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Easy Dog Training-Teach a Dog to Retrieve

Updated on June 19, 2011

How to teach a puppy to retrieve is the next dog training lesson in our pet obedience training program.

Retrieving is an essential part of puppy training as we want him to bring things back to us when we ask him to; we do not want him running away with our favourite slippers and refusing to give them back nor do we want to chase him around the room as we will not catch him.

Training a puppy to retrieve is also important as when he picks up a nasty smelly item outdoors; we want him to bring it straight to us instead of eating it no matter how unpleasant that may be.

Puppy retriever training will be a game for your new puppy but for you the "master" it will be the next step in his development and a way of strengthening your relationship.


Puppy training classes

  How to teach a puppy to sit, stay and wait  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
How to teach a puppy to sit, stay and wait Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Why do dogs retrieve?

Way back before dogs were domesticated they would hunt in packs. In this pack there was a hierarchy, each dog had a place in this hierarchy and each dog had a role to play for the survival of the pack, retrieving or bringing food to the alpha dog was one of those roles; a subordinate dog would ever eat before the alpha or dogs higher up in the pack.

Retrieving in it's simplest form is going to collect something, bringing it back and letting go of it. In practice it's not that simple, getting a dog to give up potential food or his favourite toy usually results in a tug of war or worse getting bitten. Imagine if your dog isn't trained to give stuff up and a small child tries to take something from him; what could happen?

This is why we train our dog retrieve !

Breaking the retrieve down?

As we have suggested retrieving is more complicated than going to collect something and bringing it back, let us break it down:

  • Watching the item-in the early stages of training your dog needs to see what the item is and where it has been thrown to.
  • Going to collect the item-you want your dog to run straight to the item, no distractions or detours
  • Collect the item-we want him to pick it up and carry it, we do not want him to chew it, eat it or run away with it
  • Coming back to you-we want him to come straight back to you; again no detours
  • Drop off-the drop off is the most important part of retrieving as unless he gives the item to you it's not retrieving; it's annoying not retrieving.

Train a puppy to retrieve step by step

Start your training in the hallway or enclosed place, we do this so you can control what your puppy is doing.

In a confined space he is unable to run past or around you, this way he will become programmed to come straight back at you.

Choose your item to be retrieved, this can be your puppies favourite toy, a ball, rolled up socks or a retrieval dummy. A word of warning- make sure whatever item you choose it is big enough so your puppy can't swallow it.

Step 1- get him interested in the item, tease him a bit. If you have taught him to sit and stay get him to sit; if not just get him facing forward to where the item will be thrown. Hold him by your side. Do not throw it over his head with him facing you, this can be dangerous if he does a backwards flip.

Step 2- throw the item in front of you, a few feet at first will do; make sure your puppy can see the item go. Choose a retrieve word; mine is "find" say your retrieve word and let him go. Hopefully he will run straight to the item.

Step 3-he should pick the item up, when he does call him in an excited manner and he should come straight back with his find.

This first 3 steps of the retrieve are were it can go wrong, your puppy may decide i'm not chasing that, I'm not putting that in my mouth or I've got it and I'm keeping it !

Puppy Training Classes

How to teach a puppy to stay  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
How to teach a puppy to stay Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Problem solving with teaching a puppy to retrieve

If your puppy doesn't want to chase the item, it simply means he doesn't see the point. Make a fuss about the item, wave it around, cuddle it; he will soon gather interest and want it himself.

If your puppy doesn't want to run after the item. He obviously thinks there is something more interesting to do. Make sure there are no other distractions make a fuss over the item, wave it in front of him and keep throwing it, collecting it yourself if necessary. He will soon decide he wants some of the action and go after it.

The collection of the item is the part were most problems occur. Why should he pick it up; surely it's more fun if he plays with it, tossing it in the air or rolling it around with his paws or nose. The easiest way to overcome this is by making the item exciting to him, scream and shout in an excited tone "good boy, pick it up". If he still won't do it change the item, find something that does excite him, most of all be patient and persistent.

Teach a puppy to retrieve next steps

Step 4-Now that he has his treasure in his mouth we want him to come straight back. If you have trained him with recall use your recall word, if not wave your arms, make high pitched noises, give him a reason to come back to you.

Step 5- The drop off is the final stage in the retrieval process. Now that he has brought his find back to you we either want him to place it in your hand or drop it at your feet. You decide which drop off you want and stick with it. Let's start with placing it in your hand, hold your hand out and touch the item; do not take it out of his mouth or play tug of war. After a couple of seconds gently roll it out of his mouth and at the same time say "mine". As he let's go praise him and give him a treat

If you want him to drop it at your feet, with the item in his mouth, hold a treat in your hand, lift your hand backwards over his head so he puts himself in the sit position, give him the treat. Now he has a problem, to get the treat he has got to let go of the item, as he does say "drop" and give him the treat and pick the item up.

Problem solving the coming back and the drop off

Your puppy may decide that he would rather run around with the treasure. If you have trained your puppy with recall use your recall word, if you haven't it's time to become the Alpha dog in your little pack. Use the tone of your voice, treats, your arms, move backwards away from him or whatever you have to get his attention, make coming back to you much more interesting than what he is doing. When he does come back praise him but do not give him the treat just yet because you want him to hand the item over.

The final stage, the giving the item up part completes the retrieve. If he wants to play tug of war; DON'T. You are not training him to drag you around, you want him to willingly give you the item. Call him into you, offer a treat, when he drops the item say "drop" and give him the treat. 

How to train a puppy to retrieve summary

Following the steps above will give you a solid foundation in basic retrieval training.

Be persistent, have patience and most of all make it fun. We will be writing further articles in more advanced retrieving but for now keep it simple.

If you haven't read my other articles referred to in How to teach a puppy to retrieve you can find them here:

Basic puppy training

How to teach a puppy to sit, stay and wait

How to train a puppy to recall

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      Melbourne Boarding Kennels 7 years ago

      Wish I were on the net 5 yrs ago so i Could start to learn more when my maltese x s/tzu was a pup, it was not until he was 4 yrs old that he learnt to retreive.

      now with more info we are have a so much more fun

      thanks aiden...