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  • Writer's pictureJenny Stamm

Retrieval - Hold

Updated: Feb 8, 2023


Service dogs must be trained in certain behaviors to help their specific disabled partner. If the behavior is triggered with a command (visual or verbal), it’s called a “task.” If the behavior is triggered via an environmental cue (a sound, a change in the partner’s body, etc.), it’s called “work.”


This is part of a series on various service dog tasks/work behaviors, their purpose, and how to train them. You can find a glossary of terms here and the whole list of behaviors covered (so far) here. There are so many behaviors and ways to train those behaviors, but I hope to cover the most important ones. If I’ve missed something, please let me know!


Retrieval - Hold

Retrieval of items can be vital whether it’s for someone who can’t easily bend down to pick things up or if someone needs a specific item brought to them from somewhere in their home. Of course, it can also be a fun behavior to teach to give your dog something to do around the house, like picking up their toys and putting them in a toy box.


There are going to be 5 articles posted about teaching retrieval: four steps to teach a retrieval and then one to turn a guided retrieval into retrieval of a specific, named item. They will be posted over the next 4 weeks, but the steps are Take/Get It, Hold, Give, Bring It, and then Named Retrieval.


In order to train a dog how to perform a formal retrieve, follow the below steps. Mark (clicker or “yes”) and reward for correct responses and only move onto the next step when the previous one is consistent and reliable.

  1. Teach a Take It prior to starting Hold.

  2. Place your flat hand gently under your dog’s chin. When they stay still and let you just touch their chin for a second, mark and reward.

    1. You don’t want to press up with your hand. Be gentle. You want to cup their chin with your hand, but not put any pressure.

  3. When they’ll let you put your hand under their chin for a couple of seconds, add the cue “Hold.” Mark and reward.

  4. Now add a Take It with an object you’ve already practiced with and then ask for a Hold (with your hand gently under their chin).

    1. If they let go of the item too quickly to put your hand under their chin, try having your hand ready near their chin when you ask for a Take It.

    2. At first, all you have to reward is a split second of them holding the object in their mouth.

  5. Once they are Holding an object for at least 1-2 seconds, start slowly increasing the duration of the Hold.

    1. Remember to increase the time with variation that is sometimes lower: 2 sec, 4 sec, 5 sec, 3 sec, 3 sec, 2 sec, 5 sec, etc.

  6. As they Hold an object for at least 2-3 seconds consistently, ask for a Hold and then remove your hand from under their chin. After a second of them Holding the object without your hand as a reminder, mark and reward!

  7. Next, ask for a Hold without your hand there as a reminder. Wait 1-2 sec and then mark and reward!

  8. Start Give.

  9. Start increasing the duration of the Hold without your hand under their chin.

    1. Make sure to also practice letting go of the held item and bringing your hand back. You don’t want your hand approaching to lead to a dropped object.


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