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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Lee

Teaching Your Dog a Retrieve & Hold

Updated: Apr 23, 2023

I get a lot of questions on Instagram about teaching a formal retrieve and the process I used. Nyx has a formal retrieve for hunting/bird work and Kane was my test run for teaching a retrieve, his is just a fun trick but was a great way to learn before doing it with a dog that actually needs it as a command. It's also a great party trick and fun for product photographs (see below haha)!


This method was largely developed by my trainer in Chicago, Canine Sports Dog Training, with a few tweaks over time from me. Prior to trying this method I had tried teaching Kane a hold with free shaping multiple times, none of which were successful. In the hunting dog world the retrieve is taught with, in my opinion, very outdated and unfair methods. I didn't like the approach taken by most hunting dog trainers and since I wanted to do all of Nyx's training myself I wanted to develop my own method that I felt comfortable using. I am very happy with the results this method has produced. It has been a slow process but I think it has been worth it because her formal retrieve is better than a lot of dogs I see. In addition, I have passed along this method to a few other people and they have also seen success. Whether you want to teach a formal retrieve or just a fun trick for photos, this method can be used for both.


Here are the steps I took, take your time and reach out with troubleshooting & questions! Each step has a link to videos for that step. Here is the folder with all the videos.


Step one is face and mouth handling. For this method your dog should be comfortable with you handling their face and mouth in a variety of ways.


Taking food slowly and calmly mimic taking the object. Ideally, the dog should wait until the food is at their mouth, then open their mouth, then take the food; a very methodical step. You will see both bad and good reps in the videos. The goal is for the dog to not move their head and wait for the delivery of the food to reach their mouth.


Introducing an object, I like a wooden dowel for this step. You are combining step one and two here. You want the dog to take the object very slowly and then use your face handling to keep them holding. Be careful not to progress this step too quickly. Start with rewarding for them just taking the object and then build duration very very gradually using your hands to guide them.


This is the step where I name the behavior and start generalizing it. I do not name the behavior until they are reliably taking the object AND holding it without your guidance. In this step start introducing new objects, using the same movements and command as with the initial object. Gradually increase the difficulty of the objects. I also start to challenge and strengthen the command by asking for obedience while they are holding the object.


The retrieve portion of the teaching. Once the hold portion is COMPLETELY SOLID, yes completely solid and a well-generalized behavior you can move onto the retrieve. Start by setting the object in a slightly different location, like holding next to your side or lower/higher, and ask for your command. Then progress to on the ground very close to you/the dog. Gradually increase the distance of the object from the dog. I also named this something different. So, my retrieve is 'fetch' and my hold is 'hold'. Hold means take the object from my hand and fetch means retrieve the object. I'm not perfect so sometimes I use them interchangeably with Nyx. After you have named it and are performing consistent retrieves you can generalize with a variety of objects. You can also add obedience for a final position, I use heel as the end point. As you progress the retrieve it is okay to add encouragement and reminders as they return to you, for example: you say fetch, they run to the object and grab it, but coming back they drop it a few times, go back to your hold command and remind them to hold as they return. At this point it is just practice and adding distance, duration and distractions :)


Feel free to message me with questions & concerns!




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