I have had four different service dogs in training at my house over the last month. I have worked on fetching with each one of them. More specifically, I have worked on teaching them a good solid “hold” with a dumbbell.
Thanks to our amazing puppy raisers, most of the puppies come to me able to pick up the dumbbell and many of them will give the dumbbell to me. So why isn’t that enough? Our puppies have to be very precise about how they deliver the dumbbell. They have to hold it until their person is ready to receive it. In many cases it takes their person some time to prepare to receive the dumbbell or to move their hands into position to receive the item the dog is fetching.
Because of that, we have to teach them to hold it quietly and wait until their person is ready. And then eventually we have to teach them to deliver it to the hand. So the first step is to teach them to hold it.
I love puppies and each one acts differently when I toss the dumbbell on the floor and ask them to get it. Some dogs are really mouthy and will hold it but are constantly chewing and tossing it around like it’s some sort of great toy they stole from the dog park. Some dogs prance around with the dumbbell as if they won one of those giant stuffed animals at the state fair. Some dogs will only hold it if they are walking and drop it when they stop. Some dogs like to play with it…. They might toss it in the air or run around the room a dozen times before returning with it. And some dogs give up on the exercise and just lay down and start chewing on it, making me wonder if the plastic is flavored in some way. Each one is different.
The puppy raisers often get frustrated teaching this skill and like so many things in service dog training, there is good reason for their frustration. There isn’t any one cookie cutter method. So it is hard for me to give them a simple answer to the question, “How do I teach my dog to do that?” Often I give them an idea on where to start and when I return in five minutes they are looking at me like I’m completely nuts because it isn’t working.
When I work on teaching a dog to “hold” I have to break out my dog training toolbox. I often have to try a variety of things and often have to make changes in how I do things to fit with each dog.
As the skills we are teaching the dogs get more and more complicated, it becomes more and more of a puzzle. It becomes time to realize that a cookie cutter approach to training simply does not work. Each dog is different and often requires us to put our dog training hats on and observe, think, plan, try, and respond to each dog as an individual.
I think this is what I love most about dog training. It’s not an exact science. Each dog challenges me in a new way.