Over the last few week one of the exercises I’ve been teaching Kali is a formal/ controlled retrieve. My aim is to eventually teach her the amazing fire dumbbell retrieve which her great Aunt Maddie has perfected and wowed literally thousands of people with. As you can see by the film Maddie performs the exercise with so much confidence she makes it look really easy.
Kali always has a toy in her mouth, she loves nothing better than to parade around showing off whichever toy she has to me and my other dogs! So you would think a retrieve would be the easiest thing in the world to teach-wrong!
All the toy parading has been on Kali’s terms and in her mind possessing the toy is really rewarding, meaning to sit and present it to me is the last thing on her agenda. This has meant a lot of patient training. I am breaking the exercise down into small segments, rewarding frequently so not only does she understand what I want but also changing what she finds rewarding. As you can see in the film I use my conditioned word of ‘good’ to mark when she is doing the right thing and then give her a food reward (Natural Instincts’ beef jerky treat.)
When training I always look to break an exercise down into small components and as the dog masters each of them I link them together- this process is often referred to a ‘shaping’ and is commonly used in clicker training.
As a trainer I recognise that it takes time to teach a dog to the point where it thoroughly understands and then reliably performs the behaviour in different places. This knowledge is empowering as it means I set realistic expectations and am not too concerned with time scales- I am convinced this is why I am so patient and avoid feeling frustrated.
Kali and I still have a long way to go before that ultimate fire retrieve but I am delighted with her progress and am confident one day I will step onto a display arena and perform this routine proudly with her.