Training Retrieving While You Work From Home

Written by: Isobella Ash

Brought you to by Charley Perkins and Romi

For this post in our series, we will discuss one of my favourite ways to give Romi some mental and physical exercise. I find that working your dog’s mind and body every day (preferably in the morning) will help your dog burn up any extra energy, which will make them a much better co-worker. This is crucial to being productive as you are working from home with your dog! A great way to accomplish this is to work on the retrieve, which is a logical next step after your dog has mastered the recall. Retrieving is fun and pretty easy to train because most dogs have some level of natural desire to retrieve, and your job is just to encourage that tendency. Keep reading to learn how to teach retrieving for some fun exercise for your dog during quarantine.

Teaching Your Dog To Retrieve At Home

The nice thing about the retrieve is that it can be taught from an early age, and it is best taught indoors, at first. This makes it another great behaviour to work on while quarantining with your dog. Start your training in a confined, narrow space, such as a dead-end hallway. I like introducing the retrieve in this setting because your dog doesn’t have a choice but to bring the object directly back to you.

Before you start teaching your dog to retrieve at home, you need to pick out the object you want them to retrieve. It should be something dedicated to this behaviour since your dog will always associate the two together. Some people start their puppies retrieving a ball of socks only to end up with a dog that steals their socks! Opt for a soft bumper, tennis ball, or something similar instead, just as long as it’s big enough not to become a choking hazard. 

Romi retrieves a bumper on the pond at Orvis headquarters.

To start teaching your dog to retrieve, take your dog to a spot a few feet from the end of the hallway, and start building their interest in the object they will retrieve. Wave the object in front of your dog’s face and make enthusiastic, encouraging noises. Once your dog is fixated on the object, toss it into the corner of the hallway. Let your dog go and chase the object; they will mirror your enthusiasm, so be excited. When your dog picks the object up, they will typically want to run with it, but because you are in a hallway they will run directly back to you. Even if they try to sneak past you, take the object away from your dog, praise and treat with a ton of energy, and repeat.

If your dog doesn’t want to give the object to you, try offering a treat. Not only will your dog open its mouth for the treat, but the treat also acts as an immediate reward for giving you the object.

Once your dog is bringing the object back a short distance with some regularity, it’s time to label the behaviour. You’ll need to teach your dog not only a retrieve command but also a drop command. The next time you toss the object to be retrieved, hold your dog back and do not release them until you give a retrieve command. You will feel your dog get keyed up to go, and you can say your retrieve command (I like “fetch it up,” “back,” or “get it”) as you release their collar. When your dog is bringing the object back, give the “drop” or “give” command right before they drop the object, or as you take it away. Again, be super enthusiastic, keeping your dog as excited as possible. Move slowly backwards, maybe a couple of feet at a time, down the hallway, making the retrieves a little bit longer as you go.

Tips For Teaching And Practising Retrieve 

As you move along through this process, there are a few tips to remember:

  1. Once you start trying out longer retrieves, be sure not to start praising too early. Wait until your dog is about ⅔ of the way back to you so you know they are coming and they’re less likely to drop the object on their way back.
  2. You can use treats to reward your dog, but only show the treat when your dog has brought the object all the way back to you. If your dog sees that you have a treat while they are still a distance away, they might just focus on getting the treat, and drop the object they are supposed to be retrieving.
  3. If your dog tends not to like to give you the object, you have a few options:
  • You can “bait and switch” by giving a treat and taking the retrieved object when your dog goes for the treat. 
  • You can try pushing the object back deeper into your dog’s mouth, which will often make them let go.
  • If your dog is really stubborn, you can push their lip against their teeth with just enough pressure to get their attention. They will often loosen their grip on the object quickly, so you can take it.
  • REMEMBER – once your dog understands the desired behaviour, label it. Say “give” when they finally give up the object, and be sure to reinforce with treats and/or lots of praise.
  1. If your dog doesn’t want to bring the object back at longer distances, you will be tempted to chase after them to get it. Do not do this! It will confuse the retrieve with a game of chase, which isn’t what you want. Instead, turn around and move away from your dog in the opposite direction. When your dog sees that you are going away, they will likely come in really quickly.
  2. If your dog starts making multiple mistakes, don’t be afraid to revisit the basics. Slow down on longer retrieves or even consider moving back to the hallway exercises if needed. Quarantining with your dog is the perfect time to really hone this skill!

Getting To The Fun Of Retrieving 

As you and your dog get better and better at retrieving, the fun really starts.  You can now start to have your dog retrieve by smell, or retrieve hidden items. When I was a kid, this was my favorite game: we would hide a bumper with a bird wing or feathers tied to it somewhere in the house, and then tell our dog to fetch. It’s incredibly fun and rewarding to see your dog get excited when it starts to scent the object. Romi loves this game, and it is a great indoor “hide-and-seek” that will engage your dog and give them some good, safe exercise while you are quarantining with your dog. 

We talked about involving the whole family in training in the last post and retrieving games are a great way to do it. While one person holds the dog, have someone else in the family go hide the object. Once they’re done, release your dog and give your equivalent of a “fetch” command, and let them figure out the smells. If your dog has a great handle on the recall skill and you have a safe place to practise, this is a fun game to take outside when you have the chance. You’ll be amazed at all the creative retrieves a dog can do.

Tip: Try rubbing the bumper on the ground around where you hid it, or leave a scent trail.  

That is retrieve. It is a great game that engages the body and the mind, and sets the scene for the future skill of “sit and stay.” Feel free to start this process indoors with a puppy, just as a fun game and as exercise for your dog during quarantine. You and your dog will get to love retrieving time, and it should gain you some necessary exercise that will keep your dog really happy. It’s also a great morning exercise that should earn you some much needed calm as you’re working from home with your dog.

Charley Perkins is Orvis Brand Marketing Manager, and a member of the third generation of family ownership.

Click here for previous posts in this series:

1. Working From Home With Dogs: How To Survive And Enjoy Quarantine

2. How To Create Productive Work Spaces At Home With A Dog

3. Creating Productive Work Spaces At Home With A Dog, Part 2

4. Working Alongside Your Dog: Understand Your Dog’s Behaviour

5. Training Recall While You Work From Home

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