The first step: taking the dumbbell
Present the dumbbell (or dowel or other
item) l to your dog, without any cue. He will probably sniff it. The
instant he does, C&T (click and then give a treat). Present the
dumbbell to the dog again and C&T if he sniffs it or bumps it with his nose.
After your dog does this several times successfully, start clicking
(remember, a click is always followed by a treat) only when your dog touches
the bar of the dumbbell.
When the dog will touch the bar of the
dumbbell for a click and a treat and has been reinforced for this several
times in a row, it s time to get him to start taking it in his mouth. There
are several ways to do this. If your dog is very mouthy sometimes it will
work to simply present the dumbbell and wait while the dog touches it with
his nose, and the dog, frustrated at not getting a treat, will mouth or grab
the dumbbell, at which point you should click and reinforce with a jackpot
(a large handful of treats).
If this doesn't work, rub hot dog, chicken
fat, or a similar tasty substance on the bar of the dumbbell, wave it around
in front of the dog for a few moments to get him excited, and then stop and
wait for the dog to mouth the dumbbell. The first few times, he doesn't even
have to take it all the way into his mouth; if he licks it or opens his
mouth slightly, C&T!
If neither of these approaches gets
results, there is another tactic that takes more time, but usually works.
You will want to take the dog that is used to getting a treat for every nose
bump of the dumbbell, and put that action on variable reinforcement . That
means that he must learn to touch the dumbbell TWO times for one C&T. Simply
let him touch the dumbbell as usual, but don t C&T. A moment later, he will
touch the dumbbell again; at this point, C&T. Once the dog will touch the
dumbbell twice for a click, have him start doing it three times.
When your dog will touch the dumbbell three
times for one C&T, he is on a variable reinforcement schedule. This means he
knows that if he keeps trying, he is likely to be reinforced at some point.
If you STOP reinforcing the behavior (bumping the dumbbell) he will keep
trying and become very frustrated. The dog will try even harder for a short
period of time. This is called an extinction burst. During an extinction
burst the dog will usually bark, move around, act crazy, and BITE THE
DUMBBELL. Click and give the dog a jackpot when he does so.
When you have the dog mouthing the dumbbell
(at this point, the dog will only be putting his mouth on it very loosely,
not actually holding it; DO NOT let go of the dumbbell at any point as the
dog will drop it), practice holding the dumbbell behind your back for a
moment, then presenting it to the dog. When the dog mouths it, C&T. When
your dog will mouth the dumbbell fairly quickly when you present it, it s
time to move on.
Your next goal is to get your dog to close
his mouth on the dumbbell more firmly and for a SLIGHTLY longer period of
time. You will NOT actually be letting go of the dumbbell at this time.
Present the dumbbell and let the dog take
it in his mouth, but instead of clicking the instant he takes it, wait for a
split second. If the dog maintains his hold on the dumbbell, C&T. If he
spits it out (he probably will!), simply wait for him to take it again, then
Repeat this sequence a number of times,
jackpotting each time the dog holds on for a second longer than usual. Once
the dog will grip the dumbbell and hold it for a few seconds, allow a little
of the weight of the dumbbell to fall on the dog's mouth. Very gradually let
the dog hold more of the weight of the dumbbell until you are still holding
it, but the dog is bearing most of the weight.
Once you reach this point, you have
completed the single most time consuming step in teaching the clicker
Start with a simple variation on what the
dog is used to doing, which is grabbing the dumbbell while you hold it:
simply hold the dumbbell a few feet away from him so that he has to walk
towards it in order to take it and earn his C&T (click and treat).
Then, when he will walk up to the dumbbell
in your hand in order to get the C&T (remember, YOU don t ever let go of it
yet), practice the following exercises, one by one, until you have built the
behavior of picking the dumbbell up off the ground.
1) Get the dog to jump up and grab the
2) Hold the dumbbell out to the left and
the right and get the dog to walk up and grab it.
3) Hold the dumbbell at his nose level and
move it away from him, making him chase it down .
4) Sit down and hold the dumbbell low,
maybe a foot off the floor, getting him to reach down and take it.
5) Gradually hold the dumbbell lower and
lower until you are actually placing it on the floor but not letting go.
6) Place the dumbbell on the ground in
front of you and the dog and let go of it, but keep your hand close to the
dumbbell (within a few inches) while he grabs it.
7) Place the dumbbell on the ground and
move your hand a little further away each time the dog grabs it for his C&T,
until you can simply place the dumbbell on the floor and remove your hand.
8) Drop the dumbbell on the floor and C&T
when he grabs it.
9) Have the dog grab the dumbbell twice for
10) Start clicking (and treating) only when
he lifts the dumbbell off the ground slightly before dropping it. Jackpot
whenever he lifts it higher than usual.
NOTE: The dog will drop the dumbbell as
soon as you click, or sometimes even before that. This is totally normal at
this point, albeit scary to see if you haven t trained this way before. Don
t worry about it. The dog will learn to complete the retrieve without
dropping the dumbbell.
11) It s time to change the rules a little;
you are no longer going to C&T every time the dog takes the dumbbell.
Instead, C&T every time the dog lifts the dumbbell a respectable distance
off the floor before dropping it. If he lifts it higher than usual, jackpot.
If he gives a substandard performance (doesn't lift it as high as usual),
don t reinforce him. Simply ignore him and wait for him to try again.
Bringing the dumbbell
1) Start tossing the dumbbell a few feet
away from you and waiting for the dog to pick it up. Only C&T when the dog
runs toward you with the dumbbell in his mouth; don t click for walking away
with it or picking it up and dropping it in place.
2) When the dog will pick the dropped
dumbbell up off the ground and walk towards you with it, start clicking only
when the dog brings it all the way to you before dropping it. Remember, at
this point don t throw the dumbbell more that 4-5 feet away from you.
Distance will come later. If at any time the dog drops or plays with the
dumbbell before he gets to you, simply encourage the dog to pick it up again
and bring it to you, but don t click and treat. Teach him that that behavior
never gets reinforced.
3) Once the dog performs the above exercise
consistently, begin to vary your reinforcements a little. Try rewarding one
repetition with food, and another with play and praise; start getting the
dog to do two retrieves for one C&T. Surprise him with a jackpot now and
Delivering the dumbbell to your hand
This is the stage where you teach the dog
to place the dumbbell in your hand before dropping it. NOTE: if your dog
still drops the dumbbell upon occasion, make sure that you never reinforce
him for that behavior. Simply take the dumbbell and repeat the exercise.