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Step One of Training the Retrieve: Give

Step One of Training the Retrieve: Give


If you have read any of my articles, you already know that “how to use a clicker” along with the when and the where of how to use a clicker, comes before anything. This behavior is no different. So (if you have not already done so) go back to the home page on this site and under Featured Articles read “Operant Conditioning a/k/a Clicker Training,” then come back and study this how to train the “give” command.


Ever have one of those situations where Boomer decides, “hey look at what I found?” In Dog speak that means, “this is mine and if you want it you are going to have to try and catch me, and fight me for it.”


Not a fun place to be, especially if Boomer is holding in his mouth, something disgusting, smelly, and well past the point of being even remotely recognizable. Unfortunately, (and I am sure you have noticed) Boomer and civilized society have totally different attitudes regarding the requirements of what makes the gross factor list. Not only that, but to some dogs, anything within the reach of inquiring jaws is far game in claiming a steak in ownership.  Not cool if it’s your great aunt’s purse. Or worse, something physically dangerous (which still could be your great aunt’s purse).


Plus, the added benefit of training “give” is it’s the start to teaching and training the retrieve, which is a pillar in just about any doggie activity.


I am assuming you have now read the Operant Conditioning article, and are armed with (1) education, (2) high value treats and (3) your trusty clicker. What we are going to do is the teach Boomer the age old practice of trading item for item, otherwise known as the barter system.


Here’s how it goes. First, you give Boomer his favorite toy. When he has it in his mouth, you whip out that big time high value treat. When he sees that high value treat coming, that toy he is holding just doesn’t have the same fascination. So, thump, the toy hits the floor. Now of course at the very moment that Boomer dropped the toy, is when the click and that tasty little morsel treat is presented.


Now, it is not very practical and it just doesn’t look good for you to have to bend over and pick up after Boomer while he goes off to enjoy the fruits of his spoils (the treat).


So logically the next step in this little exercise must be to have Boomer drop whatever he has in those drool filled jaws into your hand.


This is done with (now don’t get scared, yes there is a fancy phrase coming up, but I will explain it) Shaping by Successive Approximation. (Behaviorist/Doggie people get very fussy about definitions. Plus, you will hear more about this in the next two steps.) Simply put, those fancy words just mean moving slowly and moving a behavior one tiny step at a time, until you finally have completed the whole behavior.


(1)  So at first you click for getting the object close to your hand. Then, we raise the


(2) Behavioral Criterion (I know, more big words…that just means you start to click and treat only when the object starts to move closer to your hand.) Once it drops into your hand, throw a party and


(3) Jackpot him, (Jackpotting…just means he gets surprised with being given a lot more treats for hitting it right…Think of a slot machine when you hit the Jackpot (except there are no bells, whistles or lights for hitting the jackpot in dog training, but there is a big surprise party for Boomer with a big payout, in the way of his extra treats).


At this point in the sequence, it’s time to start adding a verbal cue. Just make sure you do it in this order; Boomer has item in his jaws, you say “give,” Boomer drops item into your hand, then the click and treat. Make sure your timing is right on this because if you mess up the timing, your verbal cue is lost.


That’s pretty much it for the first step. We have two more steps that are coming up to cover.




For some dogs, when they get a toy they start to run and play keep away before you can do anything. If yours is one of those frisky guys, don’t buy into his little game. This is when you need to hone one in on your acting skills. You need to tease him and convince him that your treat is far more valuable than just a silly little toy, and remember to not get stuck on just one item. Mix up the items you have him give to you.


Also, there are some dogs who have been so poorly trained that they will only do what is asked if they can see the treat.  (This is not good training). Once you have made headway on the behavior and you are to the point of him dropping the item into your hand, stop letting Boomer see the treat. Now the treat only comes out when the behavior is completed. (See Variable Rate of Reinforcement for additional info.)


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