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Teaching the Retrieve - Addressing the Controversy - Part 2
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In order to compete in obedience, teaching a dog that he must retrieve on command is equal in importance to teaching him a that he must pay attention. Whether teaching attention or retrieving, you should start by shaping the behavior, but at some point your dog must understand that the behavior is required.

As the owner of a UDT Maltese who was taught to retrieve using a food reward, it was readily apparent that there were limitations in that approach. Although my Maltese was a happy retriever, I did not have any means to explain to him that mouthing, pouncing, or shaking were outside the AKC definition of appropriate. The best I could do was to try to withhold food for sloppy retrieves and use a reward marker when he did it correctly. However, because pouncing, shaking and mouthing were fun (self-rewarding behavior), he never totally gave up those behaviors. I could not eliminate the unwanted behaviors because when he felt burdened with the “rules of retrieving,” he would quit retrieving as if to say, “If I cannot do it my way, I will not do it at all.”

Understanding Reinforcement

The definition of reinforcement is that it increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur.

Positive reinforcement, in the form of a continue on marker (ie. “good”) or a reward a marker
(ie. “Yes” or clicker) can communicate to the dog exactly what he is doing that you like, and increase the likelihood that the dog will continue to offer the behavior.

Likewise, negative reinforcement also increases the possibility that the behavior will continue.

Pinpointing the Controversy – Understanding Negative Reinforcement

A seatbelt buzzer is a perfect example of negative reinforcement. When you hear the noise, you buckle your seatbelt. You make something unpleasant stop. Furthermore, if you get in the car and buckle your seatbelt before you start the car, you prevent the unpleasant sound from occurring.

Do you know a dog that has been taught to stay within the confines of an underground fence? That was done using negative reinforcement. The trainer leads the dog around the boundary of the yard, and when the dog encounters the electric stimulation, he shows the dog how to make the unpleasant sensation stop by pulling the dog back into the yard.

Soon, the dog learns that if he never gets too close to the boundary of the yard, nothing unpleasant will happen. He knows how to stop and how to prevent the negative reinforcement.

If you have taught your dog that a pop on the leash means look at me, you have used negative reinforcement. You have taught the dog that he can make something unpleasant go away by looking at you. In fact, your dog has probably learned that if he never looks away, you will never pop the collar. Because he has learned how to stop and how to prevent the negative reinforcer, he has learned to control whether or not it occurs.

In the same way, you can use negative reinforcement to teach your dog that retrieving is not optional.
Just as you taught your dog that a pop on the leash means “look at me.” You can teach your dog that something will happen that bothers him if he refuses to retrieve.

The correction that most associate with a failure to retrieve is an ear-pinch. However, so much bad dog training has been done in the name of the “ear-pinch,” that some of you are adamant that you will never pinch your dog’s ear. That’s fine. There is nothing magical about the “ear-pinch.” You can choose anything that your dog find’s unpleasant and associate it with refusing to retrieve.

However, just as you expect to systematically teach your dog that a pop on the leash means pay attention, and that the underground fence indicates to the dog that he should move closer to the house, you need to understand, step-by-step, how to teach your dog to control something that he perceives as unpleasant by picking up what you point to.

If you believe that your dog must understand that retrieving is required, and you trust that I can show you how to teach him that in a systematic and careful manner, I invite you to join me as I coach you through the process.

I have completed a Digital Obedience Guide (DOG): Teaching the Retrieve

From now until February 20, you can purchase the DOG for $49.95.

Included in that purchase, you will be invited to participate in a webinar about that subject on February 20 at 7:00 pm (EST).

I want your dog to love retrieving; after all, much of obedience depends on his enjoyment of the retrieve exercises. However, I also want him to understand that there are rules about how to retrieve.

If you are interested in shaping the retrieve, and then requiring the retrieve, or if your retrieve needs to be more reliable, I hope you will let me help.

Consider the Digital Obedience Guide: Teaching the Retrieve

May all your retrieves be perfect scores!