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What could be sweeter than having your little dog drag your shoes to you before work in the morning? Little dogs learn confidence by maneuvering large objects, and all dogs love feeling truly useful. Also, you are more likely to ask your little dog to perform a behavior that is actually useful to you, and that occurs to you to ask for most days. Teaching your little dog to fetch your shoes is a simple and fun behavior that once taught, can be used throughout your little dog’s life to save you one more thing you have to do, as well as entertaining and amusing family and friends.
It is important that your dog not mistake your shoes for her toys. It is best that she not have access to your shoes while you are away from the house, while you are training, or for some time shortly after. Be firm with your little dog throughout training that the shoes are a training tool, and not in themselves a toy reward. Spaniels and other little retrieval breeds will have an easier time with this, while terriers may struggle with the impulse to shake your loafers. Make sure the reward is a good toy for shaking for these dogs.
It is essential in establishing your training goals to define what “fetch shoes” will mean to your dog. Should your dog fetch the shoes placed in a particular location, a particular pair of shoes, or do you want to teach your dog to fetch specific shoes? If your dog already knows her toys by name, it won’t be hard to teach her to fetch a particular pair or fetch multiple pairs by name. If your dog takes easily to commands like 'go to your place' she may easily understand to get shoes in a particular location. Think about your dog’s likes and dislikes, and how you can easily motivate her and communicate to her what you want.
In all training methods, it will be essential to establish that your dog should bring both shoes in the pair. Depending on how big your dog is compared to the shoes, this may require that she make two trips. Make sure you think about this step and how to incorporate it into the training process.
Most little dogs already enjoy a good game of fetch, so you have the training basics already established for this trick. If your dog doesn’t have a good fetch recall, it is a good idea to strengthen this behavior using fetch toys and balls before moving onto shoes. If your dog likes to shake toys and “kill” them before bringing them to you, it is a good idea to discourage this with a toy that doesn’t shake well, like a smooth stick, to distinguish the fetch behavior from normal play. For dogs that don’t have a strong play drive, good treats are effective in encouraging a fetch. Cat toys filled with treats instead of catnip can encourage little dogs to bring the toy back for help getting out the treats.
The Little Steps Method
Choose shoes with which to train
Choose shoes that are relatively light and easy for your dog to grip. Make sure they are a pair that you don’t mind having chewed up a little.
Toss one shoe a short distance
Toss a shoe a very short distance and encourage your dog to fetch it. If she seems reluctant, encourage her with a little bit of tug with the shoe. As soon as she picks it up, reward her with a favorite toy or a good treat.
Toss one shoe farther
Toss one shoe far enough that your little dog has to bring it some distance. Keep working at this until your little dog is bringing the shoe back quickly and without playing with it too much.
Toss both shoes
Toss both shoes. When your small dog brings back one shoe, reward her and quickly encourage her to get the other. Practice until she is bringing back both shoes without prompting.
Make it practical
Practice leaving the shoes in places where you would want your dog to fetch them from and ask her to fetch them throughout the day. Reward intermittently.
The Toy First Method
Practice fetch with a retrieval toy
Practice fetching a specific toy. Discourage playing and shaking the toy, and encourage a quick retrieval for reward.
Toy where shoes will go
Put the toy where the shoes will eventually go and teach your dog to find it and bring it to you. Do this randomly throughout the day, in the same way you will with the shoes.
Switch to a shoe
When your small dog is comfortable with the training for the toy and is working for intermittent reward, switch to a shoe. Put it where the toy had been and give the command for your dog to fetch it.
Switch to shoes
When your little dog is comfortable fetching one shoe, put both shoes in the location and encourage your dog to fetch both of them before giving the reward.
Use the command in a practical way and reward only intermittently for retrieval. Introduce more shoes with new names if desired.
The Find My Shoes Method
Teach a hunt
Teach your dog to seek your shoes by smell. Let her sniff them, set them down, and tell her to find shoes. When she goes to them, reward her. Practice until she is finding your shoes quickly all over the room.
Teach a retrieval
Put the shoes down and encourage your dog to find them as usual, but instead of going to her to reward her, encourage her to bring them to you. Reward her for bringing one and then encourage her to get the other.
Keep practicing until you have built distance to wherever your shoes may be. Do this until your little dog is bringing the shoes back reliably for intermittent reward
It encourages your little dog’s confidence to have her tug shoes out from under things or go under the bed looking for them.
Ask for your little dog to find your shoes whenever you need them to be found. You can also teach your little dog to hunt out all your family member’s shoes when they don’t put them where they belong.
By Coral Drake
Published: 01/15/2018, edited: 01/08/2021