Better Your Dog Retrieves

The Willow Creek Team February 12, 2010

training hold retrieving

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Tricks that will have your dog retrieving to hand… with no tug of war

By Chad Hines

We all like a dog that picks up a bird, brings it right to us, and delivers to hand without the obligatory tug of war. There are some simple things you can do to improve your dog’s retrieving.


Your dog needs to understand and respond to the ‘here’ command first. ‘Here’ is like come. To teach a dog to ‘here,’ (come to you), a check cord is a necessity.

To make a check cord, tie a snap onto a 25-foot piece of rope. I like soft, 3/4-inch rope that will not give me a rope burn.

First, let the dog run free for a session or two, until it gets used to dragging the rope around. Then, begin using the check cord to pull the dog to you as you give the command ‘here.’ Do not play tug-of-war with the dog. Pull the check cord with as much tension as needed to get your dog to comply (all dogs are different).

This should be a fun game at first. You should back up, so the dog is running over to catch you. When your dog ‘catches’ you, reward him or her with calm praise. Do not get overly excited while praising; keep your dog’s emotions under control. If you praise the dog when it gets close to you, though, it does reinforce that something good is waiting, that your side is a good place to be.

You must be consistent with this command, after your dog understands it. If the dog does not come when called, you must get a hold of the check cord and pull him or her in.


Once your dog is consistently coming all the way in to you when you command ‘here,’ it’s ready to have its retrieving performance polished. (The tricks I’m about to lay out do not include force fetching your dog. Force fetching does work, but it’s difficult and in my opinion should be left up to a professional trainer.)

First, always back up when your dog is returning with a bird, just as you did when teaching the ‘here’ command. This encourages your dog to come all the way in, to deliver the bird to your hand. Consistency with this is important; you should always back up, even if it’s just a couple steps.

Once the dog gets all the way to you with the bird, step on the check cord. This prevents the dog from running off and playing keep-away.


Now, you’re ready to take the bird from the dog. But don’t be in a hurry.

Do not try to steal the bird. Let your dog hold it, and calmly pet the dog and praise it for a good retrieve.

(Praise should be given calmly. If you get excited and start gushing with praise, many dogs will drop the bird or start tossing it around.)

Now, you’re ready to take the bird.

Push the bird into the dog’s mouth. This creates a gagging reflex, and the dog will open wide to release the bird. At that point, you must push the bird kind of sideways out of the dog’s mouth, and bring your arm through the dog’s mouth.

If you push the bird into your dog’s mouth, then try to quick pull it out before the jaws snap shut, most dogs will re-grab the bird so fast you won’t remember the mouth was ever open.


If this approach (push in on the bird, slide your arm through the dog’s mouth) doesn’t work well with your dog, try blowing a burst of air into the dog’s nose. Sometimes, a combination of a burst of air and pushing the bird into its mouth can teach a stubborn dog to relax and give you the bird without a fight.

Over time, your dog will learn that you are not going to jerk the bird out of its mouth the instant it comes to you. I like to put my hand under the dog’s mouth when it gets to me, and calmly (but firmly) pet the dog.

Some dogs get so excited they try to run through you and jump up on you as they bring in the bird. If that happens, I reach forward under the dog’s belly and lift up, which drops their front feet back onto the ground.

If your dog wants to spit out the bird right away, just take it and put it right in your vest, so it’s out of sight and you don’t get that struggle to grab it again. Praise the dog and let it know you think it’s doing a good job.

Notes: If you’d like help training your dog or correcting specific problems;
Contact - Willow Creek Kennels in Little Falls, Minnesota,
Phone: (320)360-3603