Go Fetch! Finding and Retrieving Tricks

Love Dog

In This Chapter

  • Encouraging your dog to find certain objects
  • Teaching your dog the basics of fetching
  • Getting your dog to carry
  • Having your dog bring you a tissue or a drink

Having a dog who’ll retrieve in your home has many perks: the fun of fetch, a helper to carry in the groceries, a drink delivered to you. Few things in life are more astounding. On the other hand, nothing may be more frustrating than the retriever turned inside out — the comic fellow who runs away from you or brings things back to you but taunts you with them just out of reach.

In reality, there isn’t too much distance between the cooperative retriever and the ham. Both are thinking of their owner when they have something in their mouth. The Good Retriever has been taught to share. Mister Comedian has been taught that treasures are best kept to oneself. Of course, not everybody loves a comedian.

The tricks in this chapter go from the basic fetch to more complex variations on the theme — not to worry though, because if you’re game, I’ll walk you through each step. For some of the tricks, like picking up the trash and fetching the laundry, your dog should know the touch and target exercises I cover in Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically. These exercises and commands make it easier for your dog to understand your directions, especially when you’re working on sequence tricks. Clickers are also useful and can really help your dog put it all together. Check out Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically for more on clickers and target training.

Fetching: It’s a gene thing

The impulse to retrieve is natural for some dogs, while others don’t show much interest in fetching. Most of the sporting breeds instinctively like to carry objects and can easily be taught to share. Dogs who were bred to work with their humans take well to the lessons if taught with patience and positive reinforcement. If you’re sitting across from a dog who won’t fetch your ball, don’t feel bad. Some dogs were called for other wonders. In truth, while I could have used unnatural or harsh methods to train my husky-mix Kyia to retrieve, I chose not to. In her lifetime, I’ve never forced Kyia to do anything that didn’t agree with her natural instincts.
Of course every rule has its exceptions: There are huskies who would put most retrievers to shame and retrievers who won’t give the ball back to you. Many have elevated the game of “Keep Away” to an art. If this type of dog is your pal, there’s hope. To teach a full retrieve — go out, bring it back, and give it up — each of the steps must be taught individually before they’re brought together.

Snoop Doggy Dog: Training a Canine Detective

Calling all dogs! Your dog doesn’t need to be a miraculous retriever or double-jointed to succeed in Doggy Detective School. The only prerequisites are a curious nose and an enthusiastic heart. Believe it or not, by the end of this section, your dog (of any size, shape, or color) will be helping you locate your mislaid keys, the missing TV remote, and anything else you choose to designate. Don’t think it’s possible? Read on!
Although your dog won’t be able to find you a refund on your taxes, he can learn to find just about anything you can lose. Dogs are capable of associating plenty of objects and words. Just follow the basic framework for the tricks in this section, and initially rely on treats to reinforce his success. Other everyday things you may want to teach your dog to scout out include your slippers, the cat (you know the cat is going to love this one!), your other mitten — even your wayward children! You can have your private eye retrieve the object once he has found it, as I explain in the upcoming section “Fun Fetching Tricks.” Praise the “Find,” and then encourage “Bring.”
If he can’t actually “retrieve” what you send him off to find (like the cat or the kids), encourage him to find a way to let you know, such as barking (see Chapter Minding Manners and Trying Out Some Tricks) or standing near them.

The basics: “Sniff” and “Find”

To train a good detective, you must start with the basics: “Sniff” and “Find.” What better way to get that sniffer going than with some tasty treats? I’ve divided this foundational skill into three, easy-to-master stages. Make sure your dog feels confident and successful at every stage.

Stage 1

1. Gather some good-smelling treats, go to a large room or hallway, and place your dog in a “Sit–Stay” on-leash.
2. Say “Sniff” as you hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose.

Discourage any taste-testing with “Ep, ep.”

3. Remind “Stay,” and toss the treat no more than 3 feet in front of you. If your dog moves, snap the leash and remind “Stay.”
4. Release with “Okay, find.”

Praise your dog for locating and gobbling the treat.

5. Gradually extend your toss to not more than 10 feet.

Once your dog perfects this part of the trick, move on to the next stage.

Always vary the amount of time you pause before releasing your dog so that he won’t jump the gun. Pause 3, 10, 14, or 20 seconds — mix it up. The pauses encourage your dog to concentrate on your commands.

Stage 2

1. Command “Sniff” and “Stay” as before, but leave your dog’s side and place the treat inches in front of him.
2. Return to your dog’s side, pause, and release him with “Okay– Find.”
3. Gradually extend your distance to not more than 15 feet.

At this point, your dog may lose sight of the treat and have to rely on his sniffer to find it.

Unlike humans, dogs have better peripheral vision than they do distance vision. That’s why when you see something in front of you, your dog may not.

Stage 3

Now you’re ready to put your four-footed detective to the test:
1. Place your dog on a “Stay” about 4 feet from the entrance to the room.
2. Instruct “Sniff,” remind “Stay,” and place your treat out of sight around the corner.

3. Return to your dog, pause, and then send him off with “Okay– Find.”

Cheer him on if he seems confused. You may have to get on all fours yourself and sniff around, though you should praise him enthusiastically regardless of how he locates the treat.

Once your dog has the idea and is racing to put his nose to work, you can progressively hide the treat in more challenging places. And who’s to say that you have to hide just one?
This game was my dog Kyia’s favorite one to play. I used vegetables, hiding four or five while I was making a salad, just to keep her busy.

Finding toys

Now you can progress to something just as fun but a little less tasty: toys. For this trick, you need a clicker if you use one, some good treats, and two distinctly different toys. I use a ball and a little stuffed cow toy in this example, but you can use whatever toys your dog loves.
Place the cow in the center of a room and remove all other toys. The instant your dog approaches the cow, say “Find–Cow” and then click/praise and reward. Suddenly the cow will have great value . . . treat value, that is. Once your dog shows interest in the cow reliably, ignore simple interest, only clicking/rewarding mouthing or carrying the cow.
Also say “Find your cow” every time your dog picks up the toy on his own. Praise him enthusiastically.
Once your dog is associating a word with a toy, practice this:
1. Hold the toy in front of your dog, clicker in the other hand and treats lined up on a nearby table.
2. Say “Find your cow” as you hold the toy in front of your dog. When he reaches for it, click, treat, and praise.
3. Repeat a few times, then tell your dog to “Stay” as you place the cow a few feet in front of him. Repeat “Find your cow” as you point to it. Click and reward any contact.
4. Continue to move the cow farther from him and progress to hiding it out of sight.
That was the easy part. Now the trick gets a bit more difficult:
1. With your dog in a “Sit–Stay,” place the cow and another toy (a ball) in front of him, about 3 feet apart.
2. Command “Find your cow.”

If your dog picks the ball, don’t correct him or sound disappointed. Calmly take the toy, replace it, show your dog the cow, and say “Cow.”

3. When he makes contact with the cow, click/praise and reward — make a big fuss. What a genius!
4. Practice Steps 1–3 a few times at each session, sometimes sending the dog for the ball and sometimes for the cow.

Don’t alternate the toys; that’s too easy and your dog will quickly catch on. Progressively place the toys farther away.

Although I encourage you to use treats initially to motivate your dog, you’ll be able to phase them out as soon as your dog gets a mental image of what you’re expecting.
When your dog has mastered the art of association, you’re ready to test his brain some more. Place one toy 3 feet from you, and the other 10 feet away. Send your dog for the closer one at first, and then send him for the one farther away. Switch the toys’ locations and vary which one you send him to.
At this point, you can apply the dog’s discrimination abilities to other objects, such as car keys and the remote control (see the next two sections). You can also help your dog identify other toys or bones; just follow the same routine!

Finding the keys

How much time do you spend around your house looking for your keys? Wouldn’t it be great if you could just send your little genius detective after them? Here’s how:
Place your keys in a small room, like a bathroom. Click/praise and reward movement toward the keys. Progressively reward greater interaction with the keys. Once your dog identifies the keys reliably, add the word “Key” as he interacts with or carries them. Onward!
1. Line up some treats, grab the house and/or car keys, and round up the clicker if you use one.
2. Place your dog in a “Sit–Stay” position, and let him sniff the keys as you say “Sniff.”

3. Toss the keys a few feet out and release your dog. If he goes for the keys, click/praise and reward. If not, ignore your dog and do more work in the bathroom.
4. Once your dog reliably goes to the keys, instruct “Find the keys.”
5. Progressively extend the distance at which you place the keys in front of you. Leave your dog with a “Stay” command, walk out and place the keys, walk back, and release your dog from your side.
6. Once your dog really understands Step 5, you can start to hide the keys in another room.

When you hide the keys, place them in plain sight and follow your dog while he searches. Reinforce with a click and/or a treat the second he locates them.

Warning!

When practicing this trick get a bulky key chain — something your dog can sink his teeth into and grasp easily. You definitely don’t want your overly enthusiastic dog swallowing your car key by accident!

Locating the remote

“Where’s the remote?” is, perhaps, the most often-asked question in U.S. households — and your doggy detective always knows the answer!
To do this trick, your dog should know “Sniff” and “Find” (see the earlier section “The basics: ‘Sniff’ and ‘Find’”). Line up the treats and your clicker, and follow these steps:
Place the remote in the center of a small, uncluttered room, such as a bathroom. Click/praise and reward any interest. Progressively click greater interactions, saying “Remote” once your dog interacts with the remote reliably. Now progress to the next phase of training:
1. Let your dog have a good sniff of the remote.

Enhance the smell of the remote control with something memorable, such as baby powder. Though you can phase off the powder after your dog has learned to find the remote, the scent will linger on it for many months. By then your remote won’t need an auxiliary scent — it will smell like your dog!

2. Leave the dog in a “Stay” and place the remote a few feet away.
3. Release your dog with “Find the remote,” and reinforce any contact.

Continue to increase the distance, then begin to hide it in the usual lost-remote locations.

Fun Fetching Tricks

Before sending your dog out to fetch the paper or retrieve a tissue, you need to teach him exactly how to retrieve things. Believe it or not, dogs aren’t born knowing how to do this — no matter how clever they are!
Retrieving has three tricks built into it — following and grabbing the object, returning with it, and last but not least — giving it up. Teaching each step separately ensures success and fun every step of the way!

Warning!

Avoid overdoing it! If you toss objects all day, saying “Bring, Bring, Bring,” your dog may avoid you, saying “No, No, No!” Each “Bring” lesson should be no more than three to five minutes. And no more than four lessons a day! I tell my clients less is more. If your lessons are upbeat, the dog will retain the behavior much better than if they’re long and frustrating.

Mastering the basic fetching sequence

Though a well-trained retriever looks like he was born with a tennis ball in his mouth, fetching is a little more complicated than it appears. The toughest trick is teaching your dog to release the object happily: the human equivalent of sharing. The best approach in my opinion? Break this one into three, easy-to-master parts before stringing them all together in the final stage.

Stage 1: “Go get it!”

Here’s where you can instill a love of fetching in your dog. Simple to master, all your dog must do to earn praise, rewards, and your attention is to chase after toys. That’s it!
1. Toss a favorite toy.

Tip

If your dog doesn’t chase it, go after it yourself: dogs, like kids, learn by example.

2. The moment your dog starts chasing the toy, cheer him on: “Good boy!”

If your praise distracts him, wait until he’s reached his toy.

3. As he plays with his toy, approach him with a treat and reward, and praise him.
4. As your dog catches on, command “Go get it!” as he chases after the thrown object.

Remember

All your dog has to do is to follow and grasp his toy: nothing else.

Stage 2: “Bring”

Anything a dog puts in his mouth is special, at least to him. So the first step in teaching your dog to retrieve is to get him psyched to show you his “treasure.” All your dog must do for this step is come back with his prize.

Remember

The focus here is on the “Bring,” not the “Give.”

Here’s what to do:
1. Pocket some treats or another favorite toy.

If your dog is too treat-focused and won’t leave your side if there’s a treat on the scene, leave food rewards and clickers out of the picture. In this case, your overwhelming enthusiasm will be your dog’s just reward.

2. Gently toss a toy a few feet away from you, saying “Go get it!”
3. Each time your dog brings the toy back, shower him with praise, but don’t take the toy away. Click and/or reward him with food if it doesn’t overshadow the toy; or bring out another toy to excite him to drop the one he brought back.

Tip

If your dog ignores you when he gets the toy, try running away from him after he has picked it up, with a different toy in hand. If he still won’t bring it back, pretend to eat some of his treat.

Tip

If your dog is a comedian and prefers playing “Keep Away,” go into a small room, like a bathroom, so his freedom to run off is restricted and you can teach him the fun of the new retrieving game. Toss the toy. The second your dog picks it up, start praising/treating. Continue this game until your dog’s perspective shifts.

4. As your dog catches on and trots back to you happily, say “Bring.”
5. Toss a different toy and repeat Steps 3 and 4.

After your dog is bringing his toy to you on the “Bring” command, you’re ready for the “Give” command. 

Stage 3: “Give”

Parting is such sweet sorrow. Relinquishing an object is the trickiest part of the retrieve, especially if you’ve chased your dog for things in the past. Remember, when you chase a dog for an object, you’re communicating “prize envy” — that whatever the dog has must have value because you want it back. Be patient. Follow the steps and be smart enough not to lose your temper if your dog tries to outsmart you. A graceful retreat is not a failure.

Tip

Start young! Fill and place cups of treats around your home (see Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically). When your pup/dog is chewing or playing with his toys, shake the cup and say “Give” as he spits it out. Treat him, pet him on the head, and leave — without touching his toy. By connecting the command “Give” to the act of releasing, you get two helpful results: Your dog relaxes when people approach him, and he has a more comfortable association with the “Give” command.

Remember

Never chase your dog to get him to give up an object. Instead, teach the “Give” command and be patient! Follow these steps:

1. Pull up a chair and line up some treats plus your dog’s favorite toy.
2. Call your dog over, show him the toy, and praise him when he takes it.
3. Wave the treat in front of your dog and say “Give” as he spits out the toy. (The treat should induce him to drop the toy.)
4. Praise and reward your dog the second he releases the toy.
5. Now go to a hallway or an enclosed space. Toss the toy a short distance, saying “Go get it.”
6. Praise your dog the moment he picks it up, and then kneel down and say “Give” as you reward the release.

To signal “Give,” hold your open palm in front of your dog’s mouth.

Remember

Some dogs are so food-obsessed that they can’t think of anything else. If you’re having a rough time getting your dog’s attention with treats around, you need to teach him without treats. Simply replace Step 3 with an extra helping of praise, or use two toys and exchange one for the other.

You may notice that your dog releases the ball as you approach or tosses it on the ground near you. Although this is acceptable when starting out, you eventually need to be more selective with your rewards.

Remember

Deliveries are to be made mouth-to-hand. Here’s how to shape this behavior:

1. Go back to your chair. Hold your dog on-leash if he moves away.
2. Now give your dog the toy, praise him for having it, and then say “Give” as you extend your hand under your dog’s mouth.

If your dog drops it on the ground, ignore him, pick up the toy, and prompt him again, this time angling your hand and bracing his body with the leash. Enthusiastically praise and reward the instant the toy drops into your hand.

3. Click/reward the moment the toy drops into your hand.

Tip

Do you have a clencher — a dog who just won’t relax those jaws? For this guy, carry treats in your pockets and reward him every time he chooses to release a bone or toy. Also use treat cups to approach the dog while he plays, and lay the treats in front of him whether he has released the object or not. In all likelihood, he feels threatened by your approach — treating him will help shape a more cheerful association.

Warning!

If your dog becomes aggressive, stop immediately and call a professional — you’ve got a spatial aggression problem.

Stage 4: All together now

After your dog learns that when you say “Bring,” you want the object you point to and when you say “Give,” you’re looking for a hand delivery, then you’re ready to help him connect the two talents.
1. Go to a hallway or small room, like the bathroom.
2. Give the toy a short toss and instruct “Go get it!”
3. Say “Bring” and cheer your dog back to you when he grabs the toy.
4. Extend your hand to retrieve the object, and say “Give.”
5. When he releases the toy, reward him with praise and/or treats for a job well done!
6. Repeat Steps 2 through 5 twice, and then stop.

Tip

If your dog gets so excited that he can’t hold onto the toy, you might be rushing it. Try teaching the last step first: praising your dog for releasing the toy. This should help him feel clever and calm down. Encourage him to “Hold it” by picking up the toy and playing “Keep Away”: when he grabs it, he’ll be more eager to “Hold it.” Last but not least, you can work on “Go get it.”

Getting the paper

Once you’ve taught your dog a cheerful retrieve, he’ll be happy to apply these skills to improve your life together. So happy, in fact, that as you’re staying inside, cozy in your pajamas while your best furry friend happily braves the morning cold to fetch your paper, you may want to be careful what you wish for! A dog who’s trained to fetch the paper won’t discriminate. You may end up with 20 newspapers on your stoop and 20 angry neighbors!
Here’s how to get your dog to do your bidding:
1. Fold a section of your newspaper over and tape it securely.
2. Tempt your dog with it, praising any interest.
3. When your dog lights up at the sight of the paper, begin to blend a known command with a new one, “Paper–Go get it,” and let the dog take it in his mouth.
4. If your newspaper comes in a plastic bag, place the folded (and worn) paper in its plastic bag and repeat Steps 1–3.

Now you can take your show outside. The next morning, have a big treat waiting inside, and then take your dog outside with you on-leash. When you come across the paper (which should be similar to the one you’ve been practicing with indoors), act surprised and point to it, saying “Go get it–Fetch the paper.” When your dog seizes the opportunity, command “Hold” and trot back to the house. Reward him with the treat and enthusiastic praise.

Warning!

Concerned your dog will gather all the papers in the neighborhood? He may if you leave him outside all day! If you notice your dog racing off toward the neighbor’s drive, put him on a long line and discourage him with a quick tug and “Nope!” (see Chapter Encouraging Self-Control before You Launch into Lessons).

When your dog carries the paper back for you, you’re ready to start sending him from the door:
1. Initially, walk within 3 feet of the paper and say “Fetch the paper.”
2. If your dog looks confused, run forward, shake the paper playfully, run back, and repeat the command.
3. Progressively increase your distance from the paper.
Each time your dog returns the paper to you, make a big fuss!
Whether sending your dog out to get the paper or signaling him to deliver a message (as in “Fetching a fax: A four-footed delivery option,” coming up), send him off with a happy point in the direction you want him to go!

Fetching whatever you need

Whatever your life pattern, involve your dog whenever you can! Personally, my family is in the midst of raising young kids, so “Fetch the diaper” was a no-brainer. The fact that my dog (like yours) actually enjoys helping out is like icing on the cake.
1. First, introduce your dog to the household object you want him to retrieve.
2. Practice the steps in the earlier section “Mastering the basic fetching sequence,” substituting the new object for the toy.

• Toss the object, say “Go get it,” and praise any interest.

• Encourage your dog to mouth it, and don’t take it away immediately.

• Teach “Give” separately once he’s willing to hold it; then unite the steps as you did in Stage 4 of the “Mastering the basic fetching sequence” section.

3. Now place the object in its normal location. If your dog must stand up to reach it, review “Up, up” in Chapter Jumping and Dancing for Joy and practice that step separately.
4. Send your dog to get the object from a distance of no more than 3 feet.

5. Gradually extend your distance until you’re able to send your dog from another room.

Remember

Always reward and praise a proper delivery . . . it can’t get much better than this!

Fetching a fax: A four-footed delivery option

My big brother, John, showed me the “Four-Footed Fax” trick when I was but a pup myself. He and his wife had an English Springer Spaniel named Chelsea who would deliver notes to anyone in the house. You’d just write out the note, fold it up, tell Chelsea who it was meant for, and off she’d go, note in mouth.
This trick is actually a more advanced version of “Hide and Seek” (see Chapter Minding Manners and Trying Out Some Tricks for details on that trick). To teach your dog to give the FedEx courier a run for his money, just follow these steps:
1. Play “Hide and Seek” with two or more people in your house. Equip everyone with a treat cup.

When first playing “Hide and Seek,” have everyone in visual range. Slowly start to spread out until everyone is hiding in different areas of the house.

2. Tell your dog to “Go find Mom” and have Mom call out.

When the dog gets to Mom, have her give the dog a treat (or simply praise if treats are overwhelming).

3. Next, tell him to find another family member, for example, “Go find Lindsay,” and have that person give a yell.
4. Repeat the routine with different family members’ names, changing the hiding places from time to time to keep the game fresh and fun.

Once your dog learns who everyone is, you can phase out the yell from the person being found. Soon your dog will know everyone by name!

Now for the delivery! Start with one delivery, ending on a successful note. Within sight of your intended recipient, place a note in the dog’s mouth and send him off: for example, say, “Go find Frank!” Upon delivery, the recipient must instruct “Give,” and then praise plentifully!
Once your dog will deliver a note, you can develop this trick in three ways:
  • Increase the distance of the retrieve.
  • Introduce different family members and friends.
  • Vary the objects delivered: socks, sodas, a soup spoon!

Carrying This and That

Every Sunday my daughter and I walk to the corner bakery for bagels with our dog, a Labrador Retriever named Whoopsie. On the way home, it’s a common spectacle to see Whoopsie trotting next to us carrying breakfast in a bright white bag.
Once your dog has learned the retrieving exercises in the previous sections of this chapter, you can teach him to carry things for you. Like fetch, it’s a three-part exercise, but these three go faster once you’ve mastered the retrieve. Once the basics are mastered, you can get your dog to help you carry just about anything.

Mastering the fine art of “Carry”

Like many of the other retrieving skills, “Carry” can and should be broken down and taught step by step. To carry anything, your dog will need to know to take it calmly and hold it in his mouth, and then, finally, to release it on command. If you’ve shaped the retrieve, this is an easy adaptation.

Stage 1: “Take it”

Put your dog on a leash and go to a quiet area to practice this trick. Choose an object that’s unfamiliar to your dog, like an empty paper lunch bag or a wooden dowel, and follow these steps:
1. Place the object in front of your dog’s mouth and say “Take it.”

If he seems unimpressed, you can try a variety of enticements to encourage him to open his mouth: jiggling the object around, using a treat, or tickling his whiskers below his nose. Remember, you attract more attention with antics than anger.

2. When your dog takes it, click/praise and reward him.

Be patient.

3. When your dog will take the object, gradually extend the distance he much reach out to grab it. At each distance, jiggle the toy and encourage him to “Take it,” then click/reward his efforts.

Practice holding it increasingly farther from you until you have it lying on the floor.

Remember what I just said about patience? This step alone may take 5–10 practice sessions.

Stage 2: “Hold it”

Your next goal is to teach your dog to hold the object. Follow these steps:
1. Present the object and scratch your dog’s chin, putting a little upward pressure on it to keep the object in place.

At first he’ll probably spit it out; ignore that and present the object again.

2. Command “Hold it–Stay” and pause for two to five seconds.

When your dog starts to roll the object in his mouth and chew, gently discourage him with “Nope.” If that doesn’t impress him, tug his collar gently, say “Nope–Stay,” and don’t reward him until he does. Keep your cool, however, or you’ll discourage your dog from ever retrieving for you again.

3. Next, command “Give,” and click/praise and reward.
4. Slowly progress until your dog holds the object for 30 seconds.

Don’t worry if the seasons change while you’re perfecting this exercise. I had a Collie who took almost six months to fully grasp “Hold it.”

Tip

To signal “Hold it,” point your finger close to his nose.

Stage 3: “Carry”

This part ties the loose ends together into a wonderful, helpful canine package. The real delight is how excited your dog is to get involved: It sure beats staring out the window all day!
1. Put a raw potato in a lunch sack.
2. Put your dog in a “Sit.”
3. Fold the top of the bag crisply, turn to your dog, and say “Take it–Hold it,” as you offer the bag.
4. When he grasps the bag, pause for two seconds, and then say “Give.” Praise him, click, and treat.
5. Next, ask your dog to “Hold it” again, and walk forward as you encourage your dog to follow you.
6. When he takes a step, say “Carry.” After a few steps, reward and praise your dog.
7. Repeat Steps 5 and 6 three times.

Tip

Keep these lessons short — 3–5 minutes — especially in the beginning. If you notice your dog getting antsy or clamping on the objects destructively whereas before he was cooperative, take a break. Practice these short sessions 2–4 times each day when time allows.

Once your dog knows where his leash is, teach him to retrieve his leash: “Get your leash.” Send him from no more than 3 feet, gradually increasing the distance until you’re able to direct him from another room.

Warning!

Never ask your dog to carry hazardous things like cleaning products, paints, or paint remover. If you wouldn’t ask a 5-year-old to handle something, don’t ask your dog! Also be mindful of size. Though a dog wouldn’t go out of his way to swallow a key, in the enthusiasm of the retrieve there might be an inadvertent gulp. Not good!

Advancing with Fetching Skills: Pulling Out Tissues and Raiding the Fridge

Has your dog mastered his finding, fetching, and carrying skills? More clever tricks await you. . . . While I’ve listed a couple cool tricks in this section, you’re sure to come up with a few favorites of your own to enhance and brighten up your everyday life! Be sure to share your favorites with me: E-mail me your version via www.whendogstalk.comor send it via snail-mail to When Dogs Talk, P.O. Box 802, Katonah, NY 10536, and attach a picture of your dog in action to boot!

Achoo! Getting a tissue

You have two options with the tissue trick, which basically involves fetching a tissue from the tissue box:

When you say “Tissue,” your dog runs and gets you one.

When you sneeze, your dog gets you a tissue.

Warning!

Although the second option is way more impressive, it might leave your dog in a state of career stress. After all, other people sneeze, too.

In either case, you need to piggyback the new command onto a more familiar one, such as “Tissue–Take it.”
For props, you need a box of tissues and a low table that your dog can reach without jumping aboard with all four. Also, go to your local discount store and get one of those fancy plastic tissue box containers, so the box will have some resistance when your dog fetches the tissue. (You can also weigh down a regular box.) Fasten the tissue box to the table with tape initially. And for the training phase, the tissues should be pulled out and lightly re-stuffed into the box.

Stage 1: Fetch me a tissue, please

The first part is a classic retrieve:
1. Kneel on the floor next to your tissue box. Entice your dog to take the tissue; when he is reliably taking it, pair the behavior with a command, like “Tissue!” If your aim is to have your dog fetch the tissue on an actual sneeze, follow your tissue command with a very theatrical sneeze.

Tip

Ruffle the top tissue as you sneeze, to pique your dog’s interest and to entice him to take the tissue.

2. Reward him for taking the tissue.

Now your dog has the tissue. Not much help if you need to wipe your nose! But you both know about retrieving.

3. When your dog takes tissues, encourage “Bring” and “Give.”
4. Reward your dog the instant he drops the tissue in your hand.

Stage 2: Retrieving off the table

The next phase of this trick is to teach your dog to put his front paws on the table. If the idea is abhorrent to you, place the tissues on the ground or on a low coffee table. Otherwise, pat the table and give the “Up” command (see Chapter Jumping and Dancing for Joy). Click and reward the instant your dog’s front paws hit the table. Be patient; just getting your dog to believe you’re inviting him to come up on the table may take awhile.
Make sure your dog understands that it’s front paws only on the table. You can discourage him from bringing the rest of his doggy self along with a gentle “Nope” or even a mild restraint at first.
Though I recommend using a low table, even that may not be low enough for a very small trickster. Use a low stool or chair, or even a pillow, to help your little dog reach the table. Place the stool between you and your dog, facing him. With treats in hand, command “Up” and pat the stool. If your dog jumps up with two paws, reward him immediately. Soon you can say “Up” and point without patting the chair. Then simply follow the preceding steps to teach him to put his paws on the table.

Stage 3: Putting the whole act together

Now to unify the acts . . . soon your dog will automatically fetch you a tissue each time you sneeze!
1. Sit down and place the tissue box between your knees.
2. Tell your dog “Get me a tissue,” or sneeze your most wonderful sneeze, and hold out the box.

3. Reward him the instant he grasps the tissue, the little genius!

Progressively reward only proper tissue pulls, where he pulls the tissue all the way out of the box and drops it in your hand.

4. Set the box on the corner of the table (the place it will always be when you do this trick) and repeat Steps 1–3.

Your dog may need a gentle reminder of “Up,” but you can soon phase out that command.

5. Move a little bit away from the table, and then request “Get me a tissue.”

Repeat the command, moving farther from the table each time. Eventually, stand and sit in various places in the room when you make the request. Be sure to reward — and say “Thank you” — each time he brings you a tissue. 

Bringing you a drink

I saved the hardest trick for last. It’s a personal favorite. My dog Shayna could tell the difference between a soda can, a water bottle, and a can of beer.
In this trick, your long-range goal is to be able to say — from anywhere in the house — “Get me a soda!” and have your dog run to the refrigerator, open the door, remove a can of soda, close the refrigerator, and bring the soda to you. Sound impossible? It’s not so tough — just a lot of steps to master before you put it all together.

Stage 1: Carrying the can or bottle

Part one of the trick is to teach your dog to carry a can or bottle. This is a basic retrieving exercise.
1. If your dog is uncomfortable holding a bottle or can in his mouth, wrap it in a light rag initially.
2. Show the can to your dog and say “Take it–Drink.”
3. Using the skills I discuss earlier in the “Carrying This and That” section, teach your dog to hold the can, carry it, and then bring it to you from a distance — in that order.
4. When your dog is comfortable with the wrapped can in his mouth, repeat Step 3, but begin to fold the width of the cloth down so your dog gets used to the bottle or can.

Stage 2: Opening the fridge

Opening the refrigerator sounds trickier than it is. I’ve broken it down into easy steps:
1. Cut a piece of rope long enough so that when it’s hung in a loop from the refrigerator door handle, it hangs at the level of your dog’s chin.

Warning!

If you have small children in the home, don’t leave the rope hanging from the door. Devise a rope system that can be easily removed after training time.

2. Let your dog sniff the rope to get familiar with it. Offer the rope to your dog and encourage, “Tug it.” Pull against your dog for 5 seconds and then instruct your dog to release the rope.
3. Secure the rope to the handle. (I use industrial-strength Velcro to affix my rope to the refrigerator door.)
4. Jiggle the rope in front of your dog’s nose and command “Tug it.”
5. Using praise or a click, reward your dog the instant he grasps the rope.
6. Once he’s grabbing the rope on cue, encourage and reward only a solid tug on the door.

Tip

If you have a very clever dog, remove the rope or handle to discourage between-meal snacking or other incidents.

Don’t let your dog swing from the rope or shake it like a stubborn rat. If you do, you may ask for a soda and end up with the refrigerator door. Reward only gentle pulls. Correct hard yanks with a “Nope!”

Stage 3: Removing the drink from the fridge

Now it’s time to teach your dog to remove the can from the fridge.
1. Wrap the same can you’ve used for practice back up in the original unfolded cloth. Place the can on an empty shelf that’s the right height for your dog to comfortably retrieve the can in his mouth.
2. Prop the refrigerator door open and lead your dog into the kitchen.
3. Act truly surprised and happy to find the can in the fridge and say “Drink” in a clear, enthusiastic voice. Point it out if your dog doesn’t see the can right away.
4. Reward your dog even if his attempts to retrieve the drink are less than perfect. If he drops the can on the floor, encourage him to pick it up.
5. Continue to practice until your dog is successful at each attempt to get the soda off the shelf.

Stage 4: Retrieving the drink and bringing it to you

Now you and your little genius are ready to put together what he’s learned so far. Drum roll, please!
1. Approach the refrigerator with your dog.
2. Jiggle the rope and slowly say “Get Me a . . .–Tug it”
3. Wait until your dog is pulling the door open to say “Drink.”
4. If he seems confused, show him the can and say “Drink.”
5. Click and reward the instant your dog gives you the drink.
This is the time for jackpot treats. Mission accomplished!
Always place the drink in the same place. Moving it around makes it difficult or impossible for your dog to retrieve for you. Also, if you buy a six-pack, remove the plastic rings that hold the cans together. Cut up the plastic before you throw it out. (The animals of the world will thank you. Very often, the plastic rings end up around the necks of birds and small animals, causing them to choke or become unable to swallow.)

Stage 5: Closing the refrigerator door

No task is complete without teaching your dog to close the door. Though some of you may be so impressed with the retrieve that you’re tempted to leave out this stage, I don’t recommend it. You may come in and find the contents of your fridge have disappeared . . . and the only clue will be your very satiated canine, licking his chops. Either get up and close the door yourself, or teach this last sequence with the help of Chapter Engaging Favorites and the trick sequence for turning out the lights.
1. Hold your target disc directly in front of your refrigerator door.
2. Tell your dog “Target–Close” and praise him for even the slightest bump.
3. Now tape the disc onto the door and point to it as you say “Target–Close,” once again rewarding and praising even the slightest bump.

If your dog doesn’t hit the door hard enough to close it, begin to withhold the treat until he does. 

Stage 6: Putting it all together

Now that your dog has figured out all the steps, it’s time to test his English comprehension. Stand at the fridge and command “Get me a drink!” Is he confused? Not sure what all the words mean when they’re squashed together? Don’t get frustrated. Enunciate each word slowly, and walk your dog through the process. Continue to work through this procedure until he masters it. When the drink is in hand, send him back to “Close” the door.
Progressively extend your distance from the fridge until you can ask your dog from another room. Now imagine lying on the couch, watching the game. You call out “Get me a drink,” and here comes your dog, drink in mouth.
by Sarah Hodgson

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