User:Lindsay Ridgeway/Reward-based Field Training for Retrievers/Foundation Behaviors

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Foundation Behaviors[edit]

This chapter discusses concepts appropriate to any trained dog and not specific to field work, but necessary for the field dog.


  • The relationship-building reinforcer
  • The choice of a tug toy is important. The dog may find playing tug with one toy significantly more enjoyable than another, and therefore, using that toy may have a significantly more reinforcing effect on other behaviors than playing tug with another toy might.

Practicing with Muliple Tug Toys[edit]

An interesting version of tug is to use two or more toys:

  1. Offer one of the toys, and when the dog grabs the toy, play enthusiastically with him for a few moments.
  2. Then drop the toy, letting the dog continue to play with the toy himself.
  3. Now offer the other toy, perhaps squeaking it, folding it in half and flapping it like jaws, or in some other way enticing the dog with it.
  4. When the dog grabs your new toy, resume enthusiastic tug with this new toy, while using your other hand to slip the other toy away from the dog.
  5. Continue to alternate between the toys, allowing the dog to learn over and over again that it's you, not the toy, that makes the game so much fun.


  • The single most important behavior for any dog
  • Use of a long line to avoid rehearsing self-reinforcing behavior
  • Puppy ping-pong
  • Calling from restraint to build motivation
  • Using tug to reinforce (versus a thrown toy -- exciting but not as good for building a relationship; versus food -- possibly calming rather than exciting)
  • Choice of the tug toy is important (see Tug)

The Dreaded Keep-Away Game[edit]

As discussed in How to Use This Book, the first few chapters of this manual describe training that is to occur in parallel, not in sequence one chapter after another.

While "give it" is the basis for retrieving, and also for the refinement of retrieving to hand, it also plays a role in your relationship to the dog so important that it cannot be overstated.

"Give it" is the keystone for solving what is for some dogs the most dreaded enemy of reliable recall, the keep-away game. This information needed in the section on "give it" also.

TO DO: Discuss the no-glance rule.

TO DO: Explain RETRIEVER ZEN: To train the dog to come back with the bird, train the dog to come back without the bird.


Attention means that the dog's attention is on you, whether he's in your arms or 500 yards away.

Although it's possible for the dog to look at something else, such as an agility object or a retrieval article, while remaining attentive to the trainer, the term attention is usually meant to include eye contact. It's a key behavior for any performance dog, and valuable for any dog:

  • Enables dog to see visual cues
  • Dog is engaged in the activity with you and ignoring any distractions
  • Ability to gain and hold the dog's attention is as much about you as a trainer as about the dog's skills
  • Attention is a key building block of the overall relationship

Attention as Default Behavior[edit]

Default means that the dog offers the behavior spontaneously, without any cue from the handler.

Attention to you is an good default behavior for many situations, such as you entering the room, the approach of a strange dog or person, confusion about what behavior you are asking for.

Training the Behavior[edit]
  • In a small room such as a powder room, place a bowl of treats out of sight, then sit on the floor or a chair with a clicker.
  • Each time the dog looks at you, click and treat. Don't reach for the treat until you've gotten the response you want. Otherwise, reaching for the treat will be the stimulus that triggers the behavior, and you want the behavior to occur without any stimulus from you other than your presence.
  • If the dog doesn't look at you at first, click and treat for a glance in your general direction. Once that is occuring reliably, after 3-5 times, limit your clicks to the longer, more accurate glances, and strengthen that version of the behavior for several clicks. Then again raise the criteria.
  • All organisms are drawn to salient targets, so you can also get the behavior going by moving your face around, smiling and talking to the dog. Again, fade those stimuli as quickly as possible so the dog is seeking eye contact without any action on your part.
  • Assuming the dog likes the treats you're using, you may find you can do this for many reps without the dog losing interest. For example, you can hand feed the dog's entire meal with this exercise. If the dog does begin to lose interest, do something exciting with the dog and then end the session.
  • Repeat this training in a non-distracting environment until the dog understands the game entirely. Then begin to generalize for location and distractions by moving to somewhere else in the house, and then in front or back of your home, and finally in strange locations. Over a period of a few weeks, you'll be able to play the game in any environment, and your dog will have developed a strong habit of giving his attention to you.

Attention Cued as "Watch"[edit]

Once your dog has developed attention as a default behavior, you can also put eye-contact on verbal cue by saying "watch" just before the dog looks at you several times.

Soon, you'll find that you can say "watch" and the dog will look at you for his click and treat even if he was not just about to.

Don't test this in highly distracting situations, such as dog play or when the dog is sniffing, until you are completely confident that the dog will respond correctly. You don't want the dog rehearsing ignoring you. Are you willing to bet $100 that he'll look at you when you say "watch"?

Attention Cued as Dog's Name[edit]

Many performance dogs are also trained to respond to their name as cue for "watch". That may or may not be appropriate for retrievers, since their name is also used as a send-out for marks.

If you are going to use the dog's name for both "watch" and/or recall, and also as a send-out on marks, and you plan to train the "watch"/recall version to a reflexive response that you want the dog responding to without thinking, it might be useful to be aware of that reflex when you use the identical cue as a send-out.

On the other hand, you may find that using the dog's name on a send-out isn't a cue at all, but rather a release, allowing the dog to perform his favorite activity, retrieving. Thus using his name that way may serve to strengthen it an attention and recall cue.

Atttention Chained to Other Behaviors[edit]

Some trainers include eye-contact as a behavior chained onto other behaviors. For example, "leave it" might be shaped so that in the final version of the behavior, the dog not only moves his mouth away from the object, but then looks at you. And "sit" might be shaped so that in the final version of the behavior, eye-contact is required in order to earn reinforcement. Note to Lindsay: Update "leave it" and "sit" with this information.


  • Wearing the dog
  • Helps recall
  • Helps heeling
  • Even helps learning to swim

Leave It[edit]

  • Trained cheerfully (doggie zen)


Training the Behavior[edit]

  1. Take the dog to the place outside where you want him to eliminate whenever it is likely to happen. This varies from dog to dog, but a good rule of thumb is between any two states of activity:
    — Time in the crate
    — Sleeping
    — Playing
    — Eating
  2. Whenever the dog eliminates in the desired location, reinforce well. For example, you might congratulate the dog enthusiastically on his brilliance and give him a high-value treat.


  • Do not punish.
  • If you are not present when the accident occurs, do not interact with the dog at all with respect to the accident. Simply clean it up.
  • If you are present while the accident is in progress, instantly but gently carry the dog outside to the place where you want him to finish.

Crate Training[edit]

  • Clicker-training is one possibility, but doing it the first night you have a new puppy may be unrealistic
  • Many people keep the crate in their bedroom, or even on the same level as their bed, at least the first couple of nights
  • Try covering the crate when the dog cries
-- She may not cry the next time, because she may not like having the crate covered and may wish to avoid that happening again
-- Or she may cry again, because she may not mind having the crate covered, or may even like it and may cry to make it happen
-- Either way, she may not cry in the covered crate


  • Cuddling in arms
  • Bodywork
  • Stretches
  • Grooming
  • Nail grinding
  • Tooth brushing
  • Falling asleep in arms on couch

Hand Target[edit]


Here, Lindsay Ridgeway describes some of the ways he used cuddling in training his young puppy Laddie, beginning in the summer of 2007:

"At various times such as before bedtime, Laddie, Lumi and I run into the backyard, and I sit or lie down in the grass. I have treats and a tug toy with me. Sometimes the dogs interact with one another, and sometimes Laddie goes off to explore for a little while. But most of the time, he's with me, tumbling around in a circle I make with my arms, playing tug, or retrieving the tug toy when I throw it for him. Often he'll roll into me, pushing against me with his back or head. It makes me feel that he's seeing me as a protector as well as a playmate.

"When DW Renee and I are watching a video, I often have Laddie sit on my lap, at first playing, eventually collapsing like a rag doll and snoozing in my arms.

"Sitting at the computer, I sometimes take Laddie out of the crate and hold him in my lap while typing. He'll try to help me with the mouse and keyboard for awhile, but I cradle him in my arms and snuggle with him, and we sometimes give each other kisses. After a few minutes, he's a rag doll again.

"When we play at the lake, I've found that Lumi wants to be sent right back into the water as soon as possible after every retrieve, while Laddie usually likes to spend some time on dry land before having another dummy thrown for him. So when he brings his dummy back, I often take it from him and then run over to the grass and lie down, and soon he's there with me, tumbling around against me, soaking wet. We wait for Lumi to come back from her much longer throw. Then I'm back on my feet, walking toward the water and swinging one of the dummies, and Laddie's there beside me, looking out at the waves to see where his dummy's going to land so that he can swim out to it. I might put Lumi into a sit and throw Laddie's dummy first to work on Lumi's steadiness, or I might send Lumi out first. Either way, the cuddling break seems to increase Laddie's motivation for his own retrieves, whereas if I just throw the dummy again as soon as he gets back, he might watch it go out but not go after it."