Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Trick and treat tuesday: foundation trick

A lot of tricks need to be taught in steps. There are some founding behaviours that are good to start with and can be used for all sorts of things, from obedience, day to day house manners and also for further silly tricks. One such of those is fetching an item.

Well that was a long waffle to get to the point mum, nearly fell asleep on the way (actually I did!). Btw I have very good house manners thank you...

Fetching sounds like an easy enough thing to do for dogs. After all, how many dogs do you see in the park playing with the ball and bringing it back for further throws? And a lot of those dogs have not attained the highest level of obedience if you see what I mean...

Ball? Somebody said ball? I want to play ball? Come on now 'fess up, who said ball?

Actually, it can be quite hard mostly if you want to get a proper retrieve you can use for later, and also if you want to not have to run more than your dog to get to the object you are throwing!
A lot of dogs and puppies will run after an object being thrown, that's the easy step! The next steps will consist in bringing it back to you, to your hand, holding it in the mouth, doing things while holding it, and also fetching/holding all sorts of different shaped objects.

But let's start with the simple fetch and then hold.

Does that entails treats or shall I go back to sleep?

The biggest pitfall of teaching fetch is that the pup/dog actually does follow any object thrown, hence, people start the wrong way by throwing the object way too far and somehow trying to entice the pup to bring it back. That usually leads to very fit owners running after the ball to play with their  dogs, while the dog throws the ball...

Tsehehe, tried that it's fun! But the minions are lazy so they didn't want to do that anymore. They wanted ME to run, oh the infamy! I get tired!!!!

The best starting point is to sit down with your pup and an object you want to teach fetch with (get some treats, a clicker or your best reward word and a lot of patience). Make sure that it is an object the pup is interested in for the start, like a toy (mostly for young pups). The first thing to do is to present the object to the little monster, get him to interact with it. Any interaction, like touch of the nose, opening of mouth etc., gets a happy YES/ click and a treat. Remember not to use command words at the beginning. Get the pup to get the object in his mouth and give it back to you happily, with happy reward yes/clicks and treats. We are trying to get the holding and giving of an object, not enforcing a tug-of-war game. Most pup will not want to give back to you a hard earned toy (even if all the work they had to do was to use those magic puppy eyes).

Hey don't diss the puppy eyes! You don't know how long it takes to perfect the art of the unresistible puppy eyes. It's hard, very hard. It's out of sweat and tears that we get it right! Now give me those treats you are talking about, I'm hungry.

I don't have treats here Mawson, I'm explaining what to try and do! You know how to fetch...

I forgot, I need reminding... with treats...

Back to bed! Where was I? Ah yes, make it fun for the pup to give back the toy, also make it worth his giving up the fun toy he had caught. When the action of giving back is getting good you can attach the word "give" to the action (or any word you want to use for this, like spaghetti...).

That's a good start, I'm going quick but that can take a while so don't be impatient. When that's good, same thing, next to your pup, get him interested in the object then drop the toy at your feet. Hopefully if he is interested he will grab it (big yes) and present a treat with give (that will usually enforce the give as well). The closeness will make it easier to manage the exchange of the object/treats instead of growing the object at a distance and hoping for the best! Continue the whole action a few times. If demon pup reliably picks up the object and gives it back, then start adding a little distance. Nothing too fancy, just something like 30 cm (or arm reach) and repeat. You can also start adding the "fetch" cue word.

Gradually increase the throw distance. If it gets awry, then come back closer. A good thing to start early is to get your pup to give back the object in your hand. I don't know about you, but my back is not what it used to be (and I don't think that's going to get any better really). So, bending down every ten seconds to pick up a ball is not really my cup of tea. Hence, we got Mawson to bring back everything to our hand (the advantage of having a big dog you see...). That is also needed for further applications of the fetching where it might look a bit messy if the monster just spits out the item in your general direction (see below). Those obedience and retrieving people don't get impressed by dummy spits...

Even when it's mummy who spits the dummy :P. And that's your cue pups. Listen to me, if they insist on a hand retrieve, remember to slobber on the object. Get the juices going, get that ball/toy covered and dripping, yehaaaa. That will gross them out! Mwahaha.

When you get a nice fetching, then you can start to introduce a "hold". Basically it works in the same way as the fetch, but on close work you start by getting the pup to hold the item in his mouth without dropping it when you give it to him (not too much chewing please!) instead of picking it up from the floor. Start with a short couple of seconds, and then extend. Remember the clicks/yes and treats. When you get good holds, then you can mix the fetch and hold. That can take a fair while though. All this seems simple but it is a lengthy process, so keep patient.

These have been some life savers for us. GSPs are high energy dogs, so finding ways to get some of that energy out has been pretty high on the priority list ever since we got Mawson as a tiny worm. Another interesting trait of GSPs is that they are naughty little thieves. They can somehow read your mind, and know what item you are going to use/need soon. And they grab it first, and run out goofily with it in their mouth, wanting to play the catch-me-if-you-can with you. That works for anything from items of clothing to DIY object. I have also read in places some silly pups running away with knifes! So.... I have turned away any thieving into a big huge "oh my god what a good pup to fetch my ...(insert stolen item name)...., quick let's get a treat". We do not have anymore problem of stolen items in our house :). Ok he will still go on the look out for Martin socks and bring them to me for a treat, but hey...

Is she still going? She talks a lot doesn't she... We are all asleep here mum, time for bed! And by the way, I am not naughty. It's not my fault if dad lets his socks everywhere in the house. Poor me, I have to gather them all to put them in the wash, but the laundry door is closed, so I give them to mum. You know how smelly those socks are? I have a sensitive nose me!!

The other good thing, and more to the point of this post is that the fetch and hold is the necessary basis of a lot of tricks, that we will hopefully cover in the future "Trick and treat tuesdays" posts.

Our main uses for fetch/hold:
- fetch for balls (for pure exercise, get that energy out!)
- fetch/hold dumbell (obedience test)
- fetch/hold dummies (field retrieving)
- fetch keys, toys, TV remote, etc. (tricks)
- fetch back naughtily stolen items (particularly useful for naughty dogs, or GSPs for that matter...)
- fetch and hold corner of blanket for further tricks like rolling in blanky (trick)
- fetch and hold (carry) your dog bag (trick)
- and ad finitum tricks, your imagination is the limit!

So get your pup's fetch and hold perfected for future tricks, and see you next time :)


See I can fetch and hold everything, at once! :)

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