How to Train a Dog to Retrieve Objects

Advanced Training: Pick Up Things Part 3

It's almost time again to teach Maui an advanced game of fetch. Last time, I was training Maui using "shaping", and also training myself to get used to this teaching method. It's not a reinforcement method though, but it's a really active and rather fun way of teaching Maui complex things. 

I placed the shock collar on my budding retriever's neck and readied his treats, prepared the clicker, and the old shoe. We started again with Maui trying to grab the shoe on the floor and the process will be through clicker training. I remember stopping myself from using a toy as one of the tennis balls because I don't want Maui to think that we were playing fetch. Although I do want to develop Maui's fetch behavior better as he doesn't return the items 15% of the time. Although he does enjoy it when I wrestle the fetch toy out of his mouth. 

As soon as I started, I made my first mistake. I told him to "get!" the shoe and all he did was stare at me. Cute, but we're not going anywhere fast. I had to backtrack a bit and hold the shoe close to his mouth. When I said, "get!" he quickly knew what to do. We did this about 5 times in rapid succession then I placed the shoe on the ground close to me then said "get!".

I had to do the same things again. Just 1 day without training and Maui forgot it. I did the same thing as last time. I clicked when he placed his nose close to the shoe. Soon enough, Maui remembered what to do and placed the item in his mouth. He didn't pick it up yet, but I'll see if I can shape him to do so. After about three times of mouthing the shoe, I stopped rewarding and commanded: "Get!". This was the point where he got frustrated before and slapped the shoe. Made me laugh once, shame on you, made me laugh twice, shame on me.

Despite the comedy that ensued, I steeled my will and kept commanding Maui to "get!" the shoe. He mouthed it, pushed it around, and even chewed it but did not pick it up. I was starting to wonder if picking it up was too big of a step. Soon enough though, I saw Maui raise his head with the shoe in his mouth. He didn't hold it, but I quickly clicked and gave him the treat. 

I'm now fully convinced that shaping is one of the best ways to teach a dog complex tricks. I have yet to see and try other training methods like the "Model-Rival Method" or the "Dominance Method". But I think this is a good training process to teach service dogs to get everyday items. It's fast and it's almost in the form of a fun game. Shaping the foundation skills like retrieving and identifying items are my goals and I'm sure that even if I fail, I'll find the experience helpful.

The training sessions so far were short, half because it's fast-paced, half because I'm running out of treats faster. Maui also doesn't look like he's getting tired, maybe because of the mental stimulation provided by this "game"

We kept on going until Maui consistently placed the shoe in his mouth. The next step is to make him put the shoe in my hand. I think I can divide that into little steps. First is to make him hold it for longer, then after he's holding it longer, then place it close to my reached-out hand, then finally to let it go when it's close to my hand. 

I made that on the fly and went on with the training to see if it works. When Maui held the shoe in his mouth, I waited for 2 seconds. Thankfully he didn't let go, so things went a bit faster. When I click, he releases the shoe only because I'm about to toss his favorite treats into his mouth. I did the "hold" phase about 5 more times, then stopped clicking. Now, I reached my hand out about a foot away from him and said the fetch command. I absolutely love the look on his face when he's trying to figure out what the next step is. Sometimes, he groans as if he's arguing, sometimes, he looks around, hopefully trying to figure things out. 

Eventually, he went close to my hand and I clicked. His tail wagged and very nearly dropped the shoe on my hand. We kept going and moved my hand a couple feet away. He seemed to get that he had to deli

We did this five more times and I stopped because I'm all out of treats. 

If the training goes smoothly, I'm confident that in a couple of weeks, Maui will be fetching me things confidently. It's still a long journey, but it's definitely fun. Maui's retrieve game is strong when we play fetch, so I think it will be easier when we start training him to get distant objects.

For now, I'm still mainly using some kind of positive reinforcement training and the clicker. I've yet to use the shock collar because I'll only use it to reinforce focus and attention. Right now it's fine, but when I'm training him to keep his attention around distractions, I need the reinforcement power only a shock collar can give. In the months that I have been training Maui, I realize that teaching is easy, it's reinforcement that makes it stick. You can teach them all you want, but as soon as that high-value treat disappears, more often than not, the dog wouldn't follow. 

I'd love to continue the training asap but I've run out of liver. This training is fun but I run out of supplies fast. I also have to go back to Matty and oversee the obedience training and try the boundary training. I'll likely buy biscuits this time in bulk because man, I think Maui could skip dinner with all the treats I feed him through this training process. If this shaping goes on for a couple of months, I'll need to consult our financial sheets and explain why we tripled our dog care budget.


Back to blog