I was practicing the retrieve on the flat with my young obedience dog when a friend walked near. After picking up the dumbbell, he saw her and ran to her, dropping the dumbbell as he went. She stopped moving. I went to him, calmly took him by the collar, and enforced a come command as I brought him back to me.
" Why didn’t you make him pick up the dumbbell?" she asked.
" Because he didn’t fail to retrieve. He failed to come."
Sure enough, I repeated the retrieve, and he ran to the dumbbell, shot her a sideways glance as he ran back to me as if to say, "Sorry, can’t visit now, I’m busy!"
I absolutely believe that my obedience dogs are successful because I can clearly communicate two very important messages. The first says, "You must pay attention to me." The second says, "You must pick that up." Furthermore, I carefully evaluate what mistake my dog is making. Becoming distracted while retrieving is not a failure to retrieve and should not be treated as such.
Imagine a dog sent to retrieve that stops to sniff something on his way to the dumbbell. Again, that dog has become distracted. Go to the dog and give a pop on the collar that communicates "Pay attention." Then point to the dumbbell.
You will find that in almost all circumstances, the dog runs to the dumbbell and picks it up understanding that he should not have become distracted. However, it is possible that the dog will go to the dumbbell, and then stops and look at it as if to say, "Under these conditions, I will not pick that up!" That is a failure to retrieve and should be treated as such.
My goal is to train reliable obedience competitors that love their job. This means that they understand they must pay attention, and that they must pick up the dumbbell, glove, or article when asked.
If I ever do anything to my dog that he perceives is unpleasant, it is my responsibility to teach him how to make it stop and how to prevent it from happening again. Just as you taught your dog that a pop on the leash means "look at me", you can teach your dog that there is a correction for failing to retrieve.
I have just completed the Digital Obedience Guide (DOG): Teaching the Retrieve. If you purchase the DOG now, you will be invited to participate in a webinar about that subject on Wednesday, February 20, at 7:00 pm EST. Don’t worry, if you cannot participate live, you will receive a recording of the webinar.
If your retrieve needs to be more reliable, I hope you will let me help. When you have a dog that understands that paying attention is required, and reliably retrieves, there is no limit to what you can accomplish in the obedience ring!