By Oona Ross, Behavior Assistant
January is National Train Your Dog Month! Teaching your dog to retrieve can come in very handy. Imagine if your dog could learn to “bring it” when you drop your keys. Learning this skill isn’t only beneficial to people; it can also help keep your dog active and mentally stimulated.
Cedar, below, is the resident ‘smarty-pants’ at Brother Wolf. While working with our Behavior Team, he was able to learn this trick in just a few sessions!
Depending on the type of object you’d like to teach your dog to retrieve, you may need to desensitize them to the material first. If it’s your keys, for instance, the texture may be slightly uncomfortable in your dog’s mouth and you’ll need to get them comfortable with it before you begin. If your dog is particularly hesitant, you may want to start with a soft toy.
Once your dog is comfortable holding the object in their mouth, you can teach them to pick it up and bring it to you by using the method below. I recommend using a clicker to teach this behavior. Also, make sure you have high value treats — something your dog really enjoys.
Start inside where there are minimal distractions and you’re able to hold your dog’s attention.
Some dogs have trouble with this so there are two options. For dogs who willingly pick up toys, you can skip to “pick up”.
Hold the object between both hands. Let your dog sniff it. If they start to lick or bite it, click and reward. If they won’t even investigate, you can place a treat on it to encourage them.
Once the dog is biting the object consistently, wait until they hold onto it, then click and reward.
Lower the object gradually, until it is on the ground and the dog still understands to hold it in their mouth. First lower it an inch. If your dog is still comfortably holding the object, lower another inch. Continue lowering it inch by inch, only advancing if your dog is consistently holding the object. Make sure to click and treat after each time your dog holds it.
Once your dog has the hang of “hold”, you can move on to “pick up”.
Teach “PICK UP”:
Begin with object placed at your feet. When your dog investigates or picks up the object, click and reward.
Hold your hand out for the toy. When they drop it, click and reward. Don’t expect them to drop it into your hand on the first try. Begin by asking them only to drop it. Keep your hand up with your palm flat — this is a physical cue for your dog. If they tend to drop the object low, then keep your hand lower and gradually raise it to a more comfortable level.
Start requiring more from your dog as they begin to understand the ‘drop’ part of the game. Instead of clicking and rewarding when they drop the object three inches from your hand, wait until they drop it two inches. Then one inch. Then only reward when they drop it in your hand.
Once they understand this game, add the ‘bring it’ cue.
Gradually create distance with the object. Slowly start hiding the object.
Once they understand the ‘bring it’ cue, you can move outside. This may confuse the dog, so start slowly, as if it is a new game entirely. Start with the object at your feet. Slowly create distance. Begin hiding the object. Create distance with and hide the object.
Once your dog gets it, practice regularly to keep their skills sharp!
Brother Wolf’s Behavior Team works with our dogs every day to teach them the skills they need to find their forever homes.
In addition to her wonderful work at Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, Oona Ross is a trainer at Laelaps Canine Detection and Training, LLC.