Step Two of Training the Retrieve: Pick it Up
Okay, now that Boomer knows how to “give” you whatever he is holding, it’s time to teach him that picking up stuff for you is also a useful tool for getting rewarded in his favorite currency – high value treats. As with step one, this whole training thing goes so much quicker and is much more fun using a treat that Boomer would just die for. (Hence the term High Value Reinforcement.)
If Boomer is one of those dogs who just has no fear of anything and will grab anything within biting distance, this step is not going to be a problem for you. But even if he a natural at grabbing, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by going slow and training it this way. (By training “this way” I mean with Positive Reinforcement. You/we are avoiding future issues. You are going to have to trust me on this.)
Let’s start with deciding on an item. It could be anything you want to use as long as it is easy for Boomer to grab, hold, and walk with. If a real retrieving dumbbell is within budget, go for it. It will last forever and make this whole process just a touch easier. Just make sure to get someone to help make sure the sizing is right. The wrong dowel width and length could make holding it a very unpleasant experience for Boomer, which obviously is not exactly conducive to making training a pleasant experience. A fancy cut dumbbell is not necessary. Most anything Boomer can carry will work, just make it simple. A dowel stick screwed in the middle of two pieces of light weight plywood would make an acceptable dumbbell, a stuffed toy, or any toy (just make sure you keep it for training/work and only that. It is not ever to be used as a plaything for Boomer.)
Okay, now we have put together the following
1) The dog (some people need everything spelled out for them)
2) The item to be picked-up
3) A big bunch of high value treats and
4) A clicker Now we are ready to go.
We are going to shape the behavior (remember that word “shaping” from step one. If you don’t, go back and re-read).
First lay out the item on the floor, but make no mention of it. Don’t try to coax Boomer over to it or play with it yourself. Just wait Boomer out. Eventually he will make a move, (or at least look) in the direction of the item. Now at the moment — and I do mean the very moment — you see him moving or looking in the correct direction, your superior cat like reflexes hits that clicker and Boomer knowing full well what that clicking sound means, storms over to you for his treat.
Now this is the stage where the finesse part of dog training becomes evident. Any movement that is not on the desired path gets Boomer nothing. But to the contrary, of course, any move he makes getting closer to the item is met with the immediate, sweet click of success.
We all know that after one click he certainly doesn’t know what made the clicker machine pay-off. You need to keep encouraging him and pushing that envelope, so that he is always moving toward the item; each time being rewarded for each little baby step along the way with plenty of clicks and treats, with the final goal of getting next the elusive item.
If you are having trouble getting him over to the item, try this blockbuster, Peanut Butter. ( A little dab will do ya…sorry it’s an old age thing. If you’re too young to know what that is, forget I mentioned it.) Spread a bit on whatever you are using as the retrieve item. Using the Peanut Butter is like a magic magnet, drawing him directly to it. Now you have plenty of opportunities to click and treat, as follows:
Boomer gets clicked/treated for sniffing the item… Then Boomer gets clicked/treated for licking the item… then Boomer gets clicked/treated for touching it with his teeth, then finally for grabbing it with his teeth.
Each successful interaction with the item brings Boomer clicks/treats toward the desired result of him actually picking up the item. And when the magic moment arrives and Boomer actually picks up the object it certainly would not hurt to jackpot him for his efforts. (If you don’t remember what a jackpot is, go back to step one.)
Remember, each treat is delivered from your location. Boomer must always come to you for each treat.
If you don’t seem to be getting anywhere, try switching up the treat to something with a bit more value to Boomer.
These practice sessions are meant to be short and sweet, but always upbeat and fun. If it ain’t fun right now, go do something else and come back when you are in the mood and feel like having fun. Don’t think you can fool Boomer into thinking you are having fun, it will never work. He can recognize insincerity from a mile away.
Rome wasn’t built in a day; keep your progress slow, but always moving forward. No matter how slowly DON’T PUSH IT.