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How to Teach Your Dog to Retrieve Something

Maui's Retrieval Training Continued.

During my downtime, I sometimes watch videos about dog training, especially the stuff I haven't seen before. My process with new things is to usually try different things out, learn from them, then apply the stuff I learned from that and add it to what's eventually my own style. This only applies to things I could only learn on my own though, as I would prefer to be taught by someone more experienced. Sadly there are no training experts accessible to me right now, and the best service I can get are those paid video tutorials, but I'm an incredibly poor visual learner, and in the end, I believe I'll learn more by just reading and watching what's available for free and trying them out. 

That's what led me to "shaping". This training process fits me the best because it's so efficient. Maui learns a complicated trick fast and gets himself some yummy food. (I'm not sure it's really yummy, but he does brighten up when he smells the cooked liver). This training technique also gives him a lot of mental stimulation because he's not just passively reacting to commands, instead, he's trying to figure out what the next step is, and when he does, it quickly sticks. It's almost like a fun game for him because instead of getting bored of usual training, I only stop when he looks like he's getting tired. 

What amazes me is some of the videos I watched didn't involve a high-value treat. like a game of fetch, they would do the wiggle method on the object they want the dog to take, then as soon as the dog takes it, the trainer would praise the dog as if it was the best thing ever. They would do this as if the object was a fetch toy and the trainer would praise the dog for playing with it. The next part was him telling the dog to grab the object, then quickly moving away while calling the dog. There isn't any mention of a fetch command, just plenty of verbal positive reinforcement via excited voice, peppy body gestures, and playing. 

I'm nowhere near the caliber of training experts, but I know that the real deal is in reinforcement. I can teach a dog a trick or two, but if I don't reinforce it, my dog won't remember it, and very likely not do it. I could be wrong though, I have yet to see. My dream of Maui being my personal butler of sorts is not even in its infancy, it's just a little more than a concept right now. 

So, with 30 pieces of boiled and dried liver in my tactical treat bag, it's time to take my fur baby into another round of retrieval training. 

Instead of the shoe, I decided to change it into something actually useful but would be a challenging object. A small broom. I use the broom a lot indoors to keep the floor from accumulating dust and small pieces of garbage. I used to have a Roomba for these tasks, but the poor thing broke down after accumulating too much hair and somehow caused the motor to overheat. 

I placed the broom on the ground and Maui was looking at me expectantly. I know that he will act as if he had never done this training before, but like riding a bicycle, it will come back to him. I said "Get Broom!" while wiggling the broom to place his attention on the broom. Eventually, I'll level this up and place two objects so he can learn to get the correct object. 

Surprisingly, Maui quickly bit the broom on the handle and I presented my palm and wiggled it. I wanted to repeat the command again, but Maui should know this already. Instead, I wagged my hand. I don't want to do the peppy energy bit mostly because I don't want to act like that every time I command Maui. 

He went to my hand but didn't open his mouth to drop the object. This is fine, it was just the first time. I clicked my clicker and gave him his coveted training treats, and only then did he open his mouth. I was pretty sure he wanted me to pull the broom from his mouth, but I know that he'll consider this as play and the next thing I know, the broomstick or whichever object I wanted him to retrieve is torn to shreds. 

Since this is shaping, he has to figure out which positive behavior nets him a yummy treat. Since he did place it on my hand, he gets a liver piece and from there, the formal retrieve training kicks off. I placed the broom down, stepped back, then asked Maui to get it. 

He didn't. He looked at me again expectantly. I conclude that this will take more than just this training session, as Maui seems to forget this a lot. Matty is a natural retriever because labrador retrievers are bred that way. Maui is more of a runner, which I suppose is expected of his half-Australian Sheperd breed. I hope somewhere in that half-mixed breed is a retriever waiting for its chance to shine. 

So we start all over again. I wiggled the broom, he took it, then placed it in my hand. Click. Treat. I kept repeating this for a small period of time, then without losing the tempo, I stepped back as I placed it down, and kept doing it until I was a good five, maybe six feet away from him.

Sometimes Maui would just get the broom as soon as I placed it down. I didn't know whether I should reward that or not, but I was caught in the pace that I just went with it. My tempo was slowly slowing because I had to keep moving away from the broom, and Maui would follow me, which works well because Maui actually gallops a bit to get the broom. It does feel like I'm making great progress. I just hope he doesn't see this as just a fetch game. Regardless, I can see that Maui's retrieve game is getting better because he motioned towards my hand instead of just looking at me. 

With my training treats running very low, I praised Maui with all my energy and gave him the rest of the liver. The next part was giving him head rubs and then bolting away for him to chase me. I hope all this training is providing a good bonding experience because this is the only time I really properly interact with Maui. He keeps me company when I'm working, but all he gets is the random head scratches. 

From the looks of it, Maui's slowly learning. It's this kind of progress that makes me feel like what I'm doing is worthwhile. Even then, Maui gets a good dose of nutrients, and bonding time. 


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