Jump to section
Poodles are known for being circus dogs and show dogs modeling huge poofy hair. While we expect Poodles to be smart and trainable, we may not expect them to excel especially at retrieving. When we think of retrievers, we tend to think of Labs and Goldens, as well as spaniels. Poodles were, in fact, bred to be retrievers, especially of waterfowl in marshy and swampy areas. That beautiful fluffy coat made poodles water and mud resistant, and the exaggerated cut that we know today was originally designed to keep the Poodle's vital organs warm while swimming in cold water, while keeping the belly and hindquarters free of the weight of heavy hair. Hair was kept thick around joints to keep them warm and prevent injury, and tied into a topknot with a ribbon so that dogs could see and so that the hunter could see their dog at a distance.
Since your Poodle was bred for retrieving, and is smart enough to do most other things you ask her to do as well, she should have no problem learning to retrieve for you. To build a consistent retrieval, however, and to teach your Poodle to retrieve whatever you want her to, will take more time and practice. If you want your Poodle to retrieve birds you will need to train her to be gentle when handling birds so as not to damage the meat. If you would like for your Poodle to compete in retrieval sports like dock jumping you will need to get her comfortable with the rules of the sport as well.
Most Poodles have a natural retrieval instinct, but if yours doesn't seem to care about retrieving you can encourage her with treats or a tug game as motivation. Have your vet clear your Poodle for any physical issues or ailments which may make her reluctant to retrieve. If you are working with a Poodle puppy, take training slowly. Poodles are extremely eager to please and you don't want to stress your puppy's growing body with too much exercise.
Until you are very confident that your Poodle has a good recall and is dedicated to her fetching, only work with her on a long line or in a fenced area. While Poodles are highly trainable and one of the breeds most likely to learn off-leash manners, Poodles are very alert and aware dogs who can easily become distracted until they are thoroughly trained, so be very careful when working with your Poodle.
The Natural Retriever Method
Driven to retrieve
If your Poodle already shows good retrieval instincts, showing interest in a tossed object and picking it up, you only need to clarify the goals and let your Poodle's instincts do the rest.
Toss an easily retrieved item like a ball or small stuffed toy a short distance and give your poodle a command for "retrieve".
When your Poodle goes to get the object, praise and encourage her all the way back to you.
If she drops it
If your poodle drops the toy, make an exaggerated effort of trying to get to it. It helps to be sitting on the ground. Your Poodle may immediately help you by bringing it to you or you may need to practice a few times before she gets it.
Before you throw the toy each time, build suspense in your Poodle. Dogs love suspense, and building it carefully in your Poodle will make the toy more desirable. In time, you will be able to throw anything anywhere and your poodle will bring it back to you.
The Want to Play? Method
Play driven Poodle
If your Poodle prefers lighthearted free play to organized tasks, you can use her love of fun to encourage her to retrieve.
Play tug with your Poodle with a short tug toy or rope. Play until your poodle is really into the game, then win the game.
Toss the tug
Toss the tug a short distance and when your Poodle runs to it, call her and encourage her to come back to you.
Your poodle may want to enjoy the tug for some time now that she has it. Don't give up, keep watching and calling every so often to remind her you still want to play. Don'g be strict about recall, this is about motivating with play.
When she brings it back
Eventually your Poodle will bring the toy to you to play again. Play a good game of tug before throwing the toy again. Eventually, your poodle will learn that bringing the toy back means a game. If you would like her to retrieve other things, you can use tug as a reward.
The Retrieve the Treats Method
Food motivated poodle
If your poodle is more interested in food than in fetch or toys, you can use food to teach her to retrieve.
Pack a toy
Pack a small toy with treats. Cat toys with Velcro openings for catnip work well.
Show the treats
Show your Poodle the treats, then close up the toy so she can't easily get to them.
Toss the toy
Toss the toy a short distance. Your Poodle will go to it and either pick it up or start trying to get into it. Call her to you enthusiastically.
As soon as your Poodle takes a few steps towards you, reward her by opening the toy for her and giving her a treat. Then close it back up and play again. Soon she will learn to bring you the toy to get a treat.
By Coral Drake
Published: 03/01/2018, edited: 01/08/2021