Training a Dog to Retrieve

I learned this following retrieve technique from Francis Metcalf of Friends of the Family Dog Training, Circus Class. The video is time compressed showing the four steps I used in teaching the retrieve to my Beagle, Audrey:


Every dog will be different in how long it takes to achieve what is shown in the video. It took me about 3 weeks working 10 to 15 minutes a day.

If you are proficient with a clicker then use it to mark the behaviors you want. I personally just use a “Yes” or “Good Dog” as a marker.

Step One: I use a playing card to start the training. I bend the card in half or a third. The first step is to get the dog to touch the card with it’s nose or mouth. When the dog is touching the card consistently then I hold off rewarding the dog until he puts his mouth on it. As the dog touches the card and receives no treat he will attempt to move the card with his mouth and will start to bite it. When he bites the card reward big time. Once he starts to bite the card consistently then I move to Step Two.

Step Two: I drop the card right in front of the dog and start rewarding any touching of the card with his mouth. Once the dog is doing this then I start being more selective with the behaviors to reward, such as biting, picking up, picking up and placing it in my hand or on a place.

This step takes the most patience and time. Be sure to reward every close step and approximation to the behavior you want. Keep asking for more but slowly. When the dog is consistently picking up the card then move to the next step.

Step Three: Retrieving the card. Start throwing the card further and further away from the dog and rewarding the dog for bringing it back to your hand or to a spot like a place. In the video I use my brief case for a place. When the dog can do this reliably then you can go to Step Four.

Step Four: Introducing new objects. This is the part that really becomes fun. Even though the dog has been retrieving the card he may not immediately get the idea that the new object is to be retrieved. Offer all the help you can at this stage, even backing up a bit by rewarding lesser behaviors like just touching the object. After introducing several different objects you will see that the dog is starting to get the concept of retrieve very quickly.

In the video I introduce my key chain. I had to add a leather tab because Audrey would not pick up the metal keys. Most dogs are not going to like picking up metal so adding something that will help them is appropriate. I will continue to work on this so that she will eventually pick up the keys without the tab.

I Hope this helps you achieve a retrieve with your dog. It’s a lot of fun and can provide hours of entertainment for both you and your dog, especially on the days that it is too hot to go outside and train.

Happy retrieving!

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