• Michael D’Abruzzo

    December 1, 2011 at 11:56 am

    Here are some alternatives:

    1. You can teach a purely “positive” retrieve. This is mostly about having the right dog that enjoys retrieving in the first place. If you have this kind of dog and give a food reward after the dog releases the object, you can start to introduce different objects which differ from the dog’s favorite retrieve object. This is really the best way for general fun use of a retrieve like having your dog fetch the paper for you or slippers. This is good for a dog with high food drive since the object starts to matter less than the food so they will retrieve almost anything for the reward at the end. Gradually vary the objects with this.

    2. You can do something in between. When I needed to have a fairly consistent retrieve, I have taught with a mild correction, but also did give a food reward after I released the object from the dogs mouth. I have never been in to using my hands to pinch the dog, instead I used mild pressure on a collar that wont make the dog gag, panic, or harm him – like a prong collar (generally while the dog is back-tied). Majority of dogs that have at least a mild/moderate prey drive and moderate food drive will hardly ever need corrections if there is something in it for them and have a somewhat sense of responsibility. My American Bulldog and a few other dogs I trained this way and I never had to correct him even years after I taught them. he would retrieve even a penny if he thought he may get a treat at the end. These dogs, if you put them on a variable reward schedule – you can skip the treat during a competition if need be.

    In my bulldogs case, it would have been a battle to the end if i didn’t introduce the treat. But, without the initial mild corrections he may not have had enough interest to focus on the different objects to teach him to get anywhere. With the intro of the treat he enjoyed retrieving and became easy.

    Technically, the beginning “escape conditioning” sequence would look something like this with an easy object:

    command (ie “bring”) -> mild leash pressure (just make the dog slightly uncomfortable – use a backtie) -> put object on dog’s lips -> command (ie “out”) -> pull away object -> give treat

    from here you slowly start to get the object into the dogs mouth and go through the stages of making sure the dogs holds it longer before going to the final reward step.

    Of course when you see signs that the dog understands how to escape the correction go to an “avoidance conditioning” phase and DO NOT automatically correct. I also add a conditioned punisher toward the end so that the dog isn’t walking on egg shells if chooses the wrong object to retrieve or makes an honest mistake. For example the finished dog would hear: their name -> “bring” -> if the made a mistake would hear “no” (which they can redirect to where you are pointing) -> then mild correction only if they blow it off at that time or praise and reward when they return for compliance.

    I’m a big believer in not forcing anything upon a dog that is not necessary if the dog does not take to it naturally. For instance, I have seen people choke dogs to the point they vomited to get them to “force” retrieve so they can compete in a sport with the dog. I have also seen well known trainers use remote collars to force their dogs to do “parlor tricks”. Same thing with protection work and the list can go on and on…

    For dogs that need a little help getting over the hump and are not overly stressed out by the correction and certainly seem to enjoy the exercise when they figure it out – I think it is good to use whatever combination works best for that dog.

    Force retrieve can get complex – especially if it needs to be done technically perfect for a competition. But, this summarizes the importance details how I prefer to it if need be.