User:Lindsay Ridgeway/Reward-based Field Training for Retrievers/Marked Retrieve

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Marked Retrieve[edit]


Though you won't be relying on previously learned cues, you may want to train attention and hand-targeting to establish a foundation for you and your dog training together before training "give it".

Another prerequisite is that the dog consistently rushes to the thrown article (such as a knotted sock) and picks it up. That is natural behavior for many retrievers, but not necessarily for other breeds and possibly not for some retrievers. If your dog does not show that behavior yet, it is too soon to train "give it". First, you need to shape the dog to do that.

Training the Behavior[edit]

Should this section use "fetch" or "give it"?

Once the prerequisites above are met, here are the steps to training "give it", the foundation for a reliable reward-based retrieve to hand:

  1. Use an article your dog is highly interested in and can comfortably carry in his mouth. A knotted sock works well.
  2. Snake the article around on the floor or in the air to get the dog interested in it.
  3. With the dog in front of you, toss the article into the space between you.
  4. The dog pounces to take the article in his mouth.
  5. At the same moment that the dog picks up the article, grasp the article with one hand.
  6. Hold onto the article until the dog voluntarily opens his mouth to release it. Do not attempt to take the article away from your dog. Important The worst thing you could do would be to pry the article from the dog's mouth. That trains resource guarding and keep-away.
  7. At the moment that the dog opens his mouth, click and treat.
  8. Immediately toss the article again.
  9. After a few reps, throw the article so that the dog must turn away from you to put his mouth on it. When he lifts it, he should turn his head at least slightly back toward you. If he does so, grasp the article, hold it until he releases, click and treat. If he does not turn his head back toward you, go back to throwing a shorter distance for additional reps. Don't increase the distance of your throws until the pup is turning his head back to you.
  10. After a few reps of throwing the article just past the dog, gradually add distance, so that the dog has to move a bit away from you to get the article and then bring it back to you. As long as he is doing that, grasp, hold, and click and treat for the release as before.
  11. As you slowly add distance, if the dog stops bringing the article back, reduce distance as much as necessary to get back on track. It is normal in this and all training that the dog will seem to learn a behavior and then, in an instant, forget how to do it. Simply retrain as necessary, starting at the first step again if that's what's required.
  12. At you proceed, when a time comes that you can predict the moment that the dog will open his mouth, say "give it" the instant before. After doing that several times, you'll find that if the dog is not about to give you the article and you say "give it", he'll suddenly turn toward you and offer the article.
  13. It's exciting that the dog is now returning the article to hand on cue, but don't constantly attempt to test how much control you have with the cue. Instead, continue to say "give it" in the natural flow of the training.
  14. Gradually move the cue to earlier and earlier in the process, until you are cueing "give it" as you are throwing the article. But exercise caution not to inadvertently associate the cue with incorrect responses. Observe where your dog is in the learning process, and if you're not willing to bet $100 that he'll retrieve the article and give it to you, don't use the cue.


The description above sounds as though the entire learning process occurs in a single session. That is unlikely. Limit each session to about ten clicks and treats, and use as many of those short sessions per day as you have time for, but only when your pup shows great enthusiasm for the game. Always quit while the dog is still anxious to play more, so that that is the attitude he carries with him into the next session.

Extending the Behavior[edit]

  • Train each of several objects separately, generalize for location, proof for distractions
  • When ready, practice retrieves with several different kinds of articles in the same session to generalize the behavior (see Laddie's "give it" video)

Carrying the Article[edit]

A retriever should carry the bird, or any other article she retrieves, fully in her mouth.

Some dogs do that naturally, at least for some articles. But many dogs do not carry all articles that way. For example, many dogs will pick a bird up by its head or a wing. Many dogs will also pick up a winged dummy by one of the attached wings.

Some trainers use a special kind of retrieval dummy called a Dokken (after its inventor) to help the dog learn to carry birds correctly. The Dokken looks like a bird and is available in a variety of "species". It's the correct size and weight, and its body has a soft texture that's comfortable in the dog's mouth. But the head and feet are hard and uncomfortable for the dog to hold, so the dog learns to carry the Dokken by its body.

Here is a drill for training the dog to carry any article correctly:

  1. Throw the article a short distance and send the dog with her name.
  2. If the dog picks the article up correctly, simply wait for her to bring the article to you. But if the dog begins to pick the article up incorrectly:
    a. Say "stop" in a gentle tone while walking quickly to the dog.
    b. Gently pry open the dog's mouth and place the article into her mouth in the desired position.
    c. Say "wait", run a short distance, then spin around and call "Here!"
  3. When the dog arrives, gently take the article and immediately go back to Step 1.
  4. Repeat until the dog is consistently picking the article up and carrying it as desired.

Reinforcers for Fetch[edit]

A time will come when your dog will return the article to hand because he has learned how exciting it is to do so, as a result of your throwing a "hey hey" dummy or initiating a game of tug. But in the early weeks of training "give it", he may not find those activities sufficiently reinforcing to return the article to hand, or he may not have been sufficiently conditioned to understand the relationship between return to hand and the reinforcer.

If that is the case, you can develop a strong habit of your dog returning the article to hand with sessions specifically devoted to exchanging the article for food (see Laddie's "give it" video).

You may also find that you don't need to use treats for land retrieves, but that the dog won't retrieve to hand from water. In that case, again, you can use food to build reinforcement history for the retrieve to hand wherever needed. Eventually, the dog will refuse food and will just want to play tug and/or for you to throw the article again.

Remember that for the game of tug, the toy you use matters. Your dog may find one toy significantly more reinforcing to play tug with than another.

Practicing Fetch[edit]

For a reward-based trainer, "give it" is the equivalent of the traditional trainer's force fetch. The purpose of both games is to instill in the dog the reflexive response of picking up the retrieval article, bringing it to the handler, and holding it until the handler takes it. For a retriever, this is a make-or-break skill, so it is not something to train for a few days and then consider done. Even after the dog is retrieving reliably, any time you notice the fetch element of his behavior slightly less reliable than you want, it's worth devoting several yard sessions, perhaps in the evenings, to a "give it" drill.

Pile Work[edit]

Here's one example of a fetching drill:

  1. Put dog in a sit.
  2. Place several articles in a pile.
  3. With the dog sitting at heel, cue "give it".
  4. If the dog races to the pile, grabs an article in his mouth, races back, swings enthusiastically to heel, sits, and holds the article gently but firmly until you take it, that's the behavior you want. Let him know verbally, and in whatever other way you've found to be reinforcing for the particular dog. Although many trainers do not train retrievers with food, you may find that food is a great way to build enthusiasm for "give it" with particular dogs.
  5. If the dog is lacking in some aspect of the ideal picture described above, take the article quietly, gently bring him to sit at heel again, and again cue "give it". Whether you see an improvement or not in this next rep, reinforce it. Here's why:
    — If you see an improvement, obviously you want to increase the likelihood that you'll get the new version rather than the previous one.
    — If you don't see an improvement and don't reinforce, you now have two reps in a row without the version you were looking for. That may mean that you've set your criteria too high for this dog in this session, so you need to lower your criteria or your rate of reinforcement will drop too low. In the meantime, you can give the dog a little reinforcement for staying in the game while you figure out what to change in your behavior.
  6. Your goal is to reinforce approximately 70-80% of the time. When you first raise your criteria, your reinforcement rate will drop to 70%. As the dog begins to respond to the differential information you're giving him and improves, his correct responses and reinforcement rate will increase. When it gets to around 80%, you can again raise your criteria.

Building Style[edit]

A dog grabbing a bird without even seeming to slow down as he races past it has visual appeal, or "style". Some dogs seem to naturally do this, but here's another "give it" drill that lets your dog learn a stylish pick-up, and builds his drive for fetching at the same time:

  1. Instead of having the dog start at heel, have him sit facing the pile some distance away.
  2. Then you go to the other side of the pile, again some distance away, and cue "give it".
  3. Instead of running out to grab the article, now he grabs the article as he runs past the pile.
  4. As before, use differential reinforcement to increase the version of the behavior you prefer.

Retriever Zen[edit]

A crucial phase of a retriever's training is putting the retrieve on stimulus control, that is, training the dog to retrieve when cued to do so, and to not retrieve when not cued to do so.

In other words: To train the dog to retrieve, train the dog to not retrieve. Lindsay Ridgeway calls this idea retriever zen.

An obvious reason why the dog needs to be able to make this distinction is that in advanced tests and some hunting situations, the dog must ignore diversions and retrieve only the article the dog has been sent to.

But this phase of training cannot wait until needed for advanced work. The reason is that retrieval articles, especially birds, and most especially warm birds, can become extremely valuable to retrievers, with the result that they dog would rather stop out in the field for some alone-time with the bird instead of completing the retrieve. This can happen with any retriever, but it's an especially difficult problem for one being trained with reward-based methods. Retriever zen is vital to preventing that from becoming a problem. (Note: An explanation, or at least speculation, of why this is the case would be nice here.)

Three drills can be used in combination to train this concept:

  1. Proofing Drill
  2. Speed Drill
  3. Confidence Drill

Each is discussed below.

Proofing Drill[edit]

The purpose of this drill is to proof the dog's recall for distractions.

It's a valuable recall drill for any distraction — food, toys, other dogs — but for the purpose of training the retrieve, progress through retrieval articles of increasing value and excitement to the dog. For example, you might progress through the following sequence:

  • Dummy (also known as a bumper): canvas or rubber, 2" or 3", with or without streamers, with or without throw cord, various colors
  • Winged dummy
  • Dead bird
  • Live wrapped bird (wings bound and head hooded)
  • Live shackled bird (feet tied and head hooded)

Here are the steps for the Proofing Drill:

  1. Place the distraction article on the ground.
  2. Walk the dog past the article, so the dog knows that it's there, then continue until far enough away that the dog is no longer glancing at the article.
  3. Throw a treat, such as a cube of freeze-dried liver, for the dog.
  4. As the dog runs to the treat, sidestep toward the distraction article.
  5. As soon as the dog has the treat, call "here" to bring the dog back to you.
  6. Immediately throw the next treat and again sidestep toward the article.
  7. Continue until the dog is running right over the article while running to the treat and returning to you on "here".
  8. No-glance rule: If at any time, the dog glances at the article, you are too close. Move away, then begin inching closer again. The dog may actually trip on the article when you get to the end of the drill.

Important The reason for the no-glance rule is that without it, this can be a frustrating game for the dog. Even if the dog is successful, frustration might give the game an unpleasant association, which could result in a deterioration, rather than improvement, in the dog's recall that may show itself in subtle ways, such as trying to play keep-away, in the days after the training.

The Proofing Drill may only be needed once with each article. In later sessions, if the dog is still able to be sent and called over the article, you can skip the Proofing Drill.

Cued/Not-Cued (CNC) Drill[edit]

The purpose of the CNC Drill is for the dog to learn that "back" means "retrieve". The goal is to refine that learning until the dog's performance of that complex behavior chain called a "retrieve" is unquestioned, reflexive, and performed with speed and exuberance.

Unfortunately, the CNC Drill can also be confusing to the dog. In earlier training, the dog discovered in herself a deep love of retrieving. Now she must discover the joy of retrieving only when cued to do so. That confusion may manifest itself if a variety of ways, such as the dog starting to run out to retrieval articles in field work and then looking up at the handler, apparently not sure what to do next. For that reason, the CNC Drill is used in combination with the Confidence Drill, which repairs that confusion and is described in the following section.

Here are the steps for the CNC Drill:

  1. Use a combination of the articles you've already used in the Proofing Drill above. Using a combination is important. Otherwise, you may discover later that the dog is no longer comfortable with some articles.
  2. Place the articles in a pattern. Some trainers use a straight line or a circle, with the articles separated from one another by about 20 feet. Some place the articles in a wide zigzag pattern, separated by about 10 feet from one another. Use a configuration, and enough distance between articles, so that the dog shows no inclination to skip the next article and go on to the one beyond it.
  3. With the dog on leash, walk the dog right over the top of each article. Shorten the leash to prevent the dog from retrieving any article, without jerking. Important On occasion, you may be unsuccessful in preventing the retrieve. It is essential that these not be unpleasant experiences for the dog. An uncued retrieve can be repaired — in fact, that's the purpose of the CNC Drill. A negative association with retrieving may never be completely reversed.
  4. When the dog is able to comfortably walk over the articles without attempting to pick them up, begin to occasionally cue a pick-up. Always cue the pick-up with the dog's name, using the same inflection as you use for sending the dog to a mark. Cue several feet before you get to the article so that the dog leaps forward and pounces on the article.
  5. When the dog is ready, try running the drill without the leash. If the dog attempts an uncued pick-up, gently put the leash back on and continue. Eventually, the dog should be able to run the drill confidently without the leash. Many people take off the leash too soon, complicating and slowing the dog's learning process. Continue to use it until it's completely superfluous.
  6. When the dog is fluent with this drill, you should be able to continue walking at a brisk pace, or even running, and the dog should be able to pick up each article when cued and deliver it to your closest hand without stopping. In the earlier training, you may need to slow down, stop, or even loop around and retrace your steps in order for the dog to be successful with the pick-up.
  7. As soon as the dog delivers the article, praise the dog, transfer the article to your other hand, and toss it behind your back, so that it lands back where it was. Note: With a live duck, you need to place the duck on the ground rather than tossing it to prevent injuring it.
  8. Eventually, make whether or not you cue for each article as random as possible. If the dog has difficulty either retrieving, or ignoring, a particular article, include that problem more often in the mix until the dog is equally fluent retrieving, or ignoring, every article.
  9. At the end of each circle, reward the dog with enthusiatic praise, tug, happy dummies, and/or food.
  10. Practice in both directions.
  11. Always follow the Speed Drill with Confidence Drill (see below).
  12. When the dog is able to work fluently with widely spaced articles, begin to work to walk with the dog through articles that are scattered around near one another on the ground. When the dog is able to enthusiastically pick up the cued articles, and calmly ignore the uncued ones, the Retriever Zen training is complete and need no longer be practiced.

Confidence Drill[edit]

As mentioned above, although the Speed Drill is vital to the dog's understanding of the retrieve, it can detract from a dog's confidence and exuberance for the retrieve, especially when the dog first experiences it. To counter the demotivating effect of the Speed Drill, follow it with the Confidence Drill:

  1. Place the same articles used for the Speed Drill in a pile, that is, a small grouping. Note: The articles should not touch one another or the dog may pick up more than one article at a time, either intentionally or by accident.
  2. Walk some distance from the pile. Use whatever distance seems to be most fun for the dog.
  3. Using the dog's name, send the dog to the pile repeatedly until the dog has retrieved every article. Eventually, it should not be necessary to re-cue the dog to pick up the article when the dog arrives at the pile, but it may be necessary to do so in the early going.
  4. It is unnecessary for the dog to swing to heel and sit for each delivery. The goal is to maximize the reinforcing quality of the retrieval game, so use whatever form of delivery to hand seems most fun for the dog.
  5. For some dogs, you can build enthusiasm for the Confidence Drill by offering treats after some or all of the retrieves in the early sessions. These should be discontinued as the dog gradually shows high enthusiasm without them, because you want the dog focusing on the self-reinforcing quality of the retrieve, not on the treats.
  6. If the dog picks up all articles uncued and without hesitation, and enthusiastically brings each article back to you, you can do another Speed Drill in a subsequent session. If the dog does not do so, skip the Speed Drill and continue to run more Confidence Drills in future sessions until that is the case.

Important The sequence of Speed Drill first, then Confidence Drill, is significant. Since the dog enjoys the Confidence Drill more than the Speed Drill, you want the dog to learn that the Speed Drill predicts the Confidence Drill, not the other way around. That will give the dog an increasingly positive association with the Speed Drill.

Extending the Behavior[edit]

Doubles, Triples, and More[edit]

Once the dog is running singles nicely, you can begin working on multiple marks.

Initially, they are run as multiple singles. That is, one mark is thrown and run, then the next, and so on. Later, two marks are thrown in a sequence, then the dog retrieves one, then the other. Eventually, as many as five marks are thrown before the dog begins to retrieve them one after another.

For two marks thrown as singles, the short mark is usually thrown first, then the long mark. For two marks thrown as a double, the long mark is thrown first, then the short mark is thrown, then the short mark is retrieved, then the long mark is retrieved.

A dog must have a chance to practice multiples, but many trainers believe that even for the most advanced dog, 90% or so of the dog's retrieves should be singles. While memory for the marks is a valuable skill, the skill of highest importance is the ability to see where the bird (or dummy) has fallen and run straight to it.

Start doubles at 180 degrees, and if necessary, use a barrier as you reduce the angle. Dog must retrieve article sent to, and not switch to another article during send-out or return.


When the dog is running multiple singles, but even before he is running multiples, you can begin to introduce obstacles such as a log. In competition, the dog will need to go over those obstacles, not around them.

To train confidence with the obstacle, you can begin in the house using a narrow passage, and place an obstacle all the way across it. With you and the dog on one side, throw a favorite retrieval article to the other side, then cue "give it" and be ready with a click and a treat when the dog brings the article back.

Once the dog is bringing the article back over the obstacle, gradually move the obstacle into a more open area, so that there is more and more space on either side of the obstacle. You may find that the dog will go around the obstacle either on the send out, or the return, or both. If that happens, you may have given too much space. But you can also help the dog understand what you want with your clicker:

  • If the dog doesn't go over the obstacle both directions, don't click or feed, just take the article and throw it again. Stay close to the obstacle as you throw it to make over the obstacle the shortest path, and reach your hand partially over the obstacle as a visual target for him to come to when he comes back with the article.
  • If the dog does go over the obstacle both directions, click and treat, perhaps adding some enthusiastic praise, then throw the article again.

That procedure may not work for a dog for whom the opportunity to retrieve is so valuable that he doesn't care whether he gets the click and treat. But if you are working with a dog who is food motivated, and who has not eaten for several hours, he will realize within a few reps that he gets to retrieve again whether he goes over the obstacle or not, but he only gets food when he goes over it.

Continue progress in your home until the dog will go over the obstacle in a completely open room. Then generalize for location (initially, near the front or back door, later in various training areas). As you move outdoors, you'll probably stop reinforcing with food and start reinforcing with active games such as tug and "hey hey" dummies. As always, tug is preferred because it's better for developing the relationship, but also as always, the dog is the sole arbiter of what he finds reinforcing.

The dog will have more difficulty with some placements of the obstacle than others. For example, he may tend to go around obstacles that are mid-way between you and the retrieval article, or he may tend to go around obstacles that are more than a certain distance from you. Learn his weaknesses by trying everything, and practice until the weaknesses are cured. For example, if he goes over the obstacle when it's ten yards from you but goes around it when it's fifty yards away, then over a period of days, set the obstacle at ten yards, then fifteen, then twenty, and so forth.


In a session to practice entry into cover, you might proceed as follows:

  1. Select a finger of cover you will want the dog to cross through when the training is complete.
  2. Stand a yard or two inside the cover and throw to a point along the eventual path, but only a yard or two away from you, so that the dog retrieves entirely within cover.
  3. Lengthen those retrieves.
  4. Throw to the edge of the cover.
  5. Throw to just outside the cover.
  6. Throw to well outside the cover, the end point of the desired behavior.
  7. Move back to the edge of the cover yourself and throw to the same location.
  8. Move back to just outside the cover.
  9. Move well back outside the cover, to the starting line for the desired behavior.

Retrain in several locations, until the dog habitually angles through cover rather than cheating around it. Avoid asking for retrieves the dog is not ready for, since once he practices cheating, it will be more difficult to untrain. It's better to ask for something "too easy" and let the dog have an easy success, then to dig a hole by accidentally having the dog rehearse an incorrect behavior. And of course, reinforce the dog's successes well.


Water Re-entry[edit]

  • Dog needs to be able to cross a point of land and re-enter water in both directions
  • Also, double re-entry, that is, across two points of land

Flapping in Face[edit]

  • Use large, stuffed toys
  • Use moving toys


  • Train dog to carry a bird by body rather than head, wings or legs
  • Available in various sizes, "species"


  • Dog needs to practice running past decoys
  • Dog needs to practice retrieving an article near a decoy
  • Decoys on land
  • Decoys on water


  • Dog needs to be comfortable in a boat, both out of water and in water
  • Dog needs to be comfortable retrieving past and near a boat, as with decoys
  • Dog needs to be comfortable with boats out of water as well as in water

Retrieving a Dead Bird[edit]

Once your dog is reliably retrieving dummies to hand, the next thing you'll try him on is retrieving a dead bird, such as a duck. If possible, use a freshly killed bird. If the bird has been frozen, give it several days to thoroughly thaw.

Before trying a retrieve, simply throw the bird for the dog run to run to. Then one of these things will happen:

  • The dog will run to the duck, pick it up, and bring it right back to you.
  • The dog will run to the duck, possibly bring it part of the way to you, but before completing the retrieve, start to chew it or play with it, possibly dragging it off in a different direction.
  • The dog will run to the duck and refuse to pick it up.

If the first of those happens, you're in business. Simply begin to mix in practice with both dummies and ducks.

If the second one happens, the dog loves ducks. That's a good thing. It will provide motivation when difficult challenges arise. But he has to be retrained to retrieve with this new article. Patiently retrain "give it" for a dead duck the way you previously did for a knotted sock or plush animal. If necessary, have the dog drag a long line while you're doing this so that you can catch him. Remove the line when he becomes reliable.

If the third one happens, assuming the dog is a retrieve, he probably still loves ducks, but not cold dead ones. So shape a retrieve for this new, difficult article.

Here's a description of how that might be done:

To be edited

On May 17, 2007, at 6:04 PM, Linda Conrad wrote:

> So, Lindsay, care to share how you got her to love to pick up > birds in 4 weeks time? I only ask because I'm struggling with this > issue right now - I jokingly said as soon as they start running hunt > tests with bumpers and Dokken ducks, we'll be MORE than ready!!!

Hi, Linda. Aren't Dokken's cool? We have a bunch of them, all different "species".

I should mention that it didn't take four weeks to get Lumi to love to pick up ducks, that took only a few minutes, but it took those same few minutes several times over a period of days, during which we had to start at the beginning of the process each time. Eventually, we didn't have to do again, since now Lumi seems all too ready to pick up ducks, but who knows, we may need to do it again some day if she loses that.

Other barriers also needed to be crossed in those four weeks. The actual progression was: 1st week, she wouldn't pick up a duck; 2nd week, she dawdled coming back on land retrieves; 3rd week, she picked up her first flyer (flier?); 4th week, Katie bar the door.

As for picking up ducks, we used shaping, or as it's also known, freeshaping. Although Lumi is a clicker dog, I didn't use a clicker because I felt that for this it would be superfluous. In addition, I didn't shape with food as I usually do (though perhaps I could have) because I felt we needed the best possible reinforcer, and for Lumi, that's swimming (an example of Premack reinforcement).

So each session went like this:

(1) Take a dead duck (preferably not too cold and in the best possible condition) plus a dummy and/or Dokken (I used both, I'll explain below) to the shoreline of some favorite swimming location. We used a fast-running creek, deep enough for Lumi to swim in, one of Lumi's favorite places in the world, about five minutes drive from home.

(2) Toss the duck on the ground near the water.

(3) Shape increasing interaction with the duck, reinforcing each correct response as follows:

(a) At the very instant of the response, Lumi receives a rousing send-out into the water (cue as marker), followed by me throwing the Dokken into the water just ahead of her, or upstream, or somewhere to make the swim the most fun possible. I used the Dokken for the water retrieves to help Lumi practice how to carry a duck.

(b) When Lumi comes back with the Dokken, bring her to heel, take the Dokken, and toss the dummy in the grass a few feet away, cueing "shake". In theory, this should keep me slightly drier than if she shakes as soon as I take the toy.

(c) When Lumi then brings the dummy back to me (again coming to heel), suddenly offer a game of tug (we use only the dummy for tug) for a few seconds.

(d) Finally, toss both toys on the ground, cue "leave it", and draw Lumi's attention back to the dead duck.

(e) Occasionally, I'd reverse the game of tug or the send out, or use only one of two. Lumi likes tug almost as much as retrieving. I don't want Lumi to know what reinforcer she'll get -- her motivation seems highest when I surprise her. (NOTE: Pretty much every field trainer I've met has warned me not to play tug with a retriever. Maybe I'll regret it someday. So far in our brief time in field training, I've seen no disadvantage and it has always had huge motivational benefit in other training.)

(4) As with any shaping I do with Lumi, the key is how I define "correct response" from one successive approximation to the next. For Lumi and me, it was something like:

  • Glance in general direction of the duck -- "GO OUT!" (I might

repeat this definition of a "correct response" or others two or three times, or go immediately to the next level on the next rep.)

  • Glance at duck itself without lowering head
  • Glance at the duck, lowering head slightly
  • Seem to sniff the duck a little
  • Touch nose to the duck -- (Sometimes after some progress, Lumi

stops giving the current level of response, and we'll back up to an easier level and resume from there.)

  • Place mouth on duck -- (When starting, you wonder if this will

ever happen, after seeing how Lumi felt about the duck at the beginning. But she had a strong incentive -- those go-outs, to figure out what it was going to take to be sent out again.)

  • Drag the duck one inch -- (When Lumi finally did that, I knew

that it would be smooth sailing from there, and it was.)

  • Drag the duck three inches, five inches
  • Slightly lift the duck
  • Lift the duck higher
  • Put the duck in my hand, which of course I made as easy as possible
  • "Retrieve" the duck after a toss about one foot away from my hand
  • Retrieve after a toss two feet away, then longer and longer

until I reach my throwing distance limit

  • Put down a "sight blind" with Lumi beside me, walk a short

distance away, send Lumi to retrieve (by now, she's coming to heel with the bird)

  • Put down a sight blind with Lumi waiting some distance away in a

sit, walk back to her, give her a treat her for waiting, then send her

  • Increase the distance on sight blinds
  • If available, recruit a bird boy for some longer marks (good

luck finding a bird boy, that's one of my biggest problems)

I should mention that one of my criteria for correct response is enthusiasm. I might reinforce one or two tentative responses if necessary, but I want to extinguish those (by not reinforcing them) as quickly as possible.

I have no idea if that exact progression will work on other dogs. Lumi and I have done a good bit of shaping in other activities over the years, so she knows this game well. That is, she knows that reinforcement is contingent on her own actions. I suspect that dogs who have not been shaped in the past may need time to learn that concept, but maybe I'm wrong, maybe any retriever would respond as Lumi did to the above sequence regardless of training background.

I know from other lists that people often have questions about shaping, such as, What if the dog just looks at me?, or What if the dog gets interested in something else instead of interacting with me? I'm sorry if no one on this list has such questions, but I'll give a brief answer in case someone does.

First, I'm not a shaping purist. Dogs (and all animals) are most drawn to salient stimuli, so I'm not above moving the duck around to make it more interesting, even though that's not pure shaping. I'm also not above moving around myself, such as moving to the other side of the duck, so that Lumi might brush the duck as she comes toward me. ("You touched the duck! YAY! Go OUT!")

Perhaps most important, I set my criteria at whatever level it takes for me to get a response I can reinforce quickly. I don't want twenty seconds to go by with Lumi just wondering what's going on. Did her eyebrow flicker? Good enough! "GO OUT!"

Then there's timing. Sometimes I watch people trying to shape and there's too much delay between the moment the dog committed to whatever the current criteria are, and the reinforcement. I consider half a second too long. At the very instant Lumi does whatever it is I'm looking for, that's the moment I burst into motion and voice.

So if the dog is just looking at you, move around, move the duck around, take any glance away from you as your criteria until you're getting some fluency with that. If the dog isn't in the game, make the game as easy as necessary by lowering your criteria so that she can get reinforcement quickly (three seconds is what I aim for), and of course use a high value reinforcer.

Sorry if I've given too much detail, just trying to answer as best I could. I hope if you try it you'll let us know how it goes.

Retrieving a Live Bird[edit]

  • When the dog doesn't bring back the bird
  • Long line
  • As soon as dog releases bird, throw it again (repeat several times, so dog learns that is most likely outcome)
  • To strengthen the pattern, do this with all retrieves, not just live birds

Intrinsic Reinforcement[edit]

Lindsay: verify this paragraph, use a quote, give a page number In Susan Garrett's highly acclaimed Shaping Success, a time comes when Buzz, the Border Collie whose training history she is relating, sometimes chooses to play on the agility equipment rather than respond to Susan's cues. Susan sees that as an unacceptable decision on Buzz's part, and relates how she effects a diminished interest in the agility equipment and an increased interest in the handler within Buzz's psyche.

While that may be the perfect approach for training agility dogs and those in a variety of other canine sports, agility dogs do not have to swim 300 yards in ice cold water to get to their dogwalks. Since a Field Trial dog may need to do exactly that, along with overcoming other highly challenging obstacles, most FT trainers avoid any training method that risks diminishing the dog's motivation for birds.

But a dog that loves birds can also be a problem. The novice dog is at significant risk of running off with the bird, especially a fresh-killed or crippled flyer, rather than retrieving it to hand as he may have been trained to do with a bumper and even a dead bird.

What is the solution? The answer is not to diminish the dog's love of the bird, but to integrate that love with a love for retrieving that bird to hand.


Once you've begun working on handling with the dog (whistle sits and hand cues for overs, angle backs, etc.), you may be tempted to help the dog on marks if he gets off line on the way to the fall.

Some trainers disagree with the handler helping the dog in that situation. In the first place, handling the dog on a mark can affect your score in competition. In addition, the dog can develop the habit of "popping", that is, turning to you for guidance instead of running to the mark with confidence, hunting with sight and scent as necessary.

Yet sometimes a dog will get too far afield for the retrieve to be successful if the dog is left on his own. One way to avoid handling the dog is to call him back, then reset his direction and send him again. Another way is to call "Help!" to the gunner who threw the mark. The gunner can then use a bird call, or "hey hey hey", or an arm swing, or actually throwing another article near the first one, to assist the dog, while you as the handler wait quietly at the line, as you would in competition while the dog is running to the mark.

Group Training[edit]

Discuss the importance of training with a group of experienced trainers with competition goals similar to your own. You may find it impossible to find such a group that uses methods similar to your own, in which case, it is still essential that your dog experience the kinds of set-ups, for years on end, that will only be available if you train with such a group.

Test Series[edit]

Because the problems that the dog learns to solve occur somewhat haphazardly when training with a group, you may find it beneficial in your private training to follow a more carefully designed sequence of events. For example, you may find that your dog has difficulty with increasing distance, with choice of a retrieval article (birds being more difficult to retrieve correctly than dummies), and momentum-inhibiting terrain (MIT), also known as "factors", such as cover change, water, wind, etc. (discussed above).

To train for all of those considerations in an organized way, you can use a series of "tests". The dog runs one test per session, typically one per day. If the dog passes the test, then you go on to the next one. If not, you train to repair the difficulty, then try the test again.

(Describe the "Field Training Test Series", including phases, individual tests, and criteria for passing. Include a link to L&L's blog as a sample journal.)