My Dog Drops the Toy Too Far Away During Fetch. Any Retrieving Tips?

QUESTION:

Hi Don. I love your Perfect Dog DVDs. We bought the whole system. I have a question, though. My standard poodle plays fetch with a Frisbee just like the videos, and she always drops the toy in front of me. But, when she’s tired and done playing, instead of bringing it back she runs out to it and only brings it back a couple of feet. Then she goes to our car (or the door of our house if we’re at home) to signal she’s finished. We can’t seem to get her to bring it all the way back on that last throw. Any suggestions?

 

ANSWER:

Firstly, thanks for the positive comment. I always appreciate receiving feedback from purchasers of my Perfect Dog system.

Regarding your dog’s retrieving issue, I wouldn’t worry about this if it seems to be a consistent form of communication that she has developed. As long as she’s playing fetch well the rest of the time then I would be happy to excuse the last throw. By “fetching well” I mean promptly chasing after the toy, picking it up, and then instantly returning all of the way to you.

However, if the “dropping the toy at a distance” turns into more than the last throw when she’s truly tired and ready to quit playing, it would be apt to correct her. When dogs do this – whether consistently with every throw, or whether the behavior is sporadic and unpredictable, it can indicate a number of things:

  • Laziness (not wanting to make the full effort required),
  • Impatience (wanting to speed up the game),
  • Lack of/improper training instruction (failure to fully communicate your expectations and then correct for non-compliance), and/or
  • Lack of respect for you as the authority in the relationship.

If the cause is #3 then you need to carefully examine what you have previously instructed your dog to do before you go implementing any corrections. It’s unfair to correct your dog for something that has been caused by incomplete training on your behalf. Your dog may not realize that bringing the toy right to you each and every time is actually a solid expectation of yours. If this is the case, some re-training will be required. Go back a few steps in the “Retrieving” lesson on my Perfect Dog DVDs and fill in the gaps. Your dog needs to understand that “Fetch” – whilst it is an extremely fun and healthy activity – is actually a command that the dog has no choice to ignore.

Also, it seems you’re not actually requiring your dog to drop the toy into your hand. Rather, during the process of teaching your dog to retrieve using my system, you have allowed her to drop the Frisbee at your feet. If you watch my DVDs again, you’ll see that I never permit this. It can undermine your dog’s respect for your leadership in that your dog is essentially saying, “Okay, I’ll bring it back to you, BUT… (action: spit out the toy onto the ground) …here, YOU pick it up!”

If your dog knows that you simply will not throw the toy again until it has been properly placed into your hand as instructed during training, the dog will be motivated to fully complete the task of retrieve every time. However, if you get complacent or lazy or “soft” and occasionally pick up the toy from the ground (especially if the toy accidentally falls out of the dog’s mouth when she nears you), you will set a negative – and confusing – precedent in the dog’s mind. Everything needs to be clear cut so there’s no room for “anything otherwise” in your dog’s understanding of the activity. If the toy does accidentally fall to the ground – even if it falls from your own hand because you failed to grab onto it securely, you need to command your dog to pick it up (i.e. say, “Pick it up!” in a high-pitched tone) and hold out your hand for another try.

On a side note, it’s always good to add in some “Down/Stays” in the middle of playing fetch with your dog, too. It keeps the training sharp and it helps to prevent any bad habits from developing. Vary the amount of time you ask her to stay in the Down position, too, so she doesn’t grow to know what you expect from her and so be tempted to “jump the gun” and break the Down command just before you give the release.

In fact, incorporating Down/Stay commands into any activity – whether inside or outside of the home – is a great way to regularly reinforce the right balance in your relationship with her. And remember, part of the proper balance is always abundant praise, play and affection – and well-earned freedom – in return for respectful compliance.

– Don Sullivan, “The DogFather”

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