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Training Tips


Teaching a retrieve:

Easy Retrieve by Pam Martin

A fast and easy method of dog training seems to fit most people's lifestyle these days as we live in a very fast paced world. Our eager to learn little Jack Russell Terriers (JRT) will agree that fast is fun and the only way to train.

An amazing technique called Backward Chain Training is shaping behaviors using food and positive reinforcements. Backward Chaining is teaching a chain of behaviors in the reverse order of which it will be performed. This approach to training is being chosen by more trainers as we move into the new millennium.

Teaching a retrieve backwards is by far one of the fastest and also an easy method in which you can use on puppies, with little to no stress on them. Most retrieve methods teach the "take it" first, but not so with this method. To teach the Backward Retrieve we will start with the "Out" which is the last command in the chain of commands for a retrieve. Right? "Take it" will be the last command taught which is the first order your dog will hear in the chain of events for a retrieve. Confused yet? Read on to learn more about the Easy Retrieve.

A retrieve will consist of an object (ball, Frisbee, dumbbell) being toss out and on the owners command "Take it" the dog will immediately fetch the object and promptly return to sit in front of owner presenting the fetch object waiting to hear the final command "Out."

Lets began with our canine student, a JRT puppy about five months of age named "Starr." The puppy needs to be hungry, as we will be using soft yummy treats for rewarding the right behaviors. We will also need to use something soft for the puppy to put in her mouth like soft ball; a tug rope or a washcloth rolled up tight bounded by a rubberband like a newspaper. Puppy may be teething and harder objects may cause pain. Only train on days when you see your puppy is using its mouths without reluctance.

We will place a leash on Starr so she can't leave the training session. A soft ball was chosen to be the object of retrieve for this training session. Not a large ball but one that fits in her mouth easily. We will also get down on the floor with her and have treats ready in a shirt pocket. The food is out of sight but I'm sure that Starr knows that treats are near as JRT's have a keen sense of smell. Gently put the ball in her mouth and allow her to immediately expel the ball while you say "Out" and give her big praise and food reward. It's only nature that if you place an object into an untrained dog's mouth chances are high that they will reject it fast. This is not a problem and is quiet normal behavior, just praise and reward. Repeat several times placing object in, then wait for object to be ousted into your hand. Repeat the command "Out" as the act of releasing is performed.

Next step in the chain is for the pup to "Hold it" until she hears the command "Out." As you place the ball in her mouth gently hold her muzzle closed, just enough so the ball won't come out. Hold closed for an instant and then command "Out," quickly praise and reward. Again hold muzzle closed just a second longer, slowly increase the time from one-second then two seconds, three seconds and so on. You can praise her all the while she is holding the ball but make a big fuss over the "Out" command praising her highly. "Touch it" is not a command, you will never say those words, but it will become a new behavior that Starr will learn to offer separately from the "out" and the "hold" command. Start this session by holding THE BALL high in the air as you are admiring it, as though it has great value. Slowly lower your hand, showing Starr the ball, praise and reward her for simply looking at it, in the beginning. If she makes any contact with the ball that would be great, exactly what we want, praise and reward! Get her excited about seeing the ball in your hand, but do not give any commands yet. Allow her to touch the ball with her nose if she likes. If Starr doesn't try to make contact I will accidentally bump her with the ball in my hand and make a big fuss over the ball touching her nose. After a few session like this, Starr will soon be touching the ball with her nose or pawing at the ball and all the while I'm praising her for her efforts. When I'm sure that she understands that making contact with the ball is right behavior, and in doing so she expects a food reward then we know we're on the right track.

We are now ready to forge onto the next level starting with changing the criteria and making Starr's task a little harder. Begin by lowering the ball to the ground keeping your hand on the ball and wait for Starr to make contact with the ball, praise her "good girl" and reward. Be sure to make this a lot of fun. Once she is doing this behavior reliable the criteria is changed again, a little harder still. Getting the puppy to pick up the ball from off the ground may be the hardest part. This phase of the training is the "Take it" concept. I will only use the "Take it" command when I'm sure that IT, the "Take" behavior will happen, when I can predict It and It is a reliable act. Example: Every time I put the ball on the floor Starr will readily snatch up the ball. At this time I now can predict a "Take" and put the behavior on cue and add back the remaining commands in the chain of events, the "Hold" and then lastly the "Out."

Now that I have taught the behaviors I need to "proof them" meaning to make the commands stronger by showing Starr under what conditions she must perform them. Where and for how long must she holds the ball and what happens if she drops the ball. This is the trial and error stage where Starr learns the important concepts for each chain of events. Starr learns that she gets nothing if she fails to perform the last part of the behavior, placing the ball in my hand on the "Out" and in order to do that she must pick up the ball off the ground. Before long you can place the ball on the ground and move away from it, just a step or two in the beginning until you are some distance away. Starr has to now "Go" and "Take" and as she returns command "Sit" in front facing you. Finally you are able to throw the ball out and as Starr has one thing on her mind and that's the final part the "Out," ending with praise and rewards. Still as in each phase of the Easy Retrieve, it is your job to make sure you keep it simple and fun. Learning can be stressful so remember to always be patience and have fun and soon you could have a little retrieving STAR of
your own.

Copyright Nov. 1999 by Pam Martin
Reproduced with the author's permission