Dear Miss Behavior: How Can I Teach My Dog to Retrieve?

Dear Miss Behavior, We adopted a Labrador Retriever from rescue. He’s three-years-old and has great house manners. The only problem is he doesn’t retrieve! We toss a toy but he grabs it and runs off. Someone said try two toys and trade one toy for another, but he just hides the first toy and then runs and gets the second. We really love the idea of playing fetch in the back yard. How do we teach him how to retrieve?


Some dogs never learn the idea of playing fetch when they’re a puppy. They don’t realize the game lasts
much longer if you bring the toy back to the human.

It’s not difficult to train dogs to retrieve. They have the instinct to chase and pick up; They just need to be taught that giving the toy back is more important that hiding it.

Start with him on leash in the house and have handy a toy that doesn’t roll away too easily and a small dish of tasty treats. Offer him the toy and let him grab it out of your hand and then present him with a treat. Most likely he’ll drop the toy for the treat.

Pick up the toy and repeat several times. Then hand him the toy and say “Give” or “Drop”. If he drops the toy, tell him what a good dog he is and give him a treat. If he doesn’t drop it, put the food on his nose so he does drop it and go back to step one for a few more repetitions.

Once he’s giving up the toy on command, gently toss the toy away from you. Remember he’s on a leash so only toss it a foot or so.

Allow him to run out and get the toy, and call him back. Use the leash to gently guide him back to you if he won’t come willingly.

Again have him give you the toy and reward him. Keep practicing this way throwing the toy a little farther and eventually dropping the leash.

If at any time he starts to run away with the toy, grab the leash and gently guide him back to you. Make sure the treats are really tasty!

Once he’s doing very well inside. Move outside. Keep him on leash until he understands he needs to
bring the toy back and get a reward. Once he’s reliably bringing the toy back for a treat, begin only
rewarding every other toss, or every third toss.

Eventually you won’t have to reward him with a treat because the game will be his reward.

marcygraybillAfter Marcy adopted her first dog in 1988, she began to research about dog care. Research took the form of checking out books and videos to learn how to train Lady. Eventually, Marcy and her sister began taking their dogs to the dog run and taking formal dog classes. For about six years, Marcy volunteered for the Capital Humane Society, where she performed a variety of jobs, and took time to watch the dogs and learn about their behaviors. Currently, she’s an obedience instructor at GLOC. “I think the most important is to keep up to date on what’s going on in the field.  I try to read articles, blogs and  new books that come out, and watch any DVDs that are available.”


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