This isn’t an old concept although the person writing this is. Old, that is. Finally I can say I have a bag of tricks to pull from when I have a dog-training problem. I’m finding a lot of the old training methods are still valuable. One that I remember is to mix Bill Koehler’s schedule of teaching the dog to retrieve with watching television. No, you don’t need to buy a fancy DVD player, a simple 60-minute sitcom will do. You don’t even need to watch the program, just be aware of when the commercials start.
You’ll need a dog, a dumbbell and treats. This method assumes you have taught your puppy retrieve games so he knows the words, “Take it or Fetch”, “Out” and “Hold”. Before you groan and sit back in the chair and release the dog, don’t despair. This method will still get you started. The key word here is REPETITION. If you do something 3 times per day, with 6 repetitions each time, that is 18 times per day. Multiply that by 7 days and you have a dog that has a grasp of the early concept of retrieving.
Now, put a buckle collar on your dog. Sorry, no prong collars or choke chains will do as this is supposed to encourage the dog to view the retrieving basics as fun. Get on the floor with the dog. Get the dog off your lap. Stop him from licking your face and trying to steal the treat from your hand. See, isn’t this fun?
Have the dog sit in front of you. Put the index finger of your left hand under the dog’s collar with the palm of your hand facing you. With your left thumb slide it in the dog’s mouth and find the spot in the back of the dog’s mouth behind the molars. If this were a horse this would be where the “bit” goes. Do this; a couple of times so you can quickly find the spot without the dog struggling. Immediately when the dog opens his mouth say, “Take it” (or “Fetch” or whatever word you want to use) and pop in a treat. Now, watch the sitcom until the next commercial. Repeat step one during the commercial. It is important that you hug and laugh with the dog in between repetitions during this process. There should be no pressure on the dog.
Here comes the second commercial. Now instead of putting a treat in the dog’s mouth you are going to slide the dumbbell in.
To repeat: you have the dog sit closely in front of you on the floor. Put the index finger of your left hand under the dog’s flat collar with your palm facing you. Slide your left thumb into the “bit” space and when the dog’s mouth opens gently slide the dumbbell into his mouth with your right hand. Most dogs will go nuts or try to spit out the dumbbell the first time you do this. What I like about this method is that you are close to the dog and have a hold on the collar. With your left hand cup thumb and other three fingers under the dog’s chin. Gently. Stroke the dog’s head and left shoulder telling him “Good hold”. The dumbbell should not have an opportunity to rock as you control the dog’s chin with your left hand. Do not pinch the dog’s mouth over the dumbbell at any time. Remember, gentle hands.
To remove the dumbbell, in the early stages, put your left thumb back into the mouth and say “Out” and gently TAKE the dumbbell out of his mouth. It is important that you NOT rip it from him. Immediately give him a treat and tell him what a good dog he is. Now repeat this exercise for the rest of the week, 3x’s per day, 6 repetitions each time for a total of 18 times per day and 126 times per week. If you are gentle with the dog he won’t be afraid and won’t struggle.
The hold part of the retrieving exercise, in my opinion, is not emphasized enough in early retrieving training and it is quite common for beginners to want to get the dog retrieving off the floor right away. In the old days, dogs were penalized more heavily for mouthing. When it comes down to two top working dogs in the competition ring the one that doesn’t mouth the dumbbell is the one who wins the blue ribbon. Don’t skip this early week of training.