Lyra has a pretty good retrieve – she’s fast and enthusiastic. A few weeks ago I began adding the behavior of “sit in front and wait”
If you think about it for a second, the “hold in front” is not an integral part of the retrieve – Lyra knows how to get an object and place it in my hands, but she is now learning what to do if my hands are not available – time to “hold and wait”.
I start this indoors and her reward is a cookie. This is because she doesn’t’ care much about cookies so her energy level is much lower and she is very clear in the head. In addition, we don’t do “speed” activities indoors, and I want her to be fairly calm and deliberate. Working indoors will help with that.
To begin, I offer her a random object while she sits in front position. At first she doesn’t know what to do so I simply take it away and offer it again. Eventually she opens her mouth which is clicked and rewarded. Within a few minutes most dogs will figure out that this is a retrieve game. At this point I’m “catching” the object so there is no hold.
When she consistently opens her mouth and accepts random objects, I switch to something relatively attractive like a stuffed toy. Now I delay ever so slightly before taking the object. One of two things happens – she holds or she drops. If she holds, I take it and give her a cookie. If she drops I cheerfully ask her “what happened?” and we try again. If she fails more than twice I’m going to find a way to make it easier. At this step it’s ok if she munches the object.
When she has a clue with a stuffed animal, I start to place it on the ground and ask her to fetch it and come to front. This is straightforward since she knows how to fetch and she knows how to come to front. If she drops as she comes into a sit, I back up quickly and encourage her to “get it”!
Soon I have a dog that picks up simple objects and comes to a sit in front – I take the object as soon as she is sitting (fraction of a second).
Now I go back to that sit in front, and I begin to offer her more difficult objects, like an envelope, a shoe, a metal case, a coaster, etc. I use different sizes, shapes and materials, and many of them are quite awkward to hold – that is intentional.
She takes them and drops them – remember they are awkward. I just say “almost”! and try again. This is about taking an awkward object in a sit and giving it right back. No hold required.
This step is to eliminate munching. The fact is, you cannot hold an envelope and munch because it will fall out of your mouth – I don’t ever discuss the munching – she’ll figure out for herself that keeping her mouth clamped shut is the only way to hang on to a thread of ribbon, a book or a piece of lego. She only has to hold it for a fraction of a second and I take it back.
Now I place that object on the ground or I toss it a short distance. I send her to retrieve. At first she tries to munch but it falls out of her mouth, at which point I simply encourage her to get it and bring it in. I’m very generous with those cookies.
Within a few days she has self trained to hold objects firmly or risk dropping them. She has also learned to sit in front while holding that object – sometimes she drops as she tries to sit and hold but she quickly improves as she recognizes that I will back up and ask her to fetch again.
Ok, now back to that sit in front. We start over again. I hand her a simple object like a stuffed toy as she sits in front, but this time, instead of grabbing it instantly, I wait for a second or two with my hands at my sides. She either holds or drops. If she holds she gets a cookie. If she drops then I pick it up and we start over (or I ask her to get it). No cookie for that one.
When she can hold for a couple of seconds with a simple object, I hand her an awkward object. Same process.
When she can hold an awkward object, I start using as many random things as I can find – I place them on the floor and ask her to fetch. Now she has to figure out how to pick them up, how to carry them, how to sit in front, and how to hold on until I want it back.
Now I have a retrieve with a hold and no munching.
When she is older I will begin to ask for a front with the dumbbell outside in a training yard. My expectation is close to 100% carryover, but if not we’ll have a refresher lesson with the dumbbell.
Simultaneously we are continuing with our informal retrieve of the dumbbell outdoors, with an emphasis on energy and intensity.
If I think about it, the above steps are a bit more blurred than the way I presented them, but you get the idea.
Note that I never clamp her muzzle shut. Most dogs find that offensive and the next thing you know, you have a dog that sits far away in front or does a Stevie Wonder imitation every time they are in front position with an object. Easier to avoid that issue than to fix it.
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