A puppy’s mind is fully capable of learning at an early age, so there is no need to consider putting off his or her education. What we do need to consider is how that education happens.
My puppy controls when we move ahead to the next level of difficulty in our training by the success he’s having with the current level. And that success isn’t defined by a level of precision or accomplishment, but rather by the fun being had by both the puppy and me. Everyone learns best when they are having fun, and that includes our dogs.
Let’s take a look at what should be one of our dog’s basic behaviours, the retrieve. If coincidences are in your favour, your puppy may learn to chase the toy, pick it up, and run back to you as fast as he ran out to the toy. Unfortunately, that’s not always what puppies learn. In the video below, take a look at puppy owners trying to play fetch with their dogs. This is just funny … but if you live with a dog who is not bringing the toy back, it can be extremely frustrating. We always want to eliminate our frustration with our dogs to set up our relationship to be all that it has the potential to be.
I put this video together to show you not only the layers that go into teaching a puppy a retrieve but also the layers I train for any behaviour with my puppies to create both a well-behaved family pet and a brilliant competition dog.
If you leave your puppy’s learning totally up to unplanned coincidences, you’re really rolling the dice with their future, whether that’s with less important skills like not bringing you a toy when you ask or the potential life ending one not coming when you call. Life is much easier, and your relationship with your puppy far less frustrating, when what your puppy is learning is strategically planned in your training rather than left up to chance.
In the video above, I show you how I manipulate the reinforcement for a young puppy, so that what appears like a coincidence to him is actually a very fun strategic interactive game that I’ve planned. The puppy had the foundation of Crate Games, which is suitable for dogs of all ages… puppies, rescues, older dogs, or new to you dogs. The layers of learning allowed a barely four-month-old puppy to play through all five key layers to a brilliant retrieve done within a four-minute fun-filled learning session.
I incorporate each of these five important elements of a brilliant retrieve as a way of life for my dogs.
- Sit and Wait While Toy is Thrown – We achieve this very important element, the drive to WANT to wait in a control position through any distraction with our Say Yes Foundation Game: Crate Games.
- Explode to the Toy – Once released to “get” the toy the dog runs straight to the toy! We build VALUE for toys/items to bring to us early on with our foundation games! (an important foundation game is ItsYerChoice)
- Spin Back Toy Pickup – The key to getting your dog to bring the toy back QUICKLY and straight to you begins with the enthusiastic way the dog picks up the toy and whips his head around to drive back towards you. The spin back pickup is the back bone of the fast retrieve.
- Speedy Return – Having the dog ﬂy back to you once he has picked up his toy is achieved through our foundation games of “CHASE ME!”. The element of chasing you helps to create a strong association for the dog between YOU, his TOY and his JOY!
- Deliver Toy to Hand – An outstretched hand will always greet the dog! We want our dogs to always know that the game starts and ends with the toy in our hand.
Your dog might already love a game of fetch, if so, you can play games within the game of retrieve, which will allow you to build other skills within a framework of fun.
If you have a dog who might not tug just yet, you can get a start on this by creating a motivating toy. If you are not sure why you might want your dog to enjoy a game of tug, check out my blog post ‘Improve Your Dog Training By Playing Like A Dog‘. And if you do enjoy tugging, remember to be mindful of the duration of your tug sessions.
Have you tried teaching your puppy or dog a retrieve, or want to? Share your story with us in the comments below.
Today I am grateful for all the fun my dogs and I have with retrieve games in all we do together.
I have a unique situation. I am have spinal cord impingement in my cervical spine so playing tug is not an option for me. Is there another way to make it fun for them besides tug?I also have Rhodesian Ridgebacks which are mobility support partners. My older dog is great about picking anything up off the floor and handing it to me but she isn’t interested in playing retrieve outside. she does have a great Halt and a good recall. My younger dog will retrieve in the house but finds it much more fun to run with the object outside instead of bringing it back to me. He also chews on anything that goes in his mouth. He is 18 months. He needs more work on his recall and I’d like to play tug because he would love this but it’s not an option.
My poor, shy recent rescue dog (~3yo? BC mix) won’t pick up a toy. He’s already crate trained and potty trained and is slowly coming out of his shell, but just will not pick up a toy- not a soft toy, not a ball, not a rope, not a treat ball. I’m trying to be moderately upbeat (he runs away when things get too loud or excited). We’re doing collar grabs and IYC and he does great.
Outside, my Ridgeback won’t retrieve more than 2-3 times. Gets bored. Never liked it much. Inside he does it more for the treats. Never looked very enthusiastic About it. I feel that differences in dog breeds are perhaps not discussed enough.
My girl 7 months ..gets overexcited with tug games growling and trying to nip …doesn’t bring toy back or if she does won’t let go of toy …so I was alternating between 2 identical toys .throw one when she does come back get her interested in the other one , throw it then I pick up first one ! I’m going to try the strategies in the video ..how do I sort the overexcitable behaviour with the tugging ..?
Can you reach the retrieve to a 17 month old dog. Adopted a lab mix last January. He was a stray.
Unfortunately, Cooper doesn’t seem to have a retrieve gene at all. He will chase the toy but one he gets to it, he ignores it! Really need this dig to retrieve so that we can add more things to our list of things to do together!!
I have tried this game but when I release this toy she just runs off with it to her bed snd plays and chews it. She is only 9 weeks old cocker spaniel . Should I just keep starting the game again in the hope that she might chase me once I let fox it’s hard to move onto the next stage when she just runs off with it
Susan Garrett addresses this in homeschool the dog. She talks about being really mindful about the toy chosen. We don’t want it to be a toy that the puppy can find rewarding all by themselves. We also want to do it and an environment with limited choices. So you might want to move your training to a walk-in closet or a bathroom. Basically anywhere that you can control the environment but not the dog.
Your puppy is really young so you’ll probably want to keep introducing this once a week until you’re happy with where it’s going.
Hope to see you on the Facebook group.
I am so glad that you reposted this. I have been trying to get my dog Bessie to retrieve it for the longest time. She used to retrieve, then just stopped. After viewing this video we tried a session with me run away and it worked like a charm. I feel silly, for not making the connection myself.
My puppy is great at retrieving in the house but as soon as we go to a field shes more interested in smelling the grass she goes to chase the toy if i throw it for her but she will then run straight past it and sniff the grass
I will be doing this tonight. My boy, 2 years old, picks up his toy and runs around in circles around me.
I have a male four month English Cream Golden Retriever who is very chill and relaxed. I play with him and try to get him to retrieve but he lays there and then puts his head down to relax. What do I do to get him more engaged? Treats don’t work and me frantically running around the yard to engage him only gets frustrating? I have even tried 5 minute increments for a total of four to five times a day.
Just wondering if you have gotten any success yet? I found that when my Dobe doesn’t seem to want to play, if I do the Smoke ’em game, where you push the shoulder or the dog’s body, then run away, almost like you’re saying, Race ya home! He’s more inclined to participate. See the 20 games podcast, I believe it is game #5.
Great video – like all your videos! Thank you for such a wonderful resource.
My question relates not necessarily to the retrieve, but even before that. We adopted a 3 year old Crested who really doesn’t play. How does one teach a dog to enjoy play? He’ll work for treats but I’d like him to learn to play so we can enjoy that together. Thanks for any input you can give.
I am working on this with a 2yo, who learned toy play was with other dogs, not me. It has been a challenge to create toy drive but we do it now in small spaces, with the other dogs put away, or on leash in bigger places. We are making progress!
What do you do if your puppy chooses not to come back with the toy and continues to go off on his own? How should I address this?
What do you do if your dog isn’t interested in playing tug? If I tug my dogs just give up the toy to me.
Let them win! Keep it simple and let the win. Give a reward! A happy yes! Treat, etc.. Don’t get to tuff with then. Then let you win and treat for giving toy the tug toy.
Excellent post I want to thank for reading this informative; I really appreciate sharing this great post. Continue your work. Thanks for sharing.
How do you get this to work if your dog has guarding issues with his toys? (Not food) he is a rescue
Thx Susan this really helped! I could not figure out how to teach Westie Kalani how to retrieve!! Now I have clarity!
its very effective and informative site for puppy learning
Great reminders! Made me go back and update my motivational retrieve handout for my own students. I love being reminded of the many tiny steps we do all the time, the ones that our new students don’t always get to see right away. Definitely passing along with a Share!
To me, this presupposes some background training.
Where can you start with a complete, green dog (and trainer!)?
As Susan said in the beginning, she had already taught “crate games” to her pup. That is a great foundation.
I’ve been working with 4 German Shepherd littermates. I began at 4 1/2 weeks using tiny hotdog treats. Each one quickly learned to notice and hobble to me quickly. Next, I stood further back for distance so they looked for me. I taught a sit during this which quickly became the come and sit habit. Next came
Watch Me which simply began watching my hand move sideways and following my hand. Then came the “look back at me” which came quickly . It has been soooo impressive!
Now it’s time for something else as they are about 6 weeks old.
What do you suggest? Stay? or Fetch?
And what age to introduce the clicker?
Thanks for suggestions!!
We start clicking our pups as soon as their ears open, associating it with the delivery of yummy licks of goat milk off our fingers, new toys in the whelping box and snuggles when welcomed (not so much when Mom is feeding! LOL).
As they interact with the environment more, we start capturing and luring for simple moves like climbing over a toy, moving toward us etc., plus all the cool ways we can enrich the box environment.
Do stay AND grab the toy. We have usually done most skills at separate times at first – I sigh sometimes when new students have done so many sits & downs together in every training session at home that their dogs have blurred the two tricks together in their minds.
Sue’s demo of holding the sit is a much more efficiently-timed way for them to learn that one or more tricks may precede the one they most want to do right now.
Life rewards are a big part of getting what you and the dog both want!
What a brilliant, helpful video. I played tug and retrieve with my puppy today and now she wants to play all the time. Thank you so much for all your helpful training tips. We are working through crate games now and making so much progress.
Thank you for a great video. I have a 4 month old puppy who needs this training right now. His natural behavior is what I call “the grab & run”. I knew I shouldn’t chase him, but this video makes it clear exactly what I should be doing. I love the way you break this down into short, easy steps to lead to a finished product that is exactly what I want my puppy to do.
I am in the process of training for Excellent Rally. I have a 7 year old Chihuahua that has never played with toys, and is not at all interested in retrieving. I also have a 2 1/2 year old Chihuahua that will play with me, but not retrieve. Help!! Diane
Great video! But how about a dog who prefers to stay put and chew on the toy instead of chase? As that is his biggest reward.
Loved the video. I have just got my pup and have started the retrieve games. Best thing I have learned is to make sure one step is fully understood before I go to the next. My enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of me!
Thank you for putting this together! Being able to to teach a good fetch has improved the relationship between so many of my dog training clients and their dogs. You’re the best!
Great reminder of teaching a puppy to retrieve. I have a dog due to have puppies in a couple of weeks. I’m raising them with Puppy Culture Program. Within the program I plan on introducing Crate Games and also Puppy Retrieves in one on one sessions with the puppies. Hopefully it all goes to plan and I will post video clips of the puppies. The mum of puppies was taught to retrieve with games as a baby along with her siblings. She has an awesome retrieve and recall.