Retrieval training for pets is beneficial.

Retrieval training is great fun for most dogs. It’s particularly beneficial for any dog that has retrieving or herding instincts because it channels their energies into behaviors that are enjoyable and constructive. Without such training, these dogs are likely to turn their natural pursuit instincts into undesirable or even dangerous behaviors such as chasing after cars, bicycles or neighborhood children.

With a bit of patience and some consistent encouragement, you can teach your pet to fetch items you throw for him, or to catch a tennis ball. With more effort you can train him to play Frisbee -- and become the envy of your neighborhood dog park. But however much or little you choose to achieve, retrieval play is always good fun and great exercise for your pet. It builds his confidence, and strengthens communication and partnership between the two of you.

With a bit of patience and encouragement, your pet can fetch items or catch a tennis ball. Retrieval play is always good fun and great exercise for your pet.

Start early and build slowly.
Puppies can begin learning retrieval basics as early as 12 to 14 weeks old. It can be integrated right into other early training, and the “dummy” item the dog fetches can even become a reward. The main thing about retrieval training, as with all training, is to be patient and consistent. Most importantly, don’t overdo it. When your pet is tired, confusion is much more likely.

Your job is to teach your pet to feel secure in the knowledge that by accurately following your voice commands and directional touches he will always win your praise. It’s up to you to give clear, consistent commands and avoid confusing or overtiring your pet. You are there to build his confidence, and teach him that he can rely on your guidance and encouragement.

What you need to get started.
The first thing to do is experiment with what your pet is interested in chasing, and will be comfortable carrying back. Some owners start too fast, and frighten the dog by doing something like tossing a Frisbee to an unprepared pet and hitting him in the face. Or they select an object that doesn’t fit comfortably in the pet’s mouth, and then have discouraging results with training.

Be sure you take enough time to try out several different items to see which one is most attractive to your pet. Soft items often work best at first, and pet stores carry many retrieval “dummy” styles if you’re not certain what to use. Sometimes it helps to wave the dummy in front of the dog’s face to get his attention, and to make it seem more animated and interesting

Once you’ve found an item that your pet is willing to chase after, and is comfortable carrying back in his mouth, you’re ready to begin teaching him the basics of retrieval -- which is simply a more structured form of good, old-fashioned fetching.

The basics of pet dog retrieval training.
It can be helpful to start your training sessions in a narrow, confined place like a hallway or a small, safe alley. This offers your pet two advantages to help him succeed: a more obvious back and forth track, and fewer distractions.

Here are steps for basic retrieval training:

  • Get his full attention focused on you.
    • Have your dog come close to you and sit.
    • Crouch down low with him, pet him, and make eye contact.
  • Show him the “dummy” item.
    • Hold it out to him and make sure he sees it in your hand.
    • Make eye contact with him again.
  • Throw the dummy, but not far. It’s best to start by throwing it just a few feet away.
    • You can say “Go” or issue a similar command as the dog runs after it, or simply allow him follow his natural instinct.
  • Crouch down and call the dog back as soon as he picks up the item.
    • Encourage him for as long as it takes him to get back to you.
    • Be patient, but persistent. Make it a game, but make it clear that you’re the leader of the game and he must return to where you are.
    • If he runs off again before he reaches you, keep calling and coaxing him until he gets all the way back to where you are. Never chase after him.
  • Pet and praise him as soon as he comes to you, but don’t grab the dummy .
    • Make eye contact and continue petting and praising.
    • Hold him gently and guide him to release the object to you. Do not engage in a game of keep away or tug of war. If he won’t release it willingly, just keep stroking him and encouraging him to let you have it. Then praise him when he does let go. (Taking the dummy away too soon can also cause your pet to get in the habit of dropping it before he gets to you.)

Repeat this training sequence no more than two or three times at the start. You want to end the session with him feeling good, and with the right outcomes in his mind. Going too long runs the risk that your dog will screw up and end on the memory of a wrong behavior. So stick with short training bursts that get lessons properly established with a positive mood. With each repetition, you’ll build on past positive outcomes and be rewarded with gradual and consistent improvement.

For more detailed information about how to teach your pet the fun of retrieving, and advanced techniques like Frisbee training, check out these links:

Teaching Fetch/Retrieval

Dr. P’s Dog Training: Turning Prey to Play

Pet Care Tips: Train Your Dog to be Your Frisbee Playing Buddy

Dallas Dog & Disc Club: How Do I Get My Dog to Play Frisbee?

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