Retrieve: To Control the Predator Simply Control the Prey

I’ve had some questions lately about how I train a dog to retrieve. Here is an overview of how a dog sees it and how I get in his brain.

I don’t use obedience, don’t need it. I simply nurture their natural instinct to chase and catch prey. My method is based on the natural order of things. When it comes to predators, they are controlled by the prey. Let me say that again. The prey is controlling and managing the hunt. Not the dog and certainly not the owner.  As an example, if the birds are spooky and run or fly off when you enter the field (late season pheasants sound familiar?), they have controlled the hunt.  The prey is ultimately in control of the dogs success. It makes sense then, that when it comes to retrieving, if I can control the prey (the object being retrieved), I control the predator.

Some dogs naturally love retrieving and will bring it back as many times as you will throw it. Others do it well once they’re shown how it works. Remember, the thing you throw ( a bird, a bumper, a dummy), from your dogs point of view, is prey. You’ll find that most dogs will run out to the object you throw. That’s instinctively chasing prey. There are a number of things I do to encourage a natural retrieve. For instance, for those that don’t naturally bring it back, I need to show them how the game works. As soon as he leaves for the bird, I turn around and begin slowly walking away. Now I have created a problem for him to solve. He wants the bird but he also wants to come with me. Only one way to fix the problem and have both. He picks up the bird and runs to me.

Something else I find very effective is to work on the other side of the trust equation. I have a helper hold the dog while I throw the object out. Now, with the dog restrained, I walk out to the object, pick it up, stand still and say fetch. The helper releases the dog who then comes to ME for the retrieve. When he arrives, I share it with him just as he shared it with me earlier. For those dogs with a history of obedience training, this can be a mind bending experience.

Everything I do is based on building and maintaining trust. Whenever possible, I want a dog using his free will and choosing to include me in his success.

About the author
Brad Higgins, professional dog trainer and creator of the unique Higgins Method of dog/handler training.

2 Comments on "Retrieve: To Control the Predator Simply Control the Prey"

  1. Brad, I have found your methods interesting to say the least. I am researching the many different ways to exploit my dogs natural assets. I have been told by the experts the other methods “whoa, force fetch” etc. Very thankful for all the information on this site.

  2. Great article, Brad. You have also said in the past that retrieving to hand is not natural for dogs. Since they are actually sharing their prey with you when they retrieve, the natural way for them to do this is to lay the object at your feet. I really notice this with my youngster Shiloh who we had on the magic brush pile last week. In the magic brush pile, the dog sees the bird fly up, the gun go off, the bird falls, and the gunner retrieves the bird and shares it with the dog by throwing at the dogs feet. The dogs learns to be steady through this whole process. After being on the magic brush pile, Shiloh, who is a retrieving fool, now always places the retrieved dummy at my feet. I used to have to wrestle it from his mouth. Good boy, Shiloh!

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