Experienced Member
well all things going koda is excelling in obedience , shes going heaps better at being close, heeling, her eye contact is great, her turning, (still working on left turning and her moving her but) but one thing we are having real problems is her retrieve,

we now have a plastic dumbell, after one chomp with her pitbull lock jaw, ended the life of a wooden dumbell lol, but we have always had problems with her retrieve wooden or plastic dumbell it makes no difference,

she has to get really worked up by me to even look at the dumbell, and i have to chuck it when shes excited, she cant do the sit and wait for it as she looses interest in it, so she'll run after it grab it up and bring it back half way or most of the way and drop it shes doesnt even want a treat for that (and shes big on her food) but also she'll run after it and tackle it to the ground and pounce on it a few times before she'll even pick it up (thats cause i have to get her excited) i have tried doing the calm way but she just looks at me as if to say "well you chucked it now what"

my trainer is suggesting we could try a forced way but hes against that idea to as shes compliant in most ways, and she'll pick up and play with heaps of other toys just not her dumbell even though we have taken her box of toys out and thrown all of them one after the other shes bought back every one but her dumbell

any advice from anyone would be great as i dont want to force train her on her dumbell, (dont really know what you even do for that but it dont sound nice) and my trainer doesnt either but she will fail in obedience if we dont learn the dumbell



Experienced Member
I think you have jumped way too many steps in Koda's retrieve. First off, I almost never start throwing the dumbbell until my dog knows that the dumbbell is the best thing in the world and can easily take it from my hand and put it back in my hand. Really, most dumbbell work is done from my hand and rarely from the floor.

1. For both of my dogs I shaped the take while dumbbell (db) was in my hand. So click for nose touching the bar, opening mouth, etc. Pair it with great treats. I am not looking for any length of hold, i just want the dog opening mouth to take the db. I usually don't let go of the db, but if you do it doesn't matter if it falls to the floor. click ends the behavior. Practice practice at all different angles so do moves to get the db.

2. Start shaping the bring. I've done this several ways. With my baby Vito, I taught him to first roll the dumbbell into my hand on the floor. Then I gradually raised my hand so he had to pick up the db to put it in my hand. Soon I get enthusastic bumps of the db into my hand. It's still not a hold, but dog is targeting my hand as soon as he has the db. I start this on the floor right in front of me, I don't want the dog going out to get it yet.

3. more bring work. Now I start with the dog on my side and hold the db about a foot in front of him. Dog must move forward to get the db. As soon as the dog opens his mouth on the db I praise and take one step backwards. The dog should grab the db from your hand, you let go and take one step back, the dog should turn towards you. Click as soon as dog grabs db and turns toward you. no need to ask for the thrust into your hand yet. As the dog gets good, start taking more and more steps backwards while the dog is coming to you. But still, the db is being taken from your hand, not the floor.

4. NOW, you might want to start doing pick ups from the floor. Go back with the db right in front of you. restrain dog, don't ask for a wait, and let him get it. again, take a step back to help him out. Don't ask for a full retrieve at first, just click the pick up from the floor. If the dog is having issues, go back and click just a nose touch, mouth open, 1 inch off floor, etc.

5. Now that the dog has a baby retrieve, I start working on the hold. This is where I have struggled to teach so I have experimented a lot. Most people just delay the click for longer and longer until the dog can hold it for .5sec, 1 sec, 1.5 sec, etc. This is extremely slow.

With Vito, I found that it worked really well to add some food as a leave it distraction. So I would give Vito the db while he was sitting in front of me (or standing) and immediately hold a piece of kibble out to the side. From past experience, Vito knows he can't eat the food and he has to watch me. I immediately click the tiny tiny hold that he has done. Basically it's the same as shaping the hold, but with Vito it helped to have something else to focus on other than the dumbbell in his mouth. I don't want mouthing so anytime Vito moved his mouth I took the db from him.

With Lance, it helped to do a ton of holding while he was moving. So I would walk farther and farther back on his retrieve, having him take it and then heel with it, etc.

6. Now combine everything and start proofing. Go slow. Just because Vito can do a hold while he is sitting doesn't mean that he can now go from a stand to a sit without dropping the db! Patience. But make it really fun! Lance is the complete un retriever, has zero play retrieve, but he LOVES his db now. He is entered in Open next weekend for the first time ever so we will see how his retrieves hold up. But really the retrieves are the least of my worries, that's how much I am confident in him. It took us many many months, but Lance has a bombproof retrieve. Vito is a retriever so the steps went a lot faster, but it's still painfully slow to get the precision, especially in the hold.

I highly reccommend making the db as fun as possible for Koda. don't make her wait, just restrain her. Get out the best treats. And maybe start the work with a dowel or a pen. Somethign completely different so you have a fresh start. Once she's better you can go back to the db. And let me know if my steps make sense!


Experienced Member
demo of sue ailsby's two grab method

I'm going thru Barbara Handleman's DVD clicker training ur own assistance dog and just went through coincidently something last week with the two grab method and proofing the hold. This might help you. She uses a stick with both hands holds both ends and dog must do two grabs or bites to get a click but he doesn't get the stick. use a hard wood THICK dowel and wrap athletic tape on hand holds so you have a good grip. She uses this to proof her holds rather than delaying click for progressively longer holds. I tried it this week for the first time and both dogs got it very fast, two grabs YAY!

nice set of vids - page down to retrieve or CTRL F for two grab
maybe some nice food like tripe or meaty lovely smelly things schmeared on the stick or athletic tape.

I had a little trouble logistically at first with the two hands and stick and click -you could also use a verbal marker--so i went and got my finger mounted I-click -or clicker with a raised rather than recessed button like a box clicker. i put the clicker on my finger-the I-click has a raised button so I could grip the stick harder and click or put it under my wrist on my knee and press down on my arm to click.

As with metal some dogs must be trained to pick up certain things over time esp if your dog was freaked by the wood snapping or something about that. I think holding the stick and using different materials like PVC wrapped with tape then wood with tape and the different shape and situation might help. You're holding it with your hands as the bells and it's a different behavior with the same outcome.

One of my dogs will pick up metal reluctantly-I didn't train her as a puppy like I have the my younger dog. The 2yo picks up metal anything so different shaped wood objects maybe?? Make all the toys or objects wood and include a nice stick from the yard if your dog likes sticks. So any toy touched or targeted is rewarded not nec to pick it up at first.

Handelman also teaches a tip of mouth retrieve for fragile things like credit cards and glasses she cues as PICK. Use an expired credit card to start. My old visa isn’t going through a reader ever again. LOL. Maybe if you teach a soft/different way of holding the dumbbell at first pick then go for the more traditional further back in the mouth hold.

Just thoughts that might work. Hope it helps. :) I agree with you that force training will probably backfire or not work as well.


Experienced Member
thank you soo much for replying, ill try the first method as a start, she does respond well to the clicker, i now have a plastic dumbell, she loves to chew and break wood, and has a very strong bite and she just chrunches sticks (or should i say branches lol) so we have a plastic one, i know you can get metal ones but i think id have to shop out of the country for those ones, nz doesnt have any

but ill start shaping the touching to the grabbing while im holding, i think i shot to fast ahead of her to be honest cause i started that with other toys and probably thought she'd just carry it onto her dumbell, our dumbell has got teeth marks all over it from her trying to play tug with it but she somewhere along the line lost interest in it, it was probably me confusing her so ill go back to basics this time

thanks guys ill tell you my progress when i get my dumbell back (its in the car at my mums work at the moment lol)


Experienced Member
ok all things look to be getting better, i have put vetwrap round the middle of her DB and she seems happier about grabbing it,

i have started shaping her to noseing it, and after me figuring out how to hold everything while shes trying to get the treats before she does any work (a regualr thing shes got going at the moment)
and shes nosing it all the time, a little to much she kept doing it while i was trying to fish out treats lol, so i was just praising her, and she started pushing it on the ground as it was under my foot

so progress is slow but she is taking far more interest in her DB and ill keep going with what im doing soo far,

ive noticed only some jeans are good for training as it really does depend on the pairs pockets