Yummy- Teaching a Retrieve

We have had Yummy for 3 weeks now, working on teaching her some mobility and autism skills.  Her temperament is greatly suited for autism assist work but I like all the service dogs to also be introduced to some of the basic mobility tasks as well as actually learning some sharper obedience tasks such as pivot skills for heel and side, moving downs, etc.  It's also possible that Yummy might not pan out for autism work due to her body sensitivity issues in wearing a bigger backpack that she would need for that placement.

So we are working on quite a few tasks.  The biggest hurdle for Yum Yum is her retrieve.  Last summer I spent weeks getting her to pick up a fleece rope and then just started to get her to levitate a dumbbell.  I have taught a LOT of retrieves to different dogs, not just labs and goldens(!), and by far Yummy has been the slowest.  When Yummy returned to her puppy raiser she was actually biting both objects and lifting them off the ground a few inches, but that was it.  Luckily this time she did at least pick right back up with where she left off.  I had levitation of a rope right away and just a few sessions later I had the dumbbell moving a few inches off the ground.  This was Yum from last summer, working on not just opening her mouth but actually getting teeth on her rope and db:


And now I've spent 2.5 weeks trying to get movement.  Any movement at all of Yummy being able to take a step or even turn her head with the object.  Baby, baby steps.  With dogs like Yummy I almost always use a reward station so the dog has a predictable spot to get their reward.  Just like how a dog will start to crab out in heel position if you always feed in front of your body, I wanted Yummy to think about moving towards the reward station with her dumbbell in prediction of food delivery!  Usually I use a bucket, but I also did some experimentation with a platform.

We are finally to the point where she can usually do head turns without dropping the dumbbell.  And if I put the dumbbell in a bit of a chute she can back out a step or two with it.  It's progress.  Eventually, my goal is for the dog to purposefully put the object in/on the reward station, to clean up, but for right now it's all about reward placement!


Yummy is also working on a hold.  Typically I don't introduce any stationary holds until after I have a decent retrieve to hand.  I backchain many things, but not my retrieve.  But with Yummy already spending quite a bit of time (well, compared to the amount of time I will have with her to try to finish it) on the retrieve, I wanted to see if it would be a better approach.

Again I chose to deviate from my usual first approach to hold training.  Since I teach dogs to tug back when biting a dumbbell to promote a strong grip, I've never been able to teach a hold with my hands on it.  Even with my own dogs, they can be given an item to hold and then can remain holding while I reach back to put my hands on it.   But if I try to give it to them and want a hold without me letting go first it's just not going to happen!
Since I hadn't gotten to that stage of tug back on the db yet with Yum Yum and didn't see it being a fast process with her, I decided to do mutual holding.  Actually I made it a 3 way with me, Yummy, and a chair to use for a chin rest.  Yummy does kinda know a chin rest to my palm, but I wanted a free hand to use reverse luring as well.  Of course :)

This was Yummy's 2nd and 3rd lesson working on a hold with chin rest:



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