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Shaping a Retrieve

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I am often asked how to teach a retrieve.

I train a “structured” retrieve.  That is neither a forced retrieve nor a play based retrieve.

In a structured retrieve, the retrieve is taught in a systematic manner. This is the same process that is used for most forced retrieves.  The difference is that rather than punishing a dog for dropping or failing to take the object, I click and reward for performing correctly, and mistakes are simply ignored.

I teach the hold portion of the retrieve at the very end, after the dog understands to pick up objects and place them in my hand.  You can teach the hold first but I prefer to teach the pick-up first, because it’s a more active process, and that is more fun for both of us.

A couple of years ago I taped a Border Collie’s lessons on the shaped retrieve.  The following videos were taken over five days; there was no practice or work in between sessions.  As you watch, you can see that the owner and I trade off teaching – this is both to help the owner refine her technique, and also to demonstrate that different approaches can be used to get the results.

The choice of a slipper rather than a dumbbell was pragmatic – it’s what the owner had in her car at that time.  Go ahead and use a dumbbell if you prefer, but if this is one of your first retrieves, you might also choose a non competition object, just in case you make a bit of a mess.

Each dog is a unique individual and should be taught at their pace and with their temperament in mind.  A clicker savvy dog will progress much faster than a dog that has had mostly lure or correction based training.   Don’t worry about following this exact progression; simply use it as a guide to help you work through whatever challenges you may encounter.

Shaping a retrieve is not hard, but like most dog training, it takes time to learn how to progress with each individual.  If you get stuck, search youtube for more shaped retrieve options – you’ll find plenty of them.  Good luck!

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

One response »

  1. Thanks for posting these videos, Denise! My pup and I have been “stuck” when it comes to shaping our retrieve, and watching these helped us get un-stuck! I realized that, like the owner in the video, I needed to come up and off (and back away from) my dog. Whoops! Once again, smart dog, just gotta adjust the human. 🙂


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