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  • Writer's pictureJenny Stamm

Retrieval - Take It & Get It

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 - Take It & Get It

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 5 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. Start with a soft object and offer it out to them. As soon as they touch it with their mouth in any way, mark and reward.

    1. I like to start with an empty toilet paper roll. It has a good place for you to hold it, it’s easy to see if they’re chewing on it, and it’s not valuable if it gets destroyed from practice.

    2. Soft toys that your dog may like are an okay place to start, but make sure that they don’t chew on it or steal it, you only want them to touch it with their mouth right now and then get their reward.

  2. Offer out the item and mark and reward putting the object into their mouth (they don’t have to grab it yet).

    1. Make sure to have a firm grip on the practice object so your dog can’t run off with it.

  3. When your dog is putting the object fully into their mouth every time you offer it to them, then add your “Take It” command by saying it first and then offering the object.

    1. As always, you can use any word/phrase you prefer, but be aware that having your dog take an object from your hand should be a different phrase from picking an object up off the ground.

  4. When they are comfortably taking the object at your cue, start working on Hold separately from the following steps.

  5. Start generalizing this cue by switching to new objects and requesting a Take It.

    1. This is a great time to introduce a practice dumbbell or eventually something harder, like keys (dogs don’t tend to like picking up metal objects).

    2. Start back at the beginning for each new object. As your dog learns the cue works with more objects, adding a new object should go faster and faster.

    3. Start with softer objects that have low value, then work your way up. Don’t use something like a phone until you’re confident in your dog’s retrieval.

  6. When your dog is Taking at least 2-3 different objects, start slowly lowering the object towards the ground, one height at a time.

    1. So, hold the object slightly lower than their nose at first and request a Take It. When they’re doing that reliably, Hold the object even closer to the ground and request a Take It. So on and so forth until the object is right above the ground.

  7. When you are able to place the object on the ground and remove your hand from it, in the same practice session as Take It, introduce the new cue “Get It” and point to the object on the ground.

    1. By practicing Get It in the same session as Take It, it will help connect the two behaviors without us having to muddy the cues.

  8. Once Get It (a retrieval from the floor) is consistent, move on to Bring It.

  9. Start generalizing Get It with different items and then different heights, such as an object on the couch instead of the floor.

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