Retrieve vs. Fetch

I’ve wanted Barnum to know how to play fetch all along. I knew it would be a good way for us to play and give him exercise when I couldn’t take him for walks (especially in the winter). Fortunately, he had natural fetching instincts, and I’ve been able to shape a pretty reliable, enthusiastic fetch so we can play for a decent length of time with him still being “in the game.”

I have mentioned in previous posts that we are doing a lot of retrieve training. The trained retrieve is not at all the same thing as fetch. Fetch is a game, intended for fun and/or exercise, where the dog is welcome to squeak, pounce upon, shake, drop, and otherwise mutcher the ball or toy on his way back to you. In our case, my criterion for the return of the ball was also just that it needed to land at my feet, not in my hand, on cue, as is the case for the trained retrieve.

In a trained retrieve, the dog should be focused, pick up the object without batting it with his nose or paws, carry it quietly in his mouth (without rolling or chomping the item), and hold it until cued to place it in your hand.

However, two days ago Barnum made a connection between the two that is extremely useful for me. With fetch, I was satisfied with the ball just landing at my feet because I used the Chuckit! stick to pick it up. However, sometimes we use big, rubber squeaky balls that don’t work with the Chuckit! In the winter, the large, buoyant rubber balls will slide on top of snow, whereas a Chuckit! tennis ball would just plummet into the snow, possibly never to be seen again until spring. The solution I was thinking of was to train Barnum to bring the ball to me on the ramp, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to reach the ball to throw it again. (Because if there’s snow, usually the only place I can go is the ramp and the shoveled paths at either end).

We’ve been doing lots of Levels retrieve training, focusing on different aspects of it — sometimes a sustained hold, sometimes the give (waiting to release it into my hand till I say “Thank You,” or making sure to raise the item up high enough, or putting it in whichever hand I’m indicating), and now I’ve started teaching him to take an object from me and bring it to an assistant and vice-versa. I’m now also waiting for him to pick up the retrieve object if I drop it (accidentally or on purpose) without any further cues for me. I want him to learn that the behavior is not over until I have the thing in my hand and it’s not going anywhere.

He has started sometimes to “throw behavior at me” — when we are not training — by seeing things on the floor, picking them up, and bringing them to me, which I am rewarding. For me, it’s more important right now to encourage his “being in the game” and finding retrieving rewarding than it is to worry about whether the behavior is cued or not. Sometimes this gets rather funny, as if I put something down and he gives it to me, and I put it down again, then he gives it to me again. Eventually I realize I should put the item somewhere else if I don’t want to keep playing this game!

So, we were playing fetch on Friday with a big rubber ball, and around the third time he was coming back, he dropped the toy a couple of feet away, and I was wiped out and didn’t want to have to get it. So I just waited and held out my hand like I do for a retrieve, not really expecting much, but just to see what would happen. I didn’t use any retrieve cues. I was hoping maybe he’d bring it closer.

He saw that the game was not continuing (and he also had not received a treat), so he went back, picked up the ball, and came over and put it in my hand in my lap! I was thrilled. We did several more throws, and each time he put it right in my lap, just as if that was the way we always have done it. Clearly he made the connection between placing things in my hand for the retrieve and doing the same for fetch.

Dog trainers are fond of saying that dogs aren’t good at generalizing, but it varies a lot from dog to dog, and situationally. This is one case where Barnum generalized in a way I hadn’t expected, and it’s such a gift! It will make playing fetch in winter much more doable. I’m grateful to the Levels and proud of my boy.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (Fetch? meh.) and Barnum, SDiT


6 Responses to “Retrieve vs. Fetch”

  1. 1 megangiselle December 4, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    Sharon – could you contact me? There’s a new would-be raw feeder on the Raw Feeding list who’s blind, with a new guide dog. I’ve not been successful finding the messages in the archives of the person who sent you to the Raw Feeding list. I do believe I’m remembering correctly that she was also blind.
    I am hoping you can put me in contact with her, and maybe we can help this new person with tips and tricks that you both have learned for each of your special needs.

  2. 2 Sharon December 4, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Hi Giselle,

    Yes, I’ll get in touch. I’ll ask the raw feeder who introduced me to your list to get in touch. I might even know who the new raw feeder on your list is because I know a guide dog partner who is transitioning her dog to raw (and she already knows my friend). But this is just a guess, and I could be wrong.

    I’m not aware of raw feeding being a particular issue whether one has a disability or not. I think the big issue for those of us with assistance dogs is mostly public (mis)perception (that raw feeding is dirty or dangerous or unhygienic, etc.), so we might choose to keep that aspect of our dogs’ lives to ourselves, and the rules that many assistance dog programs have about what food may or may not be fed to program-obtained dogs.

    The other issue is that I have basically found it impossible to use raw meat when doing public access training outings because it’s just too messy. (The squeeze tube did not work out so well for me because we couldn’t blend the meat fine enough. Also, it doesn’t work for tossing treats, which I do a lot of at home, though not at all in public.) So, most of Barnum’s food is raw meat, bones, and organ, and then he also gets organic cheese and hot dogs, and baked (not extruded) kibble when I’m not able to use raw meat. This combo method works well for us.

    However, if the guide dog is already trained, then raw feeding is actually much easier. You can feed one meal a day, and thus you have to toilet less often, and it’s very predictable, because raw food digests slower. (The poop is also firmer and less messy to pick up!) In this way, it’s very convenient for assistance dog partners.

    But, I’ll email you.

  3. 3 brilliantmindbrokenbody December 5, 2011 at 2:27 am

    Oh man, I wish Hudson was as interested in fetch! He’s got a pretty solid retrieve, particularly good for a few objects that I worked on a lot with him, like my shoes. But fetch, other than his whistle ball (which was lost for ages but I found again the other night!), he doesn’t have interest in running after and bringing back ANYTHING. Even his whistling ball, he wants to sit there and chew on it, not bring it back.

    I asked you a question a bit ago, but I suspect it got lost (no worries! I know it happens!) but I figured I’d post it again. Should I be worried about propylene glycol in my deodorant? I have one from Trader Joe’s that I like (though it would be totally toxic for you due to all the plant extracts), but I saw an add for La Vanila deodorants that specifically say they don’t have any propylene glycol in them. (The La Vanila deodorants would if anything be worse for you than the Trader Joe’s one I like, but I don’t have trouble with essential oils except cucumber.)

    Anyhow, what that whole long tangled paragraph was asking is this: chemical sensitivity-wise, should I be worried about propylene glycol in my deodorant? I’m only worried because I don’t want to increase my apparent chemical sensitivity. Anything you know would be useful – I tried looking online and didn’t find anything.


  4. 4 Sharon Wachsler February 12, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Finally responding to this question! Took so long cuz I didn’t know the answer. I can’t tell you whether I or other MCSers I know react to it because I’m not familiar with it. But here is info about it from the Environmental WOrking Group. Their “skin deep” database of personal care product ingredient toxicity is great:


  5. 5 brilliantmindbrokenbody February 14, 2012 at 1:47 am

    Thanks, Sharon!

    Hmm, after reading that, I’m feeling more inclined than ever to try mixing up my own deodorant. That chemical certainly explains why if I use that deodorant too many days in a row, I get a little bit irritated. As for making my own, I’m leaning towards a mix of cornstarch, baking soda, a skin-friendly oil like safflower to bind, and maybe a touch of lavender oil for its antiseptic and soothing properties. Hmm, or maybe I should use olive oil instead of safflower, as it’s mildly antiseptic. After all, the smell we think of as ‘pit stink’ is because of the bacteria that grow there. I could throw in a little shea butter too, that’s nice and healthy for the skin. Hmmm…..

    I know that propylene glycol is in tons and tons of stuff, but so are much more harmful chemicals. Sadly, it’s the first ingredient in the deodorant I usually use, so I’ll probably have to fix something up for myself.

  6. 6 Sharon Wachsler February 14, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Yes, there’s a lot that isn’t known about it, but the skin irritation seems pretty well documented. It does seem ridiculous to put a skin irritant in a deodorant, but then, that’s what these folks do!

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