Retrieving is a major part of most service dog’s lives, but they have to be able to have associated a word with the object, be able to find it, and often to pick up, carry, and bring it.
That’s 5 steps to something as seemingly simple as a fetch.
In the words of some wise person, the more moving parts something has, the more things can go wrong! So I start first teaching the words of things. Step two is this: the find it. Find it games are just fun. They can exercise the puppy, be done almost anywhere there are things they recognize, an provide countless opportunity to interact and get praise.
Having taught my new puppy a few words those first few days at home, I break out the clicker and start the find it games to reinforce what they’ve learned, to pay attention to me and my voice, and have way way more fun doing things with me (for me) than doing their own thing.
FIND IT BIG OBJECTS:
Once they know the words, I can ask them to “show” or “find”. This is called targeting by trainers.
I let a little pup just go to the item, but as they get older and I am thinking about the picking up, I’ll want them to touch it.
http://www.clickertraining.com/node/546 has a great how to article on teaching targeting, and interestingly applies it to building curiosity and confidence in shy dogs. So this find it stuff is life long useful for tasks as well as socializing!
If they go right to what I asked for on their own, there’s a click and lots of praise, play, and treats. If not, I’ll give them a bit of a cue, even walking towards it if I need to. Then I walk away with them, and ask them to “show” or find it again.
I do this for only a few minutes at a time with a little 9 or 10 week old, then we go on about other things. We’ve still got to fit socializing outings in there, a nap for wore out me and thee, maybe practicing our numbers by sorting laundry.
Later I’ll go to the bathroom, so they can find the tub or the sink or the towels. Maybe tomorrow it’s the bedroom (bed, closet, dresser) and later the kitchen, or the bathroom and later the living room (coffee table, sofa, front door).
At the same time they are finding what they know, they are also mentally mapping where things are in our home. The ability to map a place will turn up later in guide work, so the faster they can map the less often they have to go there to be familiar with it.
As they start going out to other people’s houses, they can “show off” their smarts for even more praise by playing find it there too. Or hey, how ’bout a find it for their favorite bones in a small pet store?
Every new word you teach them needs to wind up in a find it game until it’s set in their long term memories. Right now they just need to identify and go to it. When they’re older they will be maybe having to go from the kitchen to the garage for something they can’t easily see but know where it is once they have mentally mapped our home.
FIND IT SMALLER OBJECTS:
A better purpose for the living room than watching the boob tube?
I will say the name of an item, and hopefully the pup goes to it for a click and reward. If not, I’ll lure a time or two as a reminder of what each item is.
When they are reliably going to the item I ask for, I then place the items a little farther away from us. I’m wanting them to go away from me to find it. Over time that farther and farther away becomes a search–the dishtowel is in the hallway instead of the kitchen.
Eventually I want to be able to start combining simple find it with opening to find, searching to find, the pick up games, and bring it games. Needless to say, if I can get a pick up and bring during the find it game, the game becomes a buffet of the greatest foods on earth!
Here’s a big list of items you can play the find it games with find touch bring list. How many and what you teach is up to you, and I certainly don’t think a pup will get all of them by 16 weeks, or even by adolescence. But what’s happened is they’ve learned how to learn!
And a lot of other good things too!