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.