How to Teach Retrieving Games for the Adult Dog


Retrieving isn’t just a game: It’s a bonding tool, an exercising tool, and a training tool. Most dogs can learn to retrieve because it’s a natural activity for them. However, we want our dogs to learn to retrieve only the items we want them to. To that end, we often punish them for picking up and playing with “non-doggy” items.

Unfortunately, this type of behavior modification method can stifle or completely eliminate the retrieving instinct in your dog, or your dog may learn to play keep-away from you—he may learn that carrying things around causes you to pay attention to him, or that bringing them to you to admire is downright dangerous! He may also learn that his own toys are boring (because you don’t want to play with them) and your toys are valuable (because you don’t want him to have them).

To teach your dog to retrieve, you first need to praise him for picking things up in his mouth, much as it might go against your instincts. If you praise him enthusiastically, he’ll bring the item to you rather than running away from you. If it’s an item you don’t care about or that you want him to have, tell him he’s a genius. If it’s a forbidden object (and it’s not dangerous or too fragile), praise him anyway! Then trade what he has in his mouth with another toy or a treat. Make sure he believes that the traded object is just as exciting as the original— play with him, don’t just hand it to him. Before long, your dog will bring you all sorts of things, and you won’t have to chase him at all.

Now we can extend “carrying” to “retrieving” what you want! Follow the steps below: They’re fun, and the process usually works.

1. Start out with a tug toy. It can be anything that allows you to hold onto one end and the dog to another. A soft Frisbee will do, or a rope toy. If your dog won’t play tug with you, you’ll have to build that behavior, which shouldn’t be too hard as most dogs enjoy it. (This can be accomplished by offering the toy and letting him tug it away from you over and over. Very few dogs can turn that down.)

2. Play tug energetically for a few minutes—do not win! That is, never be successful in pulling the tug away from the dog. The dog has to win every time. When he is fully engaged and enjoying the game, stop playing and let the tug drop to the ground. If he picks it up and offers it to you, begin to play again. If not, you pick it up with him. You have to demonstrate that without you, the game isn’t any fun. Keep in mind that you never actually compete with the dog for the tug. Instead, if the dog starts to pull really hard, you drop it and wait for him to come back for more.

3. Resume play. Now, if he drops it or lets it go, you should pick it up and throw it about 2 feet. If the dog gets it and brings it back to you for more, that’s great! Play tug with him again. If the dog doesn’t get it, go to the tug with the dog, pick it up, and play again. Then it’s tug, tug, tug, throw, retrieve.

4. Keep playing. Each time you get the tug or it drops, you should pick it up and toss it. You should be able to throw it a bit farther as time goes on. In many cases, you can start throwing it farther within just a few minutes. Each time, the dog should bring it back to you, or you can go to it and play with it and the dog. Don’t ever take the dog’s mouth off the tug; this action has to be totally voluntary. Also, don’t reach for the tug in the dog’s mouth. He should offer it to you. If he lets you grab it and then wants to shake and kill it, let it go and wait until he finishes. He’ll most likely give it you, and you can start the game again.

Within a couple of sessions, he’ll begin to realize that the retrieve is just as much fun as the tug, and he’ll start giving you the tug toy instead of trying to take it from you.

5. After a time, start using different tug toys to generalize the behavior. Perhaps go from a rope toy to a bumper or a Frisbee. If you want to graduate to a ball, try getting a rope ball first, switching to a regular ball as he gets more enthusiastic about the game.

6. Begin to throw the item farther and farther each time. Always end the game when he still wants to play.

Here’s a tip if things aren’t going quite right. Use two tugs; pick one up if he starts to run away with the other, and play with that one. Run around a lot! Use up those calories! If you’re not excited, why should he get excited? When he trots toward you, entice him to play with your tug. Chances are he’ll drop his (which is no longer interesting) and play with yours.

Some dogs learn to play in just one session—other dogs take longer, but for most it can be taught within a week. That’s a very short time to learn a very complicated chain of behaviors.

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About the Author: Fred Goodson has a passion for pets and animals. He has 4 dogs and is planning to have another one. He is also a blogger who writes about pets and animals. Currently, he is living in New Jersey.

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