Back to the basics

by Christi Goodman

I am frequently approached by people as I practice with my Frisbee dogs, as I'm sure you all are. They all want to know how to teach their dog to "do that" (and most seem to want it to happen immediately!!). I explain that the three main behaviors in canine disc are chasing, catching and returning. Since more people seem to have trouble with the returning part, that is what I will focus on in this article.

To teach a dog to "bring" something, start out on a long line. I use a 20 foot training lead, not a flexi (the flexi puts pressure on the dog as he runs out to get the object). The line is to help guide the dog and to keep him from leaving the training area, it is NOT a magic wand. I separate the fetch command into two behaviors, the go-and-get-it part, and the bring-it-back part. The commands I use are "Go", "Get it", and "Take it," depending on the circumstances, and "Bring" and "Drop." Today, all I am talking about is "Bring."

There are several methods of introducing the bring command, depending on the type of dog you are training. Is your dog a "hard" dog? Can you give him a correction (physical or verbal) and he doesn't even notice? Or is your dog "soft"? Does he cower at the slightest disapproving glance? Dogs fall somewhere on the hard-to-soft spectrum, and your training methods must reflect the dog's personality. I recommend starting the training with something other than a Frisbee, as you want the dog to always associate Frisbee with positive things. Since you may have to make slight corrections when teaching the bring command, teach it with a ball or favorite toy, and switch to the Frisbee once the dog understands the command.

Once your dog has the object in his mouth, you can do one of several things. If your dog is fairly soft, you can try calling him and running away from him. Some dogs will chase you, and it is a simple matter of turning around when the dog is in reach and praising and petting, saying "Good bring!!." Remember, "Drop" is a separate command, so do not take the object from the dog, let him hold it while you praise, praise, praise for bringing!! Once the dog is following you reliably as you run away, add the Bring command at the beginning. The sequence is: "Spot, Bring"—turn and run-- turn and praise.

If you are blessed with one of those dogs (as I am) who couldn't care less that you are running away from him, the process is a little different. When the dog has the object in his mouth, call his name and say "Bring", pick up the end of the long line and give a little tug, then run backwards as you clap your hands and verbally encourage the dog toward you. If the dog comes part way, but loses interest or stops, reach down and give the long line a firm pull, continue to run backwards and encourage. Try to avoid reeling the dog in like a fish, he needs to learn to come to you under his own power. The sequence is: "Spot, Bring"—tug line—run backwards while encouraging dog—correct if necessary-- praise, praise, praise when he gets to you.

It is important, whichever method you try (and these are just two of many) to only say the command ONE time. You need to train the dog from the beginning to respond to the first command, and the only way he will understand that is if you only give one command. If he needs further encouragement to come toward you, you can repeat his name, say "hurry" or "faster" or anything else that helps get him to you. If your dog already knows the "Come" command, this behavior will be easier to teach because it is familiar. Don't confuse the two commands, however, they are different. "Bring" involves an object, and "come" does not.

More basic training tips: Keep it happy!! If you are losing patience, STOP the lesson. Always try to end a lesson on a positive note, if your dog does it right, STOP the lesson. Continuing to train a behavior after the dog offers you a correct response confuses the dog. If he gets it right the first time, STOP and do something else for awhile. In general, short sessions are better than long ones. Good luck, and happy training!!

Christi Goodman and Canine Consultants, Wally & Rider