Our friend and instructor, Åsa Jacobsson, has kindly let us use this article with her 101 tips about retrieving. Åsa does obedience and rally obedience, but the retrieving and delivery to hand training is the same so you’ll get lots of tips on how to train your dog to retrieve an object. We’ve split them into four blog posts and this is the last one. Enjoy!
Returning with the dummy
This has been – and still is – the part that we spend the majority of our training on. I want the dog to take the object at once and quickly, then return in full speed back to me, and elegantly get into position by my left side. And then we are on our way! The tips that I have gathered regarding this are varied; some of them work well with my dog Valle, and others don’t. But all of them have worked well for at least the person who gave it to me, so they are always worth a try!
- Throw the dummy. When the dog is halfway you turn around and run in the other direction. The dog takes the dummy, sees that you are heading for new adventures, and runs as fast as she can after you. If the dog runs past you, just change direction and continue to run. This requires that you are in a good shape.
- Don’t take the dummy as soon as the dog comes back to you; instead you start at once to reward the dog with a great playtime with the dummy still in her mouth. This prevents the dog from dropping the dummy to soon and from chewing at it.
- Train “getting into position by my left side with the dummy in the mouth” as a voluntary foundation.
- Let the dog sit by your side with the dummy in her mouth for at least four seconds BEFORE you reward her.
- Train the SPEED by giving the dog a reward signal when she runs as fast as she can. Let the dog release the dummy and give her another toy or a tidbit at once.
- Make sure that the reward is moving in the same direction as the dog, if you want to reward the speed – run backwards, throw a ball, have a toy in a long string.
- Let the dog have a dummy in her mouth when you train the dog to come when you call.
- Cue the dog to sit with a dummy in her mouth, stand behind the dog, and call her (then she gets to train to turn around as well).
- Cue the dog to sit, put the dummy between the dog and you, call the dog, and let her fetch the dummy on the way.
- Stand with your side or your back towards the dog if she hesitates to come to you.
- Hide your hands behind your back, stand upright, relax, and smile.
- Let the dog round different objects with a dummy in her mouth.
- Praise the dog and give it a pep all the way back to you.
- Don’t forget your timing! Avoid the trap of trying to “save” a bad return by helping the dog when she has already slowed down. You must help the dog in the right moment or not at all – to help usually reinforces the behavior (for example, we show the dog a toy or give her a pep with our voice) – if the reinforcement comes when the dog does something “wrong” then we reinforce what is wrong instead of what is right.
- Throw the dummy far away. A long distance usually makes the dog run faster.
- Throw the dummy really close to you. A short distance gives the dog less time to be distracted.
- Focus on getting the dog to come to you, even if she doesn’t have the dummy.
- Ask an assistant to help you, let the assistant hold and excite the dog while you call the dog and run away from her – the dog should have a dummy in her mouth.
- Let the dog run between you and a friend with the dummy in her mouth.
- If the dog likes agility let her run through a tunnel or jump over an agility jump on the way back to you.
- Have an assistant “sneak” after the dog that likes to stay and chew on the dummy on the way back. Be sure to have a balance between a slight rivalry from the assistant and great joy and safety with you as a handler. Use this with care!
- Use back chaining to increase the intensity when the dog runs the last part of the distance to you.
- Train you dog in a limited and boring place (without, for example, bushes to lie under and chew on the dummy).
- Reward with an external reward – speed builds speed.
- Let your dog “have” a dummy to chew on and examine in peace, but separated from all other training, just to “demystify” it.
- Make a decision about your criteria. Hold on to them at all times. Increase the difficulty when the dog has done the exercise correctly eight times out of ten.
- Teach the dog a “error signal” to use when she starts to chew. Make sure that the dog succeeds after the “error signal” (otherwise a “error signal” might make the dog lose motivation and speed). The idea is that the dog should be thinking, “Now I’m going to fix it!”
- Tease your dog with the reward if she doesn’t reach your criteria – make sure the dog has the correct “way of thinking” when you do the exercise the next time.
- Teach the dog delivery to hand with the front paws on your chest (this requires that you stand firmly).
- Receive the dog lying half on your back and let her come close to your face (beware of black eyes, broken noses, knocked-out teeth – suits only a careful dog).
- Now time for lazy training! Watch a film!
So, here you have the 101 tips about gun dog training. Either you have learned something new, or you haven’t. If you have further tips, please share them with us in the comments section. And if I have forgotten tips that someone gave to me, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t like them – just that I have a bad memory.
Here you can see a couple of training sessions with mixed results – but even if the dog doesn’t do as desired you will get important information from the training. Last summer with Maria Brandel, who’s one the Swedish obedience championship several times:
This is what it looked like three months ago (with a chewing bone, not a dummy):
And now I am very happy to conclude that we have actually learned a lot more today. In retrospect, it feels really good to watch films from training sessions, where the results were not that great. Valle is a living proof of the fact that with determination and ingenuity everything is possible. “It’s only behavior, and behavior can be altered!”
Now I am very inspired to go out and do a lot of gun dog training!
Good luck with your training! We hope you’ve enjoyed Åsa’s 101 Tips about Retrieving.