More puppy retrieving exercises

The puppy period is wonderful! And short…

Tassla has a lot of energy and she enthusiastically embraces all things we come up with, which of course is a great quality. I try to make use of this period to create good habits, so that I won’t need to redo a lot of things she has been allowed to do as a puppy. You become, as we all know, good at what you practice and that also goes for small puppies.

In the beginning, a lot of time is used studying the puppy. Who is she? What behaviors seem easy for her and what do I want to capture now by reinforcing and encouraging it? What seems to be more difficult for her, what behaviors do I need to develop so it won’t become a problem later on?

Tassla, sitting still for a second or so
Tassla, sitting still for a second or so

I find it very easy to, unthinkingly, start training the new puppy with focus on the things I’ve had problems with, with my last dog, instead of looking at what makes this particular individual tic.

Of course, mostly it is about getting the everyday routine to work but when it comes to the training aiming for later achievements, I start as soon as the puppy comes to my home. I´m above all an obedience geek and a lot of my basic training can be linked to obedience. But there are actually many commonalities with basic training for hunting. A very important moment in both worlds is, of course, retrieving.

Tassla gladly retrieves everything I present to her; although she initially may need to pep herself to dare (she had to bark at the metal dumbbell before she took it). She also runs to me at full speed with the items. A few weeks ago I noticed that she had begun dropping what was in her mouth a little bit away from me and then happily go all the way in without the dummy (which is almost always a toy at this stage). I had also reinforced just that by playing games that was about grabbing and dropping objects on click and on command. So for a little while I stopped doing things that meant she would come to me with toys – that would just give her more opportunities to repeat dropping them at some distance from me.

Instead, I sat down and pondered. What basic skills does she need to be able to come all the way to me and drop the toy in my hand? (I´ve already written a bit about this in previous blog posts about delivery to hand, but it bears seeing into!)

  • Taking the toy
  • Carrying the toy
  • Coming to me with the toy
  • Hand target (pressing nose in my palm)
  • Hand target with object in mouth
  • Following me when I´m backing
  • Releasing on click (not entirely necessary at this moment)

The problem wasn´t about taking, carrying or coming. She is fairly good at the hand target, but it isn´t as “magnetic” as I want it to be. I want the dog to throw itself against my hand as soon as it sees my palm – it should be immensely high valued.

Also, the hand target with object in mouth wasn´t working at all at this stage. She let go of the object as soon as the hand target was presented. I also wanted to improve how she followed me when I’m backing, to get more drive; she should want to catch up with me and, in the end, ask me to take the toy by pushing it towards me.

So for a few weeks we played games that was all about dabbing her nose in my hand and getting lots and lots of positive reinforcement for it; we played games about me backing away when I let her win the toy in a tug of war, and continuing playing when she came after me.

I also continued to reward her for coming all the way to me with stuff; sometimes she snuggles up to me when she finds something fun to chew on. In this situation, the last thing I wanted to do was fussing about her not coming to me, nagging or tempting her to pick up the object again and so on. She didn´t know yet what she was supposed to do, but needed more information about what was the right behavior, therefore I make sure to give her that info!

(A small parenthesis, I have noticed tendencies in her wanting to keep some things to herself when I approach. Therefore, I have been extra careful not to take things from her – unless I have to and then I switch with something yummy. The other day, she had taken a fallen apple and was chewing on it. I didn´t think it would be good for her to eat it, so I quietly went and sat down beside her and patted her while she ate. At first she tensed up a bit and looked like she was about to leave, but since I didn´t care about the apple she stayed put. After a while I took the apple and let her chew on it while I was holding it and finally I gave her some treats as I calmly removed the apple.)

After a couple of weeks with the training games described above, I presented a small easy-to-carry toy, a pink rubber bone, and let her take it while I was holding it. While she took it, I started backing away from her, let go of the toy and presented the hand target. At this point I was really close to her, just a few inches, and BINGO – she pushed her mouth and the object in to my hand.

After that, I have been able to throw the toy or the dumbbell several feet, and she has continued to come all the way to me. I rejoice and reward lavishly as soon as she presses the object hard against my hand, but also rewards (a little more quietly) when she “just” drop it in my hand. Later, I will raise criteria by only rewarding the times when she really pushes. In this way we get reliable deliveries.

A puppy’s a clean slate. It’s so fun to be one of the writers on that slate. I think I’ve gotten a lot “for free” with this dog, but there is the matter of make the most of her abilities in a way that suites us for the things we will do in the future. That is the part of dog training I find the most fun!


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