I was around ten years old when a relative came to stay at our place with his Alsatian bitch Queenie. On return from office he used order her, ‘fetch my slippers’ and Queenie would run and fetch them and place them neatly at his feet. I was able to teach many a things to my dog, but I could not fathom how a dog can be made to fetch! My dogs used to rub after the ball or sticks thrown and would pick them and come towards me, but as soon as they were within reach, they would run away. This was usually followed by a game of ‘catch me if you can’ in which the dog always won.
About six years later dilemma was solved by Raja Bajrang Bahadur Singh of Bhadri. He was a connoisseur of Alsatians and a superb trainer and knew very well what a dog is. Once I understood the reason why does a dog fetch, developing a training method was easy. The method discussed here can always be modified or improved and or another method be tried. Objective should be to teach the dog to retrieve to perfection.
Dogs have a natural instinct to fetch things. Instinctively they carry the chunks of flesh in their mouth from the just made kill to their lair. This wild instinct persists despite domestication. They start treating their bed as their lair. Remove the bedding and often you will find his favorite toys or even pieces of food concealed underneath. So strong becomes the attachment with bedding at times, that some dogs resent if it is removed for washing.
‘What this trait has to do with teaching a dog to fetch,’ one might wonder!
The connection lies in the fact that what starts as carrying objects/food to his lair, grows develops in to a habit of carrying such objects to the leader to please him. For a domesticated pup, you are the leader, hence he starts bringing things he feels will make you happy to you. Till the age of around three months he brings toys, sticks or whatever you throw and delivers it to you in the hope of a smile or an affectionate hug from you. But the day he develops a ‘bolt complex’ he changes the game to ‘catch me if you can’. He fetches the object, comes near you and runs away the moment you try to grab him. See the twinkle in his eyes at that moment-he knows jolly well that you can’t out run him, so he enjoys the prank. If somehow you catch him, by then a large breed dog specially has grown up enough to give a deep throated growl to scare you away.
Often dog owners complain that their dog was fetching objects perfectly, but all of sudden he developed the bad habit of running away. He now just runs away with whatever we throw to make him fetch, they further complain.
But you can not and should not blame your dog for this. He learns via a combination of instincts, routine and association of ideas. His instinct is to carry objects in his mouth to his lair. He also often carries chunks of meat to please his leader, which he was religiously doing around the age of three months by fetching objects and bringing them to you. But his natural prowess to run faster, gave him the idea of starting this new game. Believe me he does not want to tease you or mock at you. It is just a game he plays to please his master.
However, this is of no help. What you need is a fool-proof system to make him retrieve objects. Here is a method of teaching a dog to fetch, in which there is no scope for the dog to run away with the object. But before starting with actual training method, let me elucidate the significance of learning Fetch in the life of a dog.
A dog trained to fetch can be easily exercised. Many times the master is not is a position to walk endless miles with his dog or the compound/area of the house is too small (which is common now a days) for the dog to have a free run, fetching a ball gives a vigorous work out to the dog. An idle dog is a bundle of mischief, whereas a well exercised dog is a docile sweet, obedient pet. Not only exercise, fetching an object develops a strong possessive instinct in the dog. As I said earlier a dog gets strongly attached to the objects he brings and hides under his bedding, same way he develops a strong bond with the objects he fetches. This opens doors to train the dog for scent work and also to guard. In short Fetch is a command which if a dog learns to perfection is a gateway for further advance training.
Best time to train your dog to fetch is after he has been walked enough to dissipate his energy and he is slightly calm. You will need a suitable object for the dog to fetch. I find a light weight wooden dumbbell with adjustable bells to snugly fit the cheeks of the dog. This is important, because a dog may fetch any object, but he will not repeatedly fetch it during the training sessions if the object is not comfortable and convenient. There are a number of rubber/nylon toys also available in the market. The disadvantage is that dogs like them so much that they do not want to part with them easily. In addition to the dumbbell a choke chain with a 10 feet long nylon, webbed leash are essential.
You have to go back to the room from where you started on day one. Slip on the choke chain the right way and attach the leash. Make the dog sit and stay on your left, his muzzle in line with your knee. Keep the other end of the leash under your toe. Hold the dumbbell in your right hand and hold the muzzle of the dog with the fingers of left hand. Give a slight pressure at the at the hinge of his jaws. This will compel him to open his mouth. Keep talking to him gently and the moment his mouth opens slip in the dumbbell with your right hand in his mouth. Simultaneously encircle his muzzle so that he can not open his mouth. The moment the dumbbell is held by him give command ‘Bozo Fetch’. Count up to five. And again gently press his muzzle from sides he will open his mouth, take the dumbbell in your right hand and praise him a lot. Make lot of fuss, scratching his chin with all the happiness on your face.
Repeat the process, next time count up to six. Dog soon learns that holding the dumbbell in his mouth and giving it back to you makes you happy. And he enjoys the game.
Generally by next day or at best on third day dog starts coming forward, opens his mouth without any pressure from your fingers and takes the dumbbell. He also gives it back the same way. At that stage you can introduce another command ‘Bozo Give or Cease’. This makes him learn that two separate actions are required by him; one to ‘Fetch’ the object and another to ‘Give’ it back to the master on command. Practice the two commands of ‘Fetch’ and ‘Give’ for another three days while the dog remains sitting.
Once you feel that the dog has understood the commands, it is time to teach him to pick the object from floor when you command him to ‘Fetch’ and deliver it in your hand on command ‘Give’. He learns this part very fast as your left palm which was earlier blocking his view briefly as you tried to open his mouth stops bothering him.
Now comes the next part of the training when he is required to ‘Fetch’ the thrown object. Tie a 4 feet long thin flexible wire on the dumbbell. Keep the other end of the wire under your toe. Throw the dumbbell carefully at about three feet away. Mind you dog should always be in sit, stay position, hence he should not move unless commanded. To make it further fool proof, keep the extra length of the leash under your toe, so that he can not lunge for the object. Ask the dog to ‘Fetch’, pointing towards the dumbbell. Since the dog has already been trained to Go, you may ask him to ‘Go Fetch’. He will get up move two-three steps, pick the dumbbell and return to you smartly. Make him sit in front of you. Then ask him to ‘Give’ the dumbbell. Receive it in your both palms. Thereafter praise him a lot.
Suddenly you realise that you have almost cut across a major barrier of communicating with your dog. He sits besides you and walks to the object and picks and brings it back to you. Once he perfects the art of retrieving from a short distance, you can throw the object to a longer distance, but certainly not more than the length of the leash! After he comes back and delivers the dumbbell in your palms, swiftly hold his leash and make him encircle you in a clockwise direction, with command Heel. Since he has already learnt the command it takes him less than a second to make out what you want him to do. He sits besides you smartly and awaits your next throw.
Once your dog has perfected the commands, you can remove the leash from under your toe and throw the object at slightly longer distance. Gradually you can change the venue from the room to your compound. However, please do not remove the leash, let it trail. This makes the dog believe that he is still connected with you and he forgets the thought of running away. Even with leash trailing you can make him practice till he becomes an expert. I strongly advise even at this stage do not commit the mistake of making the dog retrieve in an open park, without leash. They know very easily of the leash is not there and run away pretty fast. If that happens, you run in the opposite direction reversing his game of catch me if you can. Once he comes to you, take him back to the room and start from day one again.
Though I wish you don’t have to repeat it!
The comprehension and the retaining capacity of dogs is less. Therefore one should not confuse him with too many commands in one go. That is why the method discussed here teaches a dog to fetch in stages and the actions he is supposed to do get complicated with each stage. Once a dog is trained a daily repetition is a must. Without which dog is liable to lose touch and get confused.
So what are you waiting for? Start teaching your dog to fetch from today itself and then see the fun.
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