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How to Train Your Dog to Pick Things Up for You

Advanced Training: Pick Up Things

I was thinking about some cliché things for my work and I just remembered that one of the "Dad" moments is when you can ask your dog to pick up the newspaper or your shoes without it being chewed on, or slobbered. I think I have a handle on things in regards to training. Maui obeys me, or at least I can say he always obeys me sometimes. Shock collar training does help speed everything up or at least keeps Maui focused. 

I hit the internet and did all the reading I could do for a couple of days. I learned of this magnificent dog called Chaser, who could identify over 1000 different items and fetch them on command. I won't be able to do something like that for sure, but it does show how many things a dog could identify. If I could have Maui identify and fetch at least three items, then I would be so happy. So, that's the goal: Our overall training session process will be for Maui to identify and fetch three different items. 

With that said, how do I even begin? With what I've done so far, the only way is to incrementally teach Maui all the basic stuff, eventually compounding them into one complicated command. He does know how to fetch what I throw, but like what happened in the park, Maui will just pick anything else up if he can't find whatever I threw. 

So, like how I taught Maui basic commands, I have to prepare a butt-load of his favorite treats and a method that I have to learn as well. From all the sources I read, I have two ways to go about this. I could teach Maui first to hold an item in his mouth and then retrieve it, or I could teach Maui how to "point" or touch a specific item with his nose, so he can identify it then, teach him to fetch things later. 

All the sources seem to point both ways, so I'll have to decide on my own. Since Maui is more familiar with fetching things, I'll teach him first to get a specific object and bring it to me, then when he's competent at doing so, I will teach him to differentiate between two objects, then three.

Something I'll change here is I'll be using a clicker. The Pet Resolve collar came with this helpful tool, but I ignored it for a while. I wanted to see if it's going to be more effective to use the clicker than saying "Good!". They made these training tools for a reason. The only pedantic comment I have is that the clicker is a little on the tough side, and I feel the impact on my thumb when I try it. Hopefully, the clicker will soften a bit the more I use it. 

So this kind of training is called "Shaping." Basically, it's a training exercise that breaks down a complex action into the smallest bits and provides your dog positive reinforcement your dog at each small milestone. While looking around for this and other training techniques I've seen a video of a dog slowly learning to go into a box without the owner saying anything and just using a clicker and treats as a way of "training" the dog about how "training" will be. 

I'll first hold an object in my hand and ask Maui to "Get" it. If he places it in his mouth, I will click twice and then reward him with a tasty treat. I will keep doing this until he competently grabs it with his mouth. 

When he does, I'll then teach him to keep holding the object for a specified amount of time. I'll slowly let him mouth the object and if he holds it long enough with his mouth, I'll reward him. 

After this, I'll place the item on the floor beside me and ask Maui to "Get" it again. I'll need to let Maui figure this out on his own. As soon as he places the object in his mouth, I will click twice again and give him his treat.

That was the training method if you're only doing positive reinforcement. I have a shock collar, a tool that Maui appears to like now, probably because it's associated with plenty of positive rewards in the form of treats and rubs. Once he's around the stage where he's getting the item from a distance, I'll start using the shock collar to reinforce the behavior. 

I already know that this will take weeks. I don't have the luxury of getting a professional trainer to advise me, and everything I've done so far has been the result of me looking stuff up on different parts of the internet, putting a plan together, and trying it out. So far it works, and Maui is an obedient boy, even without the shock collar. If I managed to train him to follow basic obedience commands, then this shouldn't be impossible. 

After a quick trip to my favorite butcher for some pork liver, I cooked it up with Maui clearly excited because of the smell. I have to say, I've rotated between treats to keep Maui interested, but it's clear that pork liver is his favorite food reward, and doesn't seem to get sick of it. My vet advised me to always thoroughly cook the liver and resist the temptation to feed Maui a piece of bloody liver, as it could lead to parasites getting into his system.

The training began on a crisp, almost crispy hot afternoon. I have my boiled chopped liver, cooled, and dried, the item he'll be "getting", and the shock collar fitted on Maui. I won't be using the shock collar yet, but I need to keep Maui from getting "collar smart". I still have my remote control on in case I need to use other features other than the electric shock. 

The item I'll be using is my old rubber shoe. I would use his toys but I want to separate that from the usual "fetch" training. I had the shoe cleaned and played with Maui a little bit as a warm-up, and also to lessen some of his "play energy" that he sometimes expels during training. 

We started the training by placing the shoe close to Maui's mouth and saying "Get!". Against my expectations, Maui quickly placed the shoe in his mouth. He didn't bite it, just cradled it. I was somewhat shocked and nearly forgot to reward him. He had to let go of the shoe to get the treat. For good measure, I repeated it as I did before, even though Maui seems to already get it.

It got me thinking that I was training myself, maybe for some muscle memory, or an unconscious desire to learn more about "shaping"

After about fifteen tries, I was running out of liver and stopped the training. Maui was happy about it but I can see that he's losing some interest. This might have been the easiest part. The real challenge is when the shoe is no longer on my arm. I have to wait for a couple of hours before I start again and something tells me the challenge is about to begin.   


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