I’ve Created a Monster

Training last month was a bit of a bust because Suki developed a some minor digestive upset and I didn’t want to potentially make it worse by feeding her a lot of treats. So I took a long break just to be careful. Unfortunately, that week and a half off training means we missed the deadline and I didn’t even get a video! I failed big time.

I did teach her a basic retrieve though, and she’s almost to the point of sitting to hand over the bumper. I’ll keep working on her retrieve this month too, and hopefully I’ll have a video for the blog soon. It’s hard to wrangle treats, a clicker, and work a camera at the same time. For now I’ll have to settle for outlining the steps I took to teach her retrieve.

The fetch toy I chose to start with is her leather bumper. I hoard three types of dog toys: discs, balls, and bumpers/dummies. I have canvas bumpers, leather bumpers, and even a hollow rubber bumper for stuffing with tracking cloth. I had quite the selection to chose from when I started retrieve training. I chose the leather bumper because it’s been the most durable. It’s made of water buffalo hide, and so far it has stood up to rough games of tug where other materials have failed. Which brings me to this post’s title… Since I started retrieve training, Suki’s new favourite thing to do is bring me the bumper every time she wants something. When I’m getting her food ready she runs and fetches the bumper. When I pull her harness out of the closet, she runs off to get the bumper. If she wants my attention? Yup, she gets the bumper. She’s turned into a complete fetch monster! Not that I’m complaining.

At the start of training I don’t introduce a verbal marker, I just point and say encouraging things. The actual verbal cue (in this case, “fetch it”) won’t be added in until she’s proficient at retrieving.

I started out with the bumper right next to us. Suki is great about picking things up, so for her I started out with rewarding her for picking the toy up. For a dog that’s less toy crazy, you might need to start with rewarding them just for touching the toy with their nose and work up to actually picking the toy up.

Once she figured out I wanted her to pick the toy up, I started holding my hand out and waiting until she set the bumper in my hand before I rewarded her. At this point I didn’t expect her to actually let go of the bumper, just put it in my hand. It didn’t take long for her to figure out that giving me the bumper was what got her a treat, so she jumped to the next step herself.

Now that she was consistently picking up the bumper and handing it to me, I started throwing it further and further away. My hope was that by building a solid retrieve from up close, she wouldn’t grab the toy and take off with it once I started throwing it further. Lucky for me, I was correct.

The one hiccup we ran into was when I first started adding a sit at the end. As far as I know a polished retrieve involves the dog sitting when they bring the item back to you, so I decided to add that in. The first few times she brought the bumper back, when I didn’t immediately take it she spit it out at my feet. To curb that I pointed at the bumper and waited for her to pick it up and hand it to me. She quickly figured out that she had to hold onto the bumper until I took it from her, and that spitting it out just lengthened the amount of time before she got her reward. When she brought the bumper back, just before she reached me I’d ask her to sit before taking the bumper from her.

Overall, while I didn’t quite finish this month’s trick, I did get most of it trained. The only things left to do are to keep working on the sit at the end to make it automatic, to add in the verbal cue so that I can send her to fetch things that I haven’t just thrown, and to generalize the cue so that it can be used on more items than just her bumper.

The challenge for March is to teach something involving a towel. I’m at a complete loss as to what to do, so I’m going with the provided example trick of teaching Suki to go lay down on a towel on cue. My new house came with white carpets that come pretty close to the front door, so that trick should come in handy for mucky days.

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