Dog trick: Fetch
Retrieval is an excellent way to teach vocabulary. Your dog may be instructed to retrieve many different articles, for example, tennis balls and golf balls (make that dog earn its keep), newspapers, neighbor’s newspapers, slippers, etc. In so doing, the dog learns the name of each item. Discriminated retrieves have many useful applications in the home. For example, stand by your dog’s toy box, and have the dog tidy up the house by retrieving every dog-toy in sight and depositing them in its toy box. Also, dogs are great at finding lost keys, lost baseballs and lost dogs.
Firstly, teach your dog to retrieve exciting objects, such as a tennis ball, chewtoy, bone, or slipper using the “Off” — “Take it” — Thank you” triad. Then, work with less exciting articles. Once the dog reliably retrieves each article by itself, instruct your dog to retrieve one of two articles, then one of three and so on. Give the dog the sun, moon and stars each time it successfully brings back the requested item first try. If it touches, picks up, or brings back the wrong item, just keep repeating the original request until it gets it right, whereupon reward the dog, but this time only moderately. The dog soon learns that incredible rewards are available for retrieving the correct object first try, lesser rewards for eventually getting it right and zip for getting it wrong. Use life rewards. For example, if the dog correctly chooses to bring its leash, it gets to go on a walk, or if it correctly retrieves its tennis ball, you will throw it.
NEVER punish the dog for making the wrong choice. Not only will punishment deter the dog from making further wrong choices, but also it will deter the dog from making any choice at all, i.e., the dog will stop retrieving. If you become frustrated with your dog’s poor performance (i.e., your poor teaching), retrieve the articles yourself, sit down, calm down…and try again tomorrow.