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You throw a ball for your Labrador puppy and off he goes. He trips over his oversized puppy feet in an effort to get the ball in his mouth. Halfway back to you, he decides he would rather have the ball to himself and wanders off in the other direction to chew on it. Or he gets all the way back to you and then refuses to hand over the toy. It's the classic "throw, but no take" mentality many dogs have.
Labradors are natural-born retrievers, but some have more talent for it than others. However, with a little training, most lab puppies gain the skills to fetch and retrieve easily. Some common issues Labrador owners face during games of fetch include their puppy:
- Becoming bored of the game after a few throws.
- Being a ball thief and refusing to come back with the ball.
- Bringing the ball halfway and then skirting them.
- Returning with the ball, but then refusing to part with it.
- Dropping the ball before making it back.
Different methods of training are more effective than others depending on the behavior of your puppy. With a little patience, fetch can be an excellent way to have fun with your puppy and give him the exercise he needs.
For playing fetch, the ideal toys are balls or retrieving dummies. Frisbees are fun for more advanced dogs, but are likely too difficult for your puppy while he is training. Do not use sticks for fetch, as they can perforate your puppy's throat. Some small puppies do not want to chase anything except for their favorite stuffed toy. Start off with whatever your puppy is willing to chase, as you want him to have fun as he is learning to retrieve. Some puppies will respond well to treat rewards or clicker training.
The Chase Me Method
Use your puppy's instincts
If you have a Labrador puppy who loves to chase things, you are already halfway to having a dog who will retrieve. One way to make your puppy come back to you after he gets his toy is to use his chase instinct to help.
Throw the toy and run
Start off a training session by throwing a toy you know your puppy loves to chase. As soon as your puppy bends his head to pick up the toy, run in the other direction.
Make him chase you
Most puppies will want to give chase. If your puppy really wants the ball, he will scoop it up before chasing you. If he leaves the ball in his dust in his hurry to chase you, wait until the ball is firmly in his mouth before running away.
Let him catch you
As soon as your puppy catches up to you, make a big fuss over how fast he is and then throw the ball again. The goal is to make your Labrador puppy realize how much more fun it is to come back to you when compared to taking the ball for himself.
Slow to a walk
Once your puppy is reliably coming after you, walk away from him instead of running. If he still comes back, you can try standing still after you throw it. You should still reward him with some good praise when he comes back and throw the ball for him again.
The Back Away Method
Choose a command word
If your puppy can't quite get the toy all the way back to you, you can use this method to encourage him to finish the job. Pick a word or phrase to use as a command, such as "all the way" or "bring it." Be consistent with your command and use it every time your puppy drops the toy before he gets to you.
Make him bridge the gap
When your puppy drops the toy before reaching you, slowly back away and use your command word. He should pick it up and follow you.
Reward him for a good job
Once he reaches the spot you were standing before, walk back to your puppy and give him praise or a reward. If he decides not to let the toy go, you can tell him to "drop it" and hold a toy over his nose. Generally, puppies will choose the treat over the toy.
After a few training sessions, try standing still while using the command word you established. Your puppy should pick up the toy and bring it to you without you needing to back up. If not, keep practicing with the original method for a while longer.
Make things more difficult
Once your puppy gets the hang of dropping the toy at your feet, you can enhance his skills by not rewarding him until he puts the toy into your hand. This is a more advanced skill which may take longer for your Labrador puppy to achieve.
The Clicker-Trained Method
Make sure your puppy responds to a clicker
For this method, your puppy will need to understand what a clicker is and what it means. Clicker training your puppy can start with more basic skills, such as 'sit'. Basically, you click the clicker and give your puppy a treat. The goal is for your puppy to associate the clicker with the reward and focus his attention on you when you use it.
Touch the toy
Place a toy or training dummy on the ground near your puppy. When he goes to investigate, click the clicker as soon as he makes contact with the toy. Then, quickly give him a treat. If your puppy doesn't investigate the toy, you may need to encourage him by clicking and treating as he gets nearer and nearer to the toy until he finally touches it.
Picking up the toy
Once your puppy regularly touches the toy, change the rules. Now, you only want to reward your puppy when he picks up the toy. At first, reward for any open-mouth contact with the toy. Then raise the stakes so you only click and treat if he actually raises the toy off the floor.
Dropping the toy
You don't want to be playing tug-of-war with your puppy every time he brings the toy back. Once your puppy picks up the toy, click and throw the treat a little ways away. Your puppy should drop the toy and go for the treat.
Delivering the toy
Once your puppy is regularly picking up the toy, change the rules so he has to bring the toy to you. Instead of throwing the treat, hold onto it for a little longer. When your puppy moves towards you with the toy, click and treat. Each time, make him get a little closer.
Putting the toy in your hand
The final stage is making your puppy actually place the toy into your hand. This stage is more advanced and make take longer for your puppy to learn. Make your puppy come closer and closer with the toy until you only give a reward if the toy makes contact with your hand. Over time, your puppy will understand what is expected of him and deliver the toy right to you.
By Christina Gunning
Published: 03/02/2018, edited: 01/08/2021