Clicker Training a Bird Dog Retrieve Part 1 Shaping and Chaining The Basic Retrieve (Fetch)

Clicker Training the Bird Dog Retrieive to Hand Part 1 Basic Retrieive & Backchaining A retrieve is a series of separate behaviors that are carefully chained together. The great thing about teaching a dog this way is that you can separate out parts of the chain and reteach if needed. Since the LAST behavior needed from a dog when delivering a bird to hand is delivering the bird, start training with that behavior. It will then be the strongest link in the chain and the dog will always be working towards a behavior she knows best. This helps significantly amid all the challenges of a field retreive. Make a written training plan of the possible process so you alwasy know what is coming next. You can name each behavior, then fade them once the behavior is all together or you can click and treat for completion at each step, then name the parts of the ebhavior as you need them. Step 1: Shape you dog to ‘take and hold’ the bumper while you still hold it. If you or your dog has never done shaping before, it’s a good idea to first practice on an object you don’t care about, like a wooden dowel or narrow pvc pipe. Choose an object thta’s comfortable for your dog to hold. Progressively click for a sniff, nose, touch, tooth grab, etc, aiming for a grab with the object behind the canine teeth. When your dog is giving that consistently, try for either two grabs, a lift or a split second longer hold. Jessie has already given me two lifts by this point. Start again with the dog in another position (sit, down, facing a different way etc). This helps her understand that the ‘take and hold’ behavior is what you want, and the and that her position, direction, or other environmental features are not part of the behavior. Step 2
Once the Dog Understands ‘Hold’, Start to Fade Your Hands Finger touch only. One hand removed. Both hands removed. For some dogs, asking her to take and hold it on her own right away, gives the dog more control than she is ready for. Increase the duration that the dog holds it. Use small increments such as one or two seconds. Practice until she can hold it 30 seconds. Again, vary the position, sit, stand, down. Step 3 Pick up the Bumper Off the Floor and Hand it to You Review the ‘take & hold’ before lowering the bumper to the floor in stages. Two criteria together: take and hold. Jessie lifts the bumper. This means she is ready for the next step. My criteria here was for her to grab the bumper. But since she’s offering, I try to click AS she lifts it. The next few clicks are better timed. A nice lift. Fade my hands but point to bumper when she hesitates the first time. Step 4 Adding Distance to the Bring Place the treat slighly behind where you want the dog and place the bumber down. I didn’t click this as it wasn’t the solid hold I wanted. Throw the treat behind the dog to get her to move back further. Step 5 Add Speed to the Bring (once you have some distance and only if needed) I cue Jessie to ‘hurry’ to increase the speed of her return. Most dogs run out faster than they return. This may be partly because the bird slows them down, but also because the bird is more exciting than you. This is how you can isolate and retrain just one part of the retrieve. Jessie already knows ‘hurry’. Teach it separately first if you need it. Step 6 Bring and Hold I add a third criteria: take, lift, and hold Notice there is no distance requirement on this step? She’s sniffing around for a treat she dropped. Step 7 Bring and Sit in Front for Delivery You can cue a sit or capture one. Add distance to the carry and sit. This adds another criteria. Notice how Jessie forgets to sit right away? There is no duration for the sit at this point on purpose. I wanted Jessie to sit closer to me for easier reach, so we worked on that separately. Check out ‘shaping fronts’ in part 2. I hand-targeted her closer here. Optional: Train dog to ‘swing around beside you’ or ‘go around behind and sit at your side’. The dog needs to learn these separately first before putting a bumper in her mouth. Add duration after she understands the behavior. Step 8 Send Out (to retrieve bumper off ground) The bumper is placed in front of the dog, not me, so it is obvious what I want. She turns back to me to do the delivery. Add distance. Change position from sitting to standing. She learns where to reposition herself in relation to the new image of me. Step 9 Add Distance to Send Out As you get more distance, bumper placement is not as important. You could even start laying it down in the same direction the dog must run to get it. You could start throwing the bumper to add more enthusiasm. Dogs get more enthusiastic as you add distance since the bumper ‘might get away’. Note her return is much slower. Here I have faded the clicker. “Thank you’ is her ‘out’ cue. Look for Part 2 Finishing Touch Behaviors and see how to retrain this in the field.

Glenn Chapman


  1. very good video! timely too because my girl is about ready to learn these skills. she has hunting dog in her breeding,beagle, and i want to embrace her natural game drive to be a hunter thru a hunting game. although i will not be hunting real birds or rabbits(unless i have to eat,lol) simulation of the hunt will be a great recreational activity for us to do together and a good thing for her to know how to do in the event i have to hunt for food:)

  2. This is very helpful!! The beginning steps are great because my pup is reluctant to 'hold' and object. Seeing how long you hold onto it too really gives me a nice guideline for the process. Thank you for making this video!

  3. Try it to see if it works. Some dogs do better if you start having them carry it before holding it when stationary. Experiment to see what works since every dog is different. Also choose something that feels good if she's reluctant-a stuffed toy for example. You can also smear yummies on a hard object to start her off. Allows you to click for opening her mouth onto object. You can then shape that into a grab.

  4. Thanks! "Jessie looks like she is enjoying the learning/interaction experience." Yes, that's the goal. Just like kids, if dogs enjoy the process, they will learn it more quickly and be motivated to do the behavior.

  5. If you don't plan on using real game, you can alternate use of use tug toys between each training session to Premack the process (assuming of course that your dog enjoys tugging!). You could also add real scent to the dummy as well and play some hide games to teach her to find a 'injured' duck that she has to trail to the new location in long grass for example.

  6. Very good.

    My first golden was a totally natural retriever, while my current dog has issues with retrieving.

  7. she really loves to tug! πŸ˜€ it is her favorite game., shes taking a bit of a break from it now that her all adult teeth havent come in yet, she just cant get a good grip and its no fun for her right now, but in a few weeks she will be right back at it.
    sometimes i am given bird wings and tails from local hunters to use in my art projects which i can use in her training. she loves to steal craft feathers and play with them so the real thing with their scent will be much more fun for her:)

  8. Fantastic video! I'm really terrible with shaping haha! I read only few things before start training my dog, and I basically used luring and targeting. Result: It's really dificult to me to get something using shaping.

  9. But I loved your video! It's clear that as you add dificult at one point, you make another point easier, that is something that I usually forget to do (and wanting to go faster, i go slowly doing that. Yes, dogs learn faster than humans :D)

    Well, congratulations for the training and thanks for the video! It will help a lot!

    Sorry if there are any english error, I'm Brazilian!

  10. Really EXCELLENT video..this is how i teach the pick it up behaviour and progress to the retrieve. You make really brill easy to understand vids.

  11. Thank you – favourited for the next time someone asks me how to get a dog to retrieve – very concise.

  12. What should you do if the dog tries to tug the dummy ? I have been letting go and waiting for my dog to present the dummy to me again – but he tries to run off with it within the confines of the room we are clicking in. Help ? I am new to clicker training and don't want to get it wrong.

  13. I'm not a trainer, but I've been clicker training my dog – I'm interested to see what the poster will say. But I might use a 'wrong' word like 'oops', or just walk away signaling that's not what you wanted. That's what I do with my pup, she usually comes back a little more focused when I re initiate the training session. I'd like to see what supernaturalbc2009 says though.

  14. This video was well done . It showed very nicely how to break the retrieve down into managable parts.
    One caution; the clicker so close to the dogs ear is very loud. Click next to your own ear if you don't believe me. Yeah I know your thinking, if it is going to be a gun dog the click is nothing. But over the career of the dog the more you can lessen the damage the better. There are softer clickers, and it isn't necessary to hold the bumper with both hands .

  15. @pkipper1 Thanks!
    This is a good point, and one I consided when training. The clicker I used was actually a muted one but I amplified it for the video. I don't like deaf dogs either. They go deaf early enough without added help! VBG!
    I find holding the bumper with both hands does make a difference in the early stages as it gives you control of it (the dog cannot drop it) and you can balance it properly so your dog learns the feel of how you want it to be held. Enjoy!

  16. @nataliawasilewska97 You can use anything that is comfortable to hold. If you start with something narrow, the dog will have more success. If you start too big, she may not like doing the task as much. When she is comfortable holding smaller objects you can go to bigger ones. You can start with plush ones and go to hard ones. Whatever works for your dog. The whole idea is to make it easy and fun, just like for kids. You can make it harder once she understands the basic idea.

  17. @LegendsMami Let us know how you make out. I am always interested to see how it works with non-retrieving breeds!

  18. @LegendsMami Glad it 's working for you. Of course, you may have to modify, jump over and or add some steps. Each dog is a little different. Sounds like you are having fun!

  19. This is very good but I feel silly clicker training my Retriever to, err, retrieve!
    Shouldn't the retrieve be self rewarding why do we have to introduce food?

    That said, will the dog learn to enjoy the retrieve and not be waiting for the food reinforcement?

  20. @CrueLoaf Because a play retrieve is very different than trained retrieve. if you want reliable & precise delivery, you have to train it. If you don't mind the dog throwing it at you, dropping before it gets to your hand, chewing the bumper or bird etc, a play retrieve is fine.
    And yes, the retrieve becomes its own reward and you can use it to reward other behaviors. (Unless of course, other things interfere such as the desire to chase and chew a bird etc). Premacking helps to overcome that.

  21. @supernaturalbc2009
    My puppy wasn't that interested in his toys and certainly not in retrieving them. Within two days of staring clicker training he is going out like a rocket and picking up his toy and delivering it to my hand.
    I'm not really bothered with the 'present' or finish yet but thanks as this video has helped him get into a 'play mode'. Eventually I will fade out the clicker and I think he will then be sufficiently motivated by the game rather than the food.

  22. brilliant! great job breaking down the behavior! i'm working on a retrieve/carry behavior, this will be very helpful with that!

  23. Just wanted to say a huge thankyou to the maker of this video. I have a 23 month old Working Cocker Spaniel. She is bred directly from gundog lines, both her mum and dad excel in the field. Shes the first dog i've owned and is unfortunately very possessive so we've been in battle just trying to get a play retrieve with a ball. I was desperate to start some gundog training with her, and you have been my saviour! After two weeks she will stay as I throw the bumper, retrieve and sit to deliver πŸ™‚

  24. @DonkeyDanni Thanks for the feedback. it might encourage others to try this approach! D

  25. @Fieldcocker Yes! Start from scratch. In fact, I'd probably start with shaping the hold of a wing, then a wing attached to a bumper, then two wings on either side of the bumper, then a whole bird. You will find that gnerally the process goes much more quickly than the first time through. Challenges you might face are the dog not wanting to hold the dummy (some dogs don't like the oily birds) or the dog hard mouthing it. Shape the hold and train with microsteps so your dog can succeed. Enjoy! D

  26. You certainly have a wonderful rapport with dogs, brilliant stuff, our Rupert is a little headstrong (to be fair he's only 20 months old) but we love him to bits :-).
    Brilliant videos you have on here they have been very informative, all the best from Birmingham England…Cheers!

  27. Question…….dog will grab and hold bumper, but as soon as I let go, they run away with it. Suggestions? Put them on leash?


  28. @wyndrunhr Try upping the value of your treats and/or train in a small room so its more fun to return it to you than run away (nowhere to go). Once the dog is successful there, train in a little larger room or block off space in a larger room to limit where the dog can go . Good luck!

  29. @laurakrupp Try a smaller-sized object or one that has a different texture. The easier you can make it, the more successful he will be.

  30. @Scrapper16PS3 Her mom was a German Shepherd mix, her dad likely a miniature pinscher (terrier). She's 32 lbs and about 21 Inches at the shoulder. Quite similar inο»Ώ body shape and coloring to an Australian Kelpie except has a lighter bone.(her face and ears are definitely NOT Kelpie). Her behaviors are definitely terrier without the intensity. No herding instinct evident and has high prey drive for rats, birds and squirrels.

  31. When do you stop giving them treats? What happens if you forget the treats on hunting day? Thanks

  32. There are many ways to fade the treats. Start by replacing them with other rewards, use them intermittently,(selecting only for the 'best' retrieves), premacking the behavior. Eventually, the retrieve chain of behaviors becomes the reward in itself, much like many dogs love retrieving.

  33. Thanks for captioning the videos. πŸ™‚ I greatly appreciate them as a Deaf person/dog owner.

  34. Thanks for yet another interesting video tutorial. I will try it on my dogs.

  35. Great Vid Donna. You have inspired me to get a clicker for my training. Thanks!

  36. when my pup places her mouth around the object i use for teaching her to hold, she just starts chewing on it, even while I'm holding it and after clicking (as soon as her teeth touches the object) she won't let go until i pull the object away. I tried using other objects. she does the same thing. Any tips? thanks!

  37. I am trying this for the first time with a terrier mix so you would think it would be easy, but nooo. lol He takes the dummy and holds it for several seconds at the most and then drops it or allows me to take it from his mouth gently if we are close, but when I add distance he never comes forward. I tried placing the treat behind the dummy and behind his legs but that makes him obsessed with looking at the ground for treats that he might have missed and he stays in that spot.Β 

    Am I doing something wrong or is there anything different I can do to get him forward in the training? I feel like he is very close and he has come a long way from where we began. Thank you.

  38. Great video. How long are your training sessions with the dog? And what treats are you using?

  39. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your training technique. I'm thankful that I have plenty of dogs to practice with to learn how to train this method πŸ™‚

  40. when my dog puts the dummy in his mouth he shakes his head with it straight away. How do i stop this behaviour?

  41. Donna, just saw this and started with the first step of touch and click. My puppy (11 weeks) is so focused on the scent of my hands that have held the treats that I really don't think he is deliberately touching the bumper. Any thoughts?

  42. Trying this with my golden retriever, but even first Step is awfully hard – either he licks my hand wanting to get The treats, or ignores The bumper trying to be good mannered – if I move it around a bit to make him interested in it he gets too in play mode and starts tugging.. kind of a closed loop πŸ™ any advice?

  43. After trying all types of unsuccessful fetching techniques, Our dog was finally able to fetch properly with this technique. Thanks for the great video.

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