Teaching Tricks That Involve Retrieving

To teach tricks that involve retrieving, you have to break the behavior down into tiny pieces that will logically lead your dog to the end goal. Being able to take a behavior and break it down to its component steps is the art of trick training!

Map the Steps

Your first task with any trick is to sit down ahead of time, before you begin to train your Golden, and write out your shaping plan step by step. It is better to be overly detailed and end up skipping steps than to not write out enough steps and have to think on the fly. Another important point to remember is to not be afraid to go back to the basics if necessary to help your Golden get it right. If he forgets the basic part of the retrieve, picking up and holding the object, he will not be able to progress through the rest of the steps. This may mean backing up a bit and teaching him that retrieving this new object is not unlike any of the other objects. You do this by breaking the retrieve of this new object down into its component steps.

Tricks that involve retrieving are exciting to show off to friends and family, and they're a great way to increase your Golden's skills as a retriever. Keeping an intelligent and active dog engaged in a fun activity will mean that he has less time to get into trouble around the house.

If your dog objects to a certain type of object, don't be afraid to get several of them and allow him time to become familiar with them before you ask him to retrieve them. Giving your dog a chance to overcome his uneasiness over a novel object will make him more likely to get over it more quickly and permanently. This is a much better idea than rushing ahead, only to have the whole behavior fall apart at a later date.

Back-Chaining

A great technique for teaching retrieving tricks is to figure out what your Golden has to do to perform the trick, step by step, and then teach him these steps in backward order. The purpose of using back-chaining to teach a trick is that the dog learns the hardest parts of the trick first and the easy stuff last. This means that the dog's performance will get better because he is nearing the end of the trick and therefore moving toward things he knows well. You might teach “Go get me a drink from the fridge” using back-chaining like this:

  • Retrieve bottle off bottom shelf.

  • Close refrigerator door.

  • Open refrigerator door.

Of course, teaching a behavior like this would have many more steps than just these three. Still, this is the order you would use if you use back-chaining to teach this trick. Teaching the trick backwards would mean that the behavior of retrieving the bottle would be very strong because we taught it to the dog first. By the time we were teaching the dog to open the refrigerator door, he would be moving toward the most familiar behavior and therefore more confident about what came next. If you want flashy retrieving tricks that your dog can perform on a single cue, use back-chaining to teach them!

Most Golden Retrievers live to carry things in their mouths. They can easily be taught a wide variety of tricks and useful tasks with kind, gentle methods. It is so important to offer an outlet for your Golden's need to have things in his mouth. Teaching your dog games and tricks that require him to retrieve will help meet not only his basic instinctual need to retrieve, they will also give him an appropriate outlet for all of his boundless energy.

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