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Retrieve, fetch, go get it!

Ruuti fetching

Part 1 - How to start training retrieve:

1. Find a toy/bumper the dog is interested in, and make that the "special" toy. Do not give the toy for the dog to play alone with. It is your "together toy", meaning the dog only gets to play with it when he plays with you.

2. Play with the dog so that he grabs a hold of the toy and play tug games. Use the commands from the start, but do not give the command until the dog is actually doing what you ask of him.

-"take" -- you give the toy to the dog.

-"let go" -- you take the toy for a while.

-”bring/go get it” – the dog goes after the object.

So, say “take” when the dog is grabbing or has just grabbed the toy in his mouth. And use ”let go” when the dog is letting go of the object. Your dog will need to learn these commands, so you cannot expect him to grab the object the first time you use your command ”take”, so you have to work on the timing of the command word and the action (take, let go, bring).

3. Make the object/toy very interesting. Your dog most likely won't be interested at all in a toy that's laying on the floor, or that you're holding still in your hands. Try moving the toy around on the floor, making the toy more “lively” and interesting, so that he will have to chase after it. Wriggle it, use sharp sudden pulls, and really tease him by showing the toy right in his face for a fraction of a second, and pulling it behind your back so that he doesn't see it anymore. Repeat this a few times and use a fun interesting tone of voice, and try to get him excited “look, hey, what is this, isn't it interesting, look at what I have here, where did it go? Where is it, Oh here it is again, isn't this fun!, look at this … ! ”

Your pup will get interested in what you're doing with the toy, and will try to grab the toy. Don't let him grab the toy the first time he tries, as you want to keep his interest up. Tease him with it.

If the dog is still not interested in the toy, you can play with the toy yourself without giving it to the dog. Make fun sounds and look like you are having So Much Fun. Do this a few times and the dog will be interested in the toy: if it got You that excited, it Must be special, right? You can place the toy in front of the frontdoor out of the reach of the dog, so that the first thing you do every time you come back home is play with the toy. Only then say hello to the dog.

4. When he's really interested in the toy, let him grab it, but keep hold of the other end. Don't let him run off with the toy. It's YOUR toy that you play together with. Tug the toy gently, still keeping him interested in it; imitate his litter mates: “ Grr.. isn't this fun, grr.. aren't you having a lot of fun, good boy, you're doing well, good, grr.. good ! “

5. End the play while it is still fun, and when he is still the most interested in it (even if he has let go, as long as he is very interested in it, you end it!). If you end the play when it's not fun any more, next time he'll remember it, and won't get interested in the play as much. It's like eating chocolate cake: even though everyone loves chocolate cake, if you eat the whole chocolate cake on one go, the following day you won't be as interested in the chocolate cake as you still remember the stuffed feeling you had yesterday after eating the whole cake. If you only get a small tasty piece of it, you'll be much more likely to like and enjoy the cake the next day too :-).

6. The whole retrieve is based on making the toy the most important and interesting thing in the world! And that you can do, by teaching your dog to really enjoy playing tug. Do not use treats for training the retrieve as when you're in water, you won't have any treats available. You want the retrieve itself to be the reward. Plus, if you use treats, dogs usually tend to drop to object too early in getting prepared to open their mouth for the treat ;-).

7. Only after your dog in interested in the toy, grabbing it enthusiastically and liking the tug games, should you start on the retrieve. Retrieve is basically just the dog going after the toy, and then bringing the toy to you.

Part 2 -
Making the dog go after the toy:

You must make sure the dog is interested in the toy before you throw it away. If he's not paying attention, he won't go after it. Tease him with the toy first, letting him grab it once, then continue the same play you're used to of ”take - let go”, and throw the toy twenty cm's in front of the dog (not behind the dog, as you want your dog to carry on moving forwards towards the object!). If you threw it close enough he'll be more likely to go after it), and he was paying attention, he'll most likely go after it.


-If he won't go after it at all even at a short distance in front of the dog, you'll have to make the toy much more interesting to him, following steps 3-5. This will take time, but there is no shortcut.

-If he won't pick it up, you can grab one end of the toy and pull it with sharp quick moves along the ground, making it more lively and interesting to the dog. As soon as he grabs it (say ”take”), praise him and do your normal short tugging game. End the play while he still has the bumper in his mouth, as you want him to remember that he is supposed to take it!

Part 3 -
Making the dog bring the toy to you:

Once the dog has the toy in his mouth, start “running” away from the dog, making your dog chase you. He's not allowed to take the toy and run away with it. It's your together-toy! If you have any doubts that he won't bring it to you, you can always put your dog or the toy on the leash. If your dog has a problem of running away, put your dog on the leash. If your dog has a problem of not necessarily taking the toy, put the toy on the leash (you can “liven it up” by pulling on the leash).

Part 4 -
How to play with your dog:

-Never ever say No! when your dog is playing. You want it to be the Most Fun Ever!

- Don't just stand there and wait for your dog to grab the toy. Make it fun for him, bounce around, have fun, use different tones of voice, sudden movements, tease him be shoeing the toy right in front of his face and then pulling it away, putting it on his paws and pulling it suddenly away.. tease him!

-Once your dog takes the toy in his mouth give a little pull on the toy. Don't tug it hard (pups have sensitive mouths and teeth!), but rather let your pup do the pulling. You can pull, but don't do sharp tugs. Make it fun; you can tug it sideways and you can wriggle it :-).

teasing the dog


1. Always play with the toy after a good retrieve. Ask your dog to let go, give it back (“take”), and tug for a while. Keep the tug Fun, so run with him, tug it, let your dog occasionally win (but make sure he always brings it back to continue the tug for a while). You must always get the toy in the end, not leave it with the dog to play in the garden. You want the retrieves to be fun together-times, thus never let the dog play with the “together-toy” alone.

2. Keep your dog (or the toy!!) on a leash if you are not sure your dog knows how to retrieve. That way you can always lure the dog to you, and make sure that the dog (and the toy) reach you, and your dog does not go off running with the toy alone. It is usually best to put the toy on the leash rather than the dog (if you are in a secure area), since you can make the toy much more interesting by making it “lively” (pulling the toy on the ground, making it “jump” etc.). Your dog will be much more interested in a moving toy rather than just a still object on the ground.

3. Keep the trainings short. Even adult Newfies don't like to do tens of retrieves in a row, so for a puppy, even just ONE good retrieve is enough for the day. Always finish with a GOOD retrieve, if your dog's first retrieve is perfect, don't try a second or a third time “because he did so well”, but leave it at the first and praise your dog a lot! If you continue after a good retrieve, your dog will wonder what he did wrong, and will most likely try other (usually wrong) ways after the first. If you end your retrieves with a bad retrieve, your dog will only remember the last one the next time. And thus, will not learn what you want him to learn.

4. It's a good idea to run with your dog, to keep him enthusiastic about the toy. Give it to him, take one end, and really run and tug and run with him. Not for miles, but a few meters one way, do a quick turn and run a few meters the other way. Dogs really like to move, so get yourself really involved, and run around with him.

5. After your dog knows the basic idea of the retrieve, you can split the exercise into three basic parts:

-going after the toy
-bringing the toy to you
-letting go of the toy

They can and should all be trained separately for competition style retrieve, but only after your dog really understands what is expected.

Do Not's:

1. Never chase your dog for a toy, not even when he's carrying your best shoe, or has just grabbed something that you really need. If you even once decide to go after your dog, the retrieves will turn in to a “fun” (for your dog! not for you!) chase game. And your dog will always win; they're quicker in twists and turns and can run much faster than us. So, never chase your dog as play, rather try to get your dog to chase you! That's much more productive (teaches your dog to keep an eye on you as a contact exercise), and for the dog it's as fun as if you chased the dog.

2. Never try to pull the toy our of your dogs mouth when saying “let go”, you want your dog to have a clean, good “give”, rather than it becoming a tugging game.

- short article on how to teach give

3. Never try to grab the toy quickly from your dog’s mouth, as you want him to eventually keep hold of it, and offer the toy to you, not stand three feet from you with the toy, not giving it to you. If you try to be quick and too smart about it; it'll work for the first two times, but quickly your dog will learn that if he stays three feet from you, you won't be able to grab it from him anymore. He might take it as a game again --> how fast can you react? He comes close, then jumps away just as you're trying to grab the toy.. haha, he won again! Fun?

4. Never use treats in training retrieve as you want your dog to bring the things to you, even when you've forgotten the treats home. Usually Newfs also have the “drooling problem”, which means that if they smell or see a treat, they'll forget about the toy and drop it on the way immediately when you put your hand in your pocket to get the treat. So always use the tugging as the reward. You won't be able to use treats in water training anyway, so a retrieve / tug with the bumper should be the reward :-) !

- Also the dog soon realizes that without the toy in your hand, you can't play: if he drops the toy = no play.

5. Never grab the toy up from the ground, as you want your dog to bring it to YOU, not drop it somewhere. If the dog drops the toy on the ground, you can nudge it with your foot, talk in an excited tone and try to get the dog excited about the toy. Once the dog takes the toy in his/her mouth, you can tell the dog to release it to you.

6. Do not train when your dog is already panting and/or tired. Retrieves on land are not the most fun exercises, and if your dog is already tired, he'll just most likely ignore the toy and go sniff something else instead. Once you have a bomb proof retrieve, it doesn't matter how hot the weather is, or how tired the dog is, but to start with, you want it to be FUN.

Example pictures explained:

Vuori-puppy bringing the bumper back. He is very enthousiastic about the toy: Praise him and start slowly running back. You can see he is interested in the handler, so she must keep his attention on her (otherwise he'll just take off with the fun toy). So the handler must keep talking to him, praising, and "running" away from him.


The puppy has a good tight grip on the toy. It's excellent for tug game. The handler can run with him with the bumper in his mouth, and she can gently pull on it too. Mostly he'll just drag it from her hand, and pull it as hard as he wants to. She must not let go of the bumper, and she may do a "let go" exercise, because as you can see, the puppy is not tired yet, which means that he will most likely grab/ go after the toy again (after a little wriggling and teasing).


The dog and handler are doing the "let go", you can see how the handler's hand is oriented on the dog's snout. As the handler says ”let go” (and turns her head to pay attention to the dog) and pushes her left hand fingers in, she will bring her right hand closer so that there is no longer any pull on the bumper (because ”let go” is NOT a tug game).


See how close the handler threw the bumper. That is the absolute maximum distance for a puppy in the beginning, as if the handler had thrown it further, he would have lost his interest by the time he had got to the toy.


Watch how the handler is oriented, she is just about to turn around and and back up a bit. She's clapping her hands after a good retrieve (as "come" and "bring it to my HANDS" ). She's really praising him, and being REALLY happy that he's doing so well, bringing it to HER.


Here the handler is after the successful retrieve: he has brought it to the handler, and now they're playing. The handler is really happy, praising, talking and really using her voice to keep the dog interested in the dummy. They're also moving forward for a little run. The handler is keeping hold of the toy, because it's the "together toy" (i.e. The dog never plays alone with it).


Note how the handler is bent down, so that the puppy has a good grip on the toy.


A very good bringing the dummy to the hand. Now the handler will not ask the dog to let go, but she will grab one end, turn herself around, and continue running on the beach with the dog for a short while, and playing tug with him.


If the handler had asked the puppy to let go of the toy, he would have been too tired to take it back again and go for another play. So, instead they play once now, and leave it at that: a good retrieve.


The puppy went to get the bumper on his own from the shore, but as he is very tired (look at the speed & tail position & expression), instead of straight grabbing the toy from him (as the handler can expect that he won't run away with it), she will just praise verbally a lot!, walk with him a few meters, play tug for a really short while. Then put the toy away in her bag.



(c) Salmelin