Step Three in Training the Retrieve: Finishing-Up
To some dogs, the idea of running and chasing anything is the greatest thing in life; it is an all-consuming trait. The instinct is a throwback to the days of old, when wolves/dogs had to hunt, stalk, chase, and then capture their meals. (We don’t let them do that anymore, actually we pretty much frown on it.)
Doggie people call this overwhelming urge to go after stuff, the dog’s “prey drive,” and for competitive dog sports, like Schutzhund, or Agility, a dog having a high prey drive is one of the components for getting that winner’s edge.
Now, if your dog is one of those Energizer bunnies, just full of itself and ready to take chase at the drop of a hat, good for you, but realize that not all dogs are created equal in their inherited amount of “prey drive.”
Fortunately, we can bring out some of that hidden “prey drive” attitude with even the most “couch potato” of dog temperaments.
Start by building up some energy and enthusiasm by simply throwing out some treats. I don’t care how weak Boomer’s “prey drive” is. He will take chase after some high value treats. Start with just a slight little toss and then slowly build up to tossing farther and farther away. Each time you toss a treat, click and have Boomer come running back for another of those yummy treats. Remember to praise Boomer and tell him how wonderful he is at this game each time.
Once you have his attention built up, switch it up and throw a squeaky toy or a ball in place of the treat. If he goes after it, grabs it, and brings it back, click and then jackpot (a silent prayer to the Dog Training Gods is in order here).
Now some dogs are not going to find that new object anywhere near as interesting as those high value treats you were just offering. So with those guys, we do the same thing we did in the prior step when we taught him to pick it up. We “shape the behavior.” Boomer gets a click/ treat for looking at the object. Boomer gets a click/treat for putting the object in his mouth, etc. (Go back and re-read if you get confused.)
Once we get to the point of him going out for the item and picking it up, it usually is not very hard to get him to bring it to you. And I bet you know why… you are the keeper of the clicker and the treats. If you did your homework, Boomer knows that when he returns to you with the object, (he already knows the cue “give”) the wonderful sound of a clicker will be immediately followed with a treat good enough for a trade.
Last item to deal with. Now that he knows the complete behavior, it’s time to put it on cue. That’s easy enough. As you toss the item, give him the cue (you can use “get it,” or maybe “take it,” or if you like nostalgia “fetch it.” The word doesn’t matter as long as it’s consistent. Boomer doesn’t care).
Once he knows the cue, raise the bar to having him hold a sit and wait until you toss it before releasing him to get the item with the cue.