying “Give” at the same time.

Step 2: The Hold
As soon as the dog will take the article without too much resistance, it is time to say, “Hold it.” Open his mouth and place the article into his mouth. With your left hand over the upper jaw say, “Take it” while at the same time your right hand applies slight pressure on the lower jaw as you now say, “Hold it.” Keep the pressure for only two or three seconds then say, “Give” and remove the article. Treat and praise for a few moments. Repeat four times.

If the dog struggles a great deal it could well be that it does not like the hand pressure or the article. If he accepts your hand pressure without the article then it is the article he resents. Stop and let him rest. Do not get cross or scold the dog. Do not force-hold the article in his mouth. It may take a while for the dog to realise that you want him to hold the article 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 article each time it is presented. Once the dog understands that you want him to hold the article and be praised and rewarded, he is ready for a dumbbell.

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, 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 Reach.
This step is again broken down in different parts, as the dumbbell is moved further and further away to teach him to move to take the article/dumbbell. The commands, “Fetch,” “Hold” and “Give” must be used each time.
Reaching for a dumbbell held steadily only a short distance in front of his mouth is the next very important goal. Have the dog sitting in the heel position and your left hand in the collar; hold the article at arm’s length in front of him. Keep control with the left hand while at the same time you are exciting him to want to grab the article he is staring at. On the command, “Fetch” the dog must reach forward and take the dumbbell 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 and around your right leg. Praise and rewards must be given.

Step 4: 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. If the dog is not looking at the article you cannot give him the retrieve command.
You want the dog to sit when he has picked up the dumbbell so that you can introduce the Present. As the dog picks up the article, give a “Sit” command and “Hold it.” Then go to the dog, position yourself in the Present position in front of him before asking him to, “Give.” Praise must be given for all successful retrievals.
At this stage the leash must be used to prevent the dog from running away with the retrieve article.

Step 5: 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 first sit then 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. The left hand is again used to prevent anticipation of the command. Gradually the distance of the throw and the length of the wait are increased. When the dog is steady in his stays, runs to pick up the article and sits immediately, is ready for the Present and the give, then he is ready for the next step.

Combining the Retrieve with the Recall
Now you can begin to repeat all the Recall steps the dog already knows with the difference that the dog now is holding a dumbbell in his mouth and he has to “Give” before the Finish.
Do not rush the steps or proceed to the next step before the previous step has been mastered.

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