Clicker Training a Bird Dog Retrieve Part 2 Finishing Touches (fetch)

Clicker Training a Bird Dog Retreive to Hand Part 2 Finishing Touches Now that you have a basic retrieve, you can add some of the finishing touches. Each behavior needs to be taught separately first, before being added to the chain. Add each behavior separately to the chain, then add various combinations of two. Remember to lower your other criteria first when you add each new behavior. Step 10 Add Hold Time Back in Add time to the hold but decrease the distance. The distance will be added back in once she is comfortable holding the bumper for one minute or more. Step 11 Practice a Stay When You Throw the Bumper Increase duration of stay in small increments, then add distance as before. For a good field retrieve, the dog should be looking at the bumper and the environment. Jessie’s default is to make eye contact since it is needed in the other dog sports we do. Ideally, release the dog when she is looking at the bumper to reinforce the desired behavior. Also add excitment intensity in small steps when you throw the bumper. This helps build self-control. Step 12 Practice Calling Dog off Bumper You need to be able to call your dog off the bumper at any time. Make a game of this by being unpredictable. But make sure to do more retreives than recalls in a training session to keep your dog motivated. When pairing a recall with a retrieve, the recall is strengthened using the ‘Premack Principle’ (see step 18B) assuming a retrieve is more desired by your dog. Step 13 If Your Dog Has a Slower Return, Add Speed to the Chain Jessie was taught ‘hurry’ in a different location first by using Classical Conditioning. CC pairs a cue with a behavior that is already happening. Remember Pavlov’s bell triggered the dogs to drool? Step 14 Have a Helper Throw the Bumper Getting the dog accustomed to a second person helping will make it easier for her in the field. it is one more distration she will have already seen. I asked for a shorter stay because of the new distraction. Start close. Add distance as before. The helper can also add distance from the center send line by moving further to the right or left. Start with familiar people. Note I am not asking for a fast return? That will be added back in later. Step 15 Shape the Bumper Delivery as You Want it I noticed Jessie tended to sit quite far away from me when she delivered the bumper if my hand was not there as a target. So I used Sue Ailsby’s ‘Shaping Front using Bullseye’ to get her in closer. First without the bumper, then with the bumper. Throw the treat in front of you and clikc as the dog is still moving towards you. Over time, as long as you click while the dog is still moving, the dog will stop closer and closer to you. After several training sessions, I have moved the lines closer and jessie offers a paw over the new line. Then paw over the second line. Step 16 Add the Side Delivery (if you want it) Next start training the retrieve in a new location FROM THE VERY BEGINNING! Pretend your dog does not know the behavior in the front yard, back yard, park, your hunting location etc. Nose touch, take, then hold. Hold while I am holding. Hold on own. Lift bumper. Pick bumper off ground. Bring to me a short retrieve etc. Short retrieve with no requirement to stay at start, hand-delivered bumper. Adding distance. Longer distance, more enthusiasm in throw, short stay-she goofed! Handler error. Too many criteria at once. Speedy return and enthusiasm in tail wag! After being successful at many different locations, your dog will relearn the behavior chain more quickly. This is when ‘generalization of behavior’ occurs. Step 17 Train Field Stays in sit, down and stand position I use the “Peck 300” Method to increase the number of paces I take. I start with a number I know my dog can succeed at, then increase in tow or three pace intervals. If the dog gets up in the middle of a stay, I go back to a much easier number of paces. and slowly build back up to where she failed. I then practice at that distance for awhile, then add in slightly longer distances. With practice, we can successfully work through that distance. Then I add speed to my departure. Step 18A Build Drive for the Retrieve Many experts advocate having you retrieve more bumpers than the dog. This add higher challenge to the dog’s self control and is a good way to prepare your dog for honoring another dog. Make it unpredictable when you let the dog do the retrieve. The next step would be to practice this with another dog, which adds another level of competition. Step 18B Build More Drive with Premack the Retrieve with a Higher Value Behavior Use a different object that your dog enjoys to alternate with the retrieve training. Jessie’s favorite is a piece of garden home with a knot tied in the end. Makes a great tug and throw toy. When you pair a highly desirable behavior (tug) with a lower interest behavior (retrieve), you increase the interest in the lower interest behavior. This is called the ‘Premack Principle’. Alternate them regularly and the retrieve becomes as exciting as the tug game. Step 19 Take the Retreive to Water Choose a shallow body of water with a gradual entry. Ideally the water will be warmed up. If it is too cold, it can be a deterrent to a first-time dog. This pond is about 35 feet in diameter and just deep enough that Jessie has to swim. Thrwo the bumper just to the water’s edge. Shake! Shake! Shake! Straight out of the car and raring to go was porbabaly not the best idea for a terrier. Throw it a little further each time as your dog is comfortable with it. It would have been more helpful here for Jessie if I had stopped here and did some land retrieves first to remind her of the behavior I wanted. (no shaking the bumper) Then we moved to the other side to try again. This side was less distracting because there were fewer plants. Try attaching a long light line to the bumper if your dog is an unreliable retriever. This is Jessie’s first ever swimming retrieve. And yes, she did eventually bring it to me, it just took a little time for some shaking and clearing the water from her nose. The long line allows you to move the bumper so it come alive and gets the dog interested in it again. Jessie comes racing from around the other side of the pond to complete her retrieve. Step 20 Phase out the Food Rewards By now the retrieve should be its own reward (as the birds will become once you start working with them). Other Criteria That Need to be Trained Increased distance, different surfaces: long grass, scrub, trees, different terrain: land, water, slopes, crossing from one terrain to another distractions: people, other dogs, live game, weather conditions: wind, rain, snow, slush, handler out of sight Again, start training FROM THE BEGINNING with each change of environment. Other Retrieve-related Training: *marking *blind retrieves *directional changes *honoring other dogs *retrieving a dead bird * retrieving a crippled bird * sound of the gun etc It is very useful to keep a running log of each training session. * what behavior you are working on *how many cued and uncued repetitions *success rates for cued reps *distance * duration * rewards used * challenges for your dog etc Have Fun with Your Bird Dog!

Glenn Chapman


  1. Excellent i love this. Have done what you said recalling dog off the bumper before it gets it..but have not thought of getting someone else to throw the bumper out..what a good idea.
    Only prob with the idea that the tugging is more rewarding than retrieve is that my dogs are the opposite they really really love retrieving, much more than tugging on a toy!!!

  2. Thanks. Whatever is more moivating for your dog. Some dogs are actually more motivated by the retrieve (but Jessie is not one of them) I actually had a comment in there qualifying "if tugging is more fun for your dog" but it got edited out at some point due to time.

  3. Hi, I am new to clicker training and trying to get past our dummy training issues. He won't return the dummy to me in the field preferring to run about with it and toss it about and finally lying down and chewing it.
    I have started from the basics but he tries to tug the dummy from my hand, how should I deal with this ?
    I am so thankful to have found your videos !

  4. why do you have to do it iagain at the back yard?? The dog already knows the behaviour

  5. This is compounded when you have a fearful dog who is having trouble focussing in the new environment. We assume they are 'stubborn' when they can't think because they are scared or distrated. Starting from the beginning at each new location sets the dog up for success and the dog will progress more quickly at each new location.

  6. Dogs don't generalize well. That means even though they 'know' a behavior in one location, it doesn't translate into another. A 'sit' in the living room is not a 'sit' in the yard. Each time the dog relearns it in a new location, it will happen more quickly and you can skip steps. After relearning it in many new locations, the dog will eventually remember what the behavior is. Humans forget that other animals don't generalize well and this gets us into trouble.

  7. Hi, What do I do if the dog trys to tug the dummy from my hand when teaching the hold ?

  8. @MsTillyboo Try to time your click for when the dog is holding the dummy, not tugging on it. Then when you click, the dog should release the dummy. With a few reps, the dog will learn that the hold is what you want, not the tug.

  9. Thanks so much, this is exactly what I was looking for. The rescue lab is a natural at swimming and retrieving, but I want to refine his retrieve. I have been learned my training from Michael Ellis videos, I have considered his methods and style to be top notch, especially compared to countless hacks out there. But…your approach and clarity are awesome! I will make sure and investigate your other posts. Cheers!

  10. Hi i have just re homed two english cocker spaniels which i want to try and train. For Alfie )the dog) I know if i throw the bumper he will want to go get it straight away. How do you stop that (i will try your part 1 stuff first but just wondered what you do if they just run for it) i guess you dont click?

  11. @mavuk100 Break the behaviour into even smaller pieces. Teach the sit stay first and proof it with placing food, then objects then the bumper or ball. Then start gently throwing the each item type a short distance (one foot, then two feet, then three. If the dog fails, go back to the distance where he can succeed. When solid on distance, then increase the intensity of the throw and increase the value of the object. low value food, med value food high value food, toy, ball, bumper for example.

  12. @supernaturalbc2008 , ok thanks will give that a go. I notice in your videos you do that. Couple more questions if i may please. If your trying to train something and the dog doesnt do it, you dont click and give treat? (in your videos most times the dogs seem to do what your trying to train, without any failures). Lastly i have two dogs, i guess they need training individually otherwise they will compete with each other ? Thanks Kevin

  13. @mavuk100 If your dog doesn't do something you are trying to train you need to look at several things: is the environment too distracting, is the reward high enough to keep interest, is what you are asking too hard? etc. Make it as easy as possible to succeed in tiny steps and the dog learns much faster than 'lumping' behaviours. When the dog progresses easily through to a new behaviour, it is called "errorless learning". The dog should succeed at least 50% of the time (or more)

  14. @supernaturalbc2009 when you increase the criteria. If he can't, you need to go back to where he is successful and make the next step smaller.

  15. As to training 2 dogs. yes, train the separately first (behind a door or barrier), then when they have an understanding of the behaviour, have one lay on a bed and reward him for staying calm while you train the other. Start by alternating between the dogs for rewards at first, then fade the reward for the dog laying still until it's unpredictable. I also use this to help one dog learn new behaviour by observing the other. Good luck!

  16. @supernaturalbc2009 i have a weird mix of dog and i would like to see what abilities she has to go in the field i have her doin very simple retrieves but i could definentely use help. What should i start with?

  17. @Dsexton12 Start right at the beginning and progress step by step. Even if she is not a natural retriever, this approach will help her learn. And it will be a positive experience for her. I'd advise against throwing into it (i.e. using a real bird etc) as she could develop some bad habits or you risk turning on a genetic behaviour you didn't know was there. Once turned on, they are very difficult to turn off, if not impossible. Eg, if she learns to love tearing apart or chasing a bird.

  18. @supernaturalbc2009 she is half lab half dachsund, she is doing retrieves that i am gradually making longer but the problem is she doesnt wait until my call to retrieve. She sits next to me but when i throw it she immediately goes to running.

  19. These are great step-by-step videos of a basic retrieve, but as the title calls it a bird dog retrieve, I was expecting to see work with real birds, not just mentioning them at the end in passing, as further training. Most people have no problem training what you've shown here – it's the freshly killed birds (warm, limp, feathery, not cleanly shot – yuck!) that often pose the biggest problem.

  20. Why did you not reward with tug in 18B? You tugged before but not after, which is backwards as far as Premack goes.

  21. @1987grannash Thanks! That's because most people don't know how to train the basics, especially not using positive reinforcement. Some trainers believe birds are added after the basic retrieve behaviour has been generalized and some people do not have easy access to real birds so they start the training before they introduce them. It's all about foundation skills. I'd love to see a video about training with real birds and R+! Let me know if you make one!

  22. @1987grannash Video editing. It was part of the repetition circle-loopy training as it is known. Just happened that the 'after' tug got edited out. The first tug rewarded the previous retrieve.

  23. @her34her34 Basically, you capture the dog running fast towards you. For example, you are running away and they they are chasing and you pair the cue 'hurry' with the running toward you behaviour. You could do this as the dog is returning to you for food or with a ball as well.

  24. Thank you for such a great step by step video guide for the retrieve, in addition to all the other videos you've put up. In terms of dealing with a hard-mouthed dog for the retrieve, do you have any advice on how to do this with R+?

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