Teaching dogs to retrieve
Retrieving is one of the classic activities where dog and owner have fun together. Many dogs have a strong “fetch” instinct and learn to retrieve without special training. But if you master the basics, you’ll have more fun playing fetch. We give tips about retrieving with dogs.
Many dogs enjoy playing fetch. They move and can follow their natural needs – running, carrying prey. Training together strengthens the bond between dog and owner. Two-legged people learn to improve their own body language and thus the communication between themselves and the dog. Retrieving can easily take place both in your own home and during walks. Depending on the training, you can increase your dog’s concentration with the exercises or challenge him physically. The most important thing in retrieving is to have fun together. That’s why you should train exclusively via positive reinforcement.
What do you need for retrieving?
An object to be retrieved is called an “apportel”. In professional dog sports and hunting, special retrieves with prescribed material and weight are used in training and corresponding tests, which are also called “Bringholz”. If you retrieve for fun, you can let your dog retrieve almost anything that fits in its mouth. Appropriate toys are best suited for dogs. Because objects from everyday life often bring pitfalls with them: A piece of wood from the forest can splinter and injure the dog. Tennis balls attack the tooth enamel over time. Choose a toy that is exciting for the dog – for example, a stuffed animal, the food bag, a dummy or a ball. You can throw balls well later, but this is less important in the beginning. You can practice retrieving indoors or in a fenced-in yard. Depending on the dogs and the environment, it may be a good idea to let them retrieve outside with a drag line.
Teaching dogs to retrieve: The first time fetching
Most dogs have a natural retrieving instinct. Many puppies retrieve objects without training. However, even “naturals” benefit from proper retrieve training. How to start. Place the retrieve in front of your four-legged friend and praise him as soon as he takes it in his mouth. Use a praise word that the dog already knows, such as “fine” or “great”. After a while, take the object back from him with a command like “off”. Reward your four-legged friend immediately with a treat – this will not give him the impression that you are taking away his prey. Rather, he learns: I get something tasty when I let go of the retrieve. As soon as this exercise works without problems, slowly increase the level of difficulty: put the object down a little further and confirm your dog positively as soon as he comes to you with it. With puppies, it is sufficient to let the dog have the toy and walk a few meters further away yourself.
Throw & Bring
If the small steps work and the dog is happy to return the retrieve to you, you can throw it. It is important not to start too early with this. Otherwise, the dog will focus more on running away than on bringing the object back with concentration. If your dog can reliably “sit” or “stay”, do not resolve this command until after the throw – this way the training is more controlled. As soon as your four-legged friend makes an effort to pick up the dummy or toy, introduce a command such as “bring”. If he then gropes towards you, a reward beckons. Now you have to refine the handover. Ideally, the four-legged friend will give you the toy directly in your hand. Praise him when he stands in front of you with the toy – do not take it away from him as quickly as possible. The dog learns: When I approach my two-legged friend with the toy, he praises me – great! Offer him a treat in exchange.
Practice with the food bag
Some dogs are less interested in retrieving, but are persuadable with food. Retrieving a food bag is especially suitable for these dogs. To practice, drag the bag a small distance across the floor. If the dog tries to take it into his mouth, praise him and give him the reward from the bag. Then place the bag on the floor again. As soon as the dog takes it into his mouth, move away a little. If the dog runs after you with the bag in its mouth, praise it and give it a treat from the bag. In between, the four-legged friend is welcome to try to get the coveted food himself. He will learn that he can only get to the tasty bits when the food bag is in his two-legged friend’s hand. Training with food bags gives some dogs an appetite for retrieving.
Problems with retrieving
The dog does not return dummy and co.
Some dogs prance with the toy in front of their owner, but do not want to return it. They would much rather have the two-legged friend try to grab it by chasing after it. Don’t let them encourage you to chase. After all, when your dog is retrieving, he should concentrate on reliably bringing it back. Never run after him to get a dummy or food bag. Be patient: eventually your dog will come to you. Reward him for this with a treat. Alternatively, use the drag line. Other tips:
- Do not stand frontally, but sideways to the retrieving dog.
- Crouch down
- Do not grab the dummy too early
- Praise your dog extensively when handing over the dummy
- Train in small steps
The dog turns up too much
Especially young dogs can quickly get excited during play sessions. They can hardly be restrained and are more excited after the exercise than before. If your dog is prone to this, make sure your training sessions are short. Two to three minutes of retrieving is sufficient. Emphasize concentrated retrieving rather than running as fast and as far as possible. Train so that the dog does not start running until the command is given. This way the game is more controlled.
Is retrieving suitable for all dogs?
Basically, retrieving is suitable for all dog breeds. The shared fun strengthens the bond and keeps the dog fit. It is important that retrieving does not degenerate into a wild and exhausting game where the dog covers a lot of distance. A calmer retrieve, where the object is only a few meters away and the main thing is concentrated work, is suitable for older or sick dogs. You can combine it with search games – if the four-legged friend finds the object you are looking for in the apartment or in the garden, let him come to you with a fetch command like “bring”. Here are some tips for retrieving with different dogs:
- Puppies and young dogs: let young four-legged friends play fetch for only two to three minutes, and increase play time slowly. It’s better to let them retrieve for two minutes five times a day than ten minutes once.
- Uninterested dogs: Train with the food bag. But accept if your companion has no interest in retrieving even after a few weeks. Spitz breeds in particular usually have little desire to retrieve.
- Classic retrieving breeds: The name says it all – for retriever breeds like Labradors or Golden Retrievers, retrieving is their original job. These dogs were bred to bring shot birds to the hunter. Of course, there are occasional retrievers among retrievers as well.
- Heavy dogs/dogs with arthrosis: strenuous running with many stops or jumps is taboo for these four-legged friends. If you want to retrieve, limit yourself to a small radius or retrieve in combination with search games. If in doubt, ask the vet.