Training the Retrieve Part 1

Be a Good Mommy

I don’t know how he did it, but Jumpin’ Jack keeps getting better.  I’m going to say it: His poops even look great!  I’m not disappointed that he seems to be pretty much 100% on getting outside to go to the bathroom.  That’ll help any dog stay alive, for sure.

On that note, a brief comment on house training: vigilance.  Another note: The only time you get to yell at your dog for a “mistake” is when stuff is coming out of him.  That’s the only negative reinforcement you get—you are reinforcing his stopping by removing the negative of being screamed at.  Warning: your dog will next learn to not let you see him and wait until your back is turned for just a second, or he’ll meander behind something so you can’t see him.  You can’t trust a dog. I mean you can, but you know the saying, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.” That’s what vigilance is: catching him every single time.

Imagine needing to watch seven dogs!  I made the mistake of already having too many dogs (five!) and then compounded it by getting two puppies at the same time.  There is no longer any doubt that seven is too many dogs.  And this is coming from someone who loves dogs.

This realization of having too many dogs has been very present after a friend watched my group for less than 24 hours.  When I came to collect them, she was in a daze, saying, “No one should have seven dogs…..nothing happened, they were fine, they were great, but just letting them out….” She went on with trivial examples that I am intimately aware of.  Simply feeding them has become a Kaizen study in efficiency.  I arrange their bowls in a baking pan (my original attempt at lining them up in order failed due to too short of a counter-actually the counter is long enough, it’s simply too many food bowls), get a quart scoop of food, and then fill them to appropriate levels.  Pro tip:  Have the dogs in their kennels already or you’ll wind up with unbelievable chaos after the puppy knocks the pan of food out of your hands.

Yesterday, I found myself with only two dogs for much of the day and I realized how much easier it is to train a smaller number of dogs. Sure, I just got done marginalizing my friend’s comment about my having too many dogs, but I’m a dummy. I have too many dogs! I am reminded of back when I had only Chickendog to train. I keep remembering her as a super-trainable dog but it’s more likely that she just got the benefit of my full attention. I certainly know more about training now; actually, that could simply be a further barrier. The best way to train is…..ready? Playtime! And that’s what got Chickendog started on her illustrious career…simply playing with the frisbee to burn off energy.

Playing is at the heart of free shaping, but the playing easily gets pummeled by the rules if you’re not careful. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve started taking Moose and Mouse out front to play fetch by themselves-I started with them individually and I’ve quickly gotten to the point I can train them this way together.  A year ago they were too scared to go out the front door.  The big world was just too scary. If I forced them out the door they would just sit and quake on the porch, leaning back on the door to try to open it.  They simply couldn’t be coerced into leaving the porch, even for a piece of steak. There were many times Moose would literally lose her sphincter control. It’s good for me to remember this as I work through getting improved retrieves.  There’s a whole process I’ve been working out for getting a retrieve and if Mouse (he was way more reluctant than Moose) can learn it, I am confident that just about any dog can.  Moose and Mouse are way down on the scale of natural retrievers.

To teach a retrieve totally from scratch you want to train all of the separate steps individually.  First there’s the completed hand off, the last step in the completed retrieve. This is a bit counter intuitive. It’s natural to get dogs to chase things.  I mean that’s what they love the most, right? Right! But remember, you are training them so it behooves you to make it as boring and horrible an experience as possible.  Just kidding.

Yes, the chase is the most enjoyable thing for the dog.  It’s what I love seeing a dog doing but the retrieve will give the added bonus of awesome amounts of exercise in a fairly confined space in a short period of time.  There’s an exponential bonus as well. This bonus is why I’ve worked so hard on this one thing Moose and Mouse started off with no interest in. The retrieve can be made into a reinforcer better than any treat. When I see someone with a naturally enthusiastic retriever?  I seethe with jealousy.

Yes, I’d love a natural retriever, but these are the dogs I’ve wound up with and there’s a reason. Whatever… Ha ha…the thought that the universe provides reason: Ha ha ha; but I might as well go along with the joke-I’d rather laugh along than, well, who knows what that universe would do…..I’ll admit this at least: I am happy that Moose and Mouse came along to create a situation where I can never use force or any physical “correction.”  These dogs simply shut down under any stress they aren’t used to. It has been a really life-changing journey to explore and use positive reinforcement-it changes the way I see all interactions.

Anyway, back to training a retrieve….The reason you want to work on that last step first is that you want there to be such a natural tendency for the dog to hand you the object that he naturally brings it back to you.

Then you play tug of war and let the dog win most of the time. Old methods would adamantly insist that you win every time.

 WRONG!!!! Think about it as if you’re a three year old.  You have a toy and your mommy is playing with you and you’re having the most fun you can ever imagine; and then she just yanks it away! Then she teases you with it, lets you touch it but not grab it, lets you have it again, gets you engaged until you’re happily playing with exuberance again;  and then she just yanks it away.  Let’s say that happens a hundred times….What do you learn? I suggest you’d learn that your mommy takes your toys away.  What kind of mommy is that?

Be a fun mommy! Let your dog win every time, at least at first.  And don’t make it too hard. Let him tease you with the toy, grab hold of it and let it slip from your grasp, and then ejaculate in exasperation! He’ll love the happy, fun energy!

Here’s the thing: If you pretend to be exasperated in fun now, it’ll keep you from being exasperated in reality later.

Speaking of later, Later Gator.