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RL: Possession & Free Shaping To Make FF a Breeze

My method for force fetch literally starts at 9-10 weeks old. I begin playing foundational games that are all fun and encourage the basic principle of force fetch which is "Go grab that and hold on to it". These games last a year or more until a formal force fetch program starts, but we do add criteria of performance along the way making the games slightly harder over time.

With these little puppies I start with tug. I prefer a small 8" × 1.5" round working dog style tug. On our potty breaks I bring the tug with me. I will get down on the ground with the puppy and tease him with the tug enough for him to engage it. At first it's literally just play with it. Slowly over a week or so you will see them start tugging. They're very small at this point so I'm ok with them grabbing the handles instead of the tug itself. Remember its got to be fun!!!!

As the puppy begins to tug more I will let them win and parade around with their toy. I may even chase them a little. I'm trying to build some possessiveness. This possessiveness will make them want to hold on to the object longer and longer because they see it as their object, fine for now. It's important to note these games last only for about 5 minutes. My goal is that I have to catch the puppy and take the toy from them.

Next I will use some frustration to build drive to get to the object. I tease the puppy as normal but this time I pick the puppy up while I kneel on the ground and toss the tug away about 10 feet. I will restrain the puppy until I feel them attempt to escape my grasp. The moment they wiggle to get our of my arms I let go and they can go get their toy. Use some puppy talk and turn and walk away from the puppy. This ignites pack drive and will get the puppy to come to you. Stay facing away from the puppy until they are close enough to grab then turn around. Once you have your hands on the toy PLAY TUG! Wash, rinse, repeat. 

Now simply generalize this behavior and game with other items, but use age appropriate toys. 

The next major step in the process requires a little maturity but not much. I like to use a plastic fetch dumbell at this point. Prerequisites to this are that your puppy is on an existential food training program and on a charged marker. 

All we are doing here is free shaping a pick up. Toss the dumbell on the floor and don't say anything. Let your puppy investigate the dumbell. Any engagement at all gets marked and paid. That could a look, a sniff, a lick, etc. When we mark and pay this we are adding value to the item. 

Slowly over time ask for more. So if at first it was a sniff so we will ask for a bite. Then a bite for 1 second, then 2, then 5, etc. Keep this game short and remain silent. We want the dog to be the active participant in the game and we are simply reacting with positive reinforcement. 

Momentum is key here but also don't go backwards. If you marked a bite we're not going to go back to reward a sniff, with few exceptions.

If you continue to tease this out you can free shape your way in to a full retrieve. Remember this is all baby foundation level stuff. Perfection isn't the important part here. Teaching the puppy how to learn, how to channel their drives, and that these behaviors are fun and rewarding are the things we are after. 

Now you have a dog that WANTS to go get things, WANTS to carry things, and is motivated by the thought of reward for doing so. 

Let me ask this, how much easier do you think it will be to force fetch a dog that actually wants to grab the bumper from day one on the table? A whole lot easier right? So start laying that foundation now. We will add the control and imminence to perform later with "pick your method of Force Fetch".

These are the techniques I use to build a smarter dog that knows how to learn and a very driven dog that knows how to use that drive appropriately.

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All great stuff and I have done similar things but less formalized so possibly less effective but in the end I have ended up with dogs that "naturally" love to retreive although I think all I've done is brought out an inbred function. A problem can arise though when training for a mandatory retrieve. In my experience FF'ing a dog that likes to retrieve I have tended to believe the pups BS and think we're there when in fact he's just been doing it because he likes it not because he has to. So I've encountered situations (usually involving water) where the pup balks at the command and because the "force" needed previously was minimal I am know required to introduce…

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