The image of a child playing with a dog by tossing a ball and having the dog bring it back is timeless. The dog loves it, the kid loves it, and everyone is happy playing a cooperative game. In a more formalized form, a solid retrieve is required for advanced dog sports. Some dogs are natural retrievers, and will happily play the game for hours at a time. Other dogs don’t pick it up right away, but any dog can learn how to play, and learn to love the game.
To start with lets consider the actual behaviors of a retrieve. It’s a bit more complex after all!
1) Wait politely until I throw the ball.
2) Run after it when I throw it.
3) Pick it up.
4) Hold it in your mouth.
5) Bring it back to me.
6) Drop it on the ground at my feet.
Many dogs who love to retrieve get over excited when they see the ball/stick/toy/frisbee and will bark or jump on the person until they throw the ball or until the dog can snatch it away. To encourage your dog to wait politely for the ball to be thrown, present the ball, if your dog gets overexcited, hide the ball behind your back and wait for your dog to sit. You may need to use your cue word to let your dog know that’s the answer. As soon as your dog is seated, present the ball again. If your dog remains seated, you can toss the ball to reward him. If your dog gets overexcited again, once again remove the ball from site. It will happen faster than you think.
Most dogs will chase something that is moving, even if they won’t pick it up. If your dog isn’t a huge fan of fetch, you can begin teaching them with this step. Pick out your dog’s favorite toy to play with. It can be anything, but squeaky toys often work best. Toss the toy and encourage your dog to chase it. You may need to run after the toy yourself to show your dog what to do. Continue to praise your dog if he runs after the toy and run with him. It’s okay if your dog doesn’t pick the toy up yet, remember that’s a different behavior than chasing the toy.
Next we need to work on picking up the toy. Again most dogs will pick up something they have chased. If you have corrected or punished a puppy who has picked things up in the past, you may have trouble here. The dog needs to know that picking up his toys with you around is a good thing. Use the same toy that you picked out for the last exercise and encourage your dog to mouth it by rolling it around on the ground, or holding it out to them at face level. It’s okay to squeak the squeaker or tease the dog with the toy a little. Use an encouraging voice to encourage the dog to use his mouth on they toy. Once the dog has the toy in his mouth, don’t take it away right away. Instead praise him and pet him and make much of him. Let him know that picking up the toy is awesome!