How to Train Your Dog to Fetch Specific Items

Advanced Training: Pick Up Things Part 4

This shaping process is starting to pick up a lot of steam, perhaps enough to steamroll over the training itself. Since I don't have the shock collar with me, I'll just have to use positive reinforcement and my clicker. 

So far our progress was Maui holding my shoe and vaguely placing it where my hand is. My goal for today is to make Maui actually place it on my hand, preferably without any slobber, but I can't be choosy right now. 

From what I learned in our previous training session, I have to remind Maui of the steps we took and try to take them further than that. This means the training will always be one step back, then two to three steps forward, so I'll start with just Maui mouthing the shoe from the ground. 

We started training again and I placed the shoe on the ground. I asked Maui to "Get!" the shoe and by Odin's majestic beard, he just stared at me again with that derpy face of his. Perhaps this is less steamrolling and more like riding a wonky golf cart. I said "Get!" again and wiggled the shoe to get his attention. He went close to the shoe, smelled it, and looked at me expectantly. 

I wonder if it's a bad idea to space the training out. Maui's forgetting the training fast, probably because the fast-paced change of the training leaves little reinforcement. Regardless, I have to work with what I have right now. I said "get!" and wiggled the shoe again. He touched the shoe with his nose and I clicked then rewarded it. On the second try, he remembered to mouth it, and I clicked again and rewarded him. After a few tries, we're finally back to trying to place the shoe in my hand. 

Trying is the term. All he's doing is vaguely going in the direction of my arm. But, that's what shaping is for. I let him figure out the positive behavior on his own, and simply ignore any unwanted behavior like whining when he can't figure out the right thing.

It's up to me to figure out the next easiest step to take, so I'm also doing some mental work and even training. It definitely makes the training more stimulating for me. 

When Maui properly went in my arm's direction three times, I stopped rewarding him and told him to "get!" my shoe with my open hand. Maui grabbed the shoe from the floor and did the same thing, but this time, I just repeated the command to keep his attention up. He dropped the shoe, then picked it up again. At the third "get!" he touched my arm with the shoe, which is quite close to what I wanted. I was suddenly struck with a mild dilemma, do I allow this since this is "close" to what I want? Or do I not click, and hope that Maui goes for my hand? 

The answer came to me instantly. If there's an option to reduce the probability of failure,  I'll take it even if it takes extra effort. I clicked and Maui wagged his tail as he caught the treat. We did this two more times, then I stopped rewarding him. He looked a little frustrated when he couldn't get the reward, but I trust that he'll figure it out. 

However, my fatherly instincts betrayed me and I unconsciously wiggled my fingers, as if signaling him that it was the right spot. He went to my hand and I clicked, albeit with a slight sigh. Thanks to that, Maui directed the shoe to my hand two more times. On the third time, I didn't click, instead, I held the shoe in his mouth. I had to make him let go, but alas his instincts compel him to hang on to the shoe, likely thinking that we were playing his favorite tug game. I didn't say anything and just clasped it. When he opened his mouth, I clicked and gave him the treat. 

This was difficult. After five tries of this, he still wants to tug the shoe. At this point, I didn't know what to do to make him release the shoe faster. He wants to tug a bit each time. I suppose you really can't get this behavior out of a dog easily. I ended the training and rough-housed with Maui a bit, just to get some of his energy out. We ended up playing a game of fetch because he ended up grabbing a fetch toy on the ground and running toward me. I guess he wanted to play actual fetch after all of that training, so I indulged him. 

I had some spare time afterwards to think up a strategy. I need to make the training as optimized as possible because I'm spending money on treats and I'm using up my time. The budget I had for Maui's treats for a month is already gone in less than a week, and I need to make sure I get every ounce of benefit I can get. The end result is honestly quite lackluster, but it could be useful in the end if I can get Maui to master the fetch command and get me certain things like a cellphone charger without chewing on the wires. 

I needed the shock collar. Electronic collars may have little place in the reward-focused training, but I think I'm close to the target, such as pressing the vibrate or the static correction button right after the verbal command, and of course when Maui already knows what the right behavior is. That last part where he wouldn't let go of the shoe was the most times I've been stuck with him. I need that little wrinkle out because If it sticks then it might be a slippery slope where I have to wrestle everything I ask him to retrieve. 

Hopefully, Matty's teacher is having great luck training using the remote collars, perhaps enough to let her decide if she wants to get her own shock collar or stick to positive training via treats. 




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