by Jim Hargreaves

Like most of dog training, teaching your dog to "Hold" and "Give" an item is purely repetition.  However some dogs will make harder work of it than others.

  • You will need a training dummy which should be used for nothing other than training, i.e. no playing tug-of-war etc.
  • You will need to use clear and distinctly different voice tones for correction and praise.
  • You must be consistent with your commands.
  • You must ensure the dog carries out your commands, always followed by enormous amounts of praise.

Below are some of the more common problems, together with some training methods you may like to try:

Question: My dog refuses to pick up a dummy I've thrown for him

Answer: There are a number of ways to get your dog to pick up a dummy.  First of all try to entice the dog into picking it up by exciting him.  Playfully run up to the dummy with the dog, gently kicking the dummy along several times, all the time telling the dog to fetch it.  Try to refrain from picking it up yourself.  Should the dog pick up the dummy, immediately turn to the dog, crouch down, pour on the praise, open your arms, saying come.  You can build on the actual retrieve by taking a few steps back after the dog has the dummy, then crouching down to take delivery.

If your dog refuses to pick up the dummy, find an article you know your dog will pick up, e.g. an old sock that you can put over your dummy, or perhaps an old sock over a tennis ball.  Run through the same procedure.  If you have success, end the training session there (on a good note) and continue the same later.  Once competent with this you can gradually go back to the dummy.

Question: My dog will retrieve a dummy, but drops it in front of me.

Answer:  We must teach our dog the command to "Hold'.  Training the dog for this exercise does not need to be a formal trip to the park or favourite training spot.  It is best carried out with short regular training sessions in or around the home with the dog right in front of you.

First, place the dummy in the dogs mouth, whilst telling the dog to "Hold".  If the dog refuses to open his mouth you can encourage him by gripping the lower jaw with one hand, working the forefinger and thumb into the dogs mouth, the only objective being to get the dog to open his mouth.  Once the mouth opens, with the other hand place the dummy in the dog’s mouth.  Immediately begin to praise the dog and gently stroke under the jaw and neck, whilst commanding to hold.  Stroking the dog in this way, will tend to make the dog lift its head, thus reducing the risk of the dog dropping the dummy.  You may then command the dog to "Give" and proceed to take the dummy from the dog.  If the dog tries to drop the dummy before the "Give" command, you must immediately change the tone of your voice to a harsher corrective tone and place the dummy back in the dog’s mouth, again commanding the dog to "Hold".   Repeat this exercise several times and try to finish on a happy note.

Question: My dog will pick up and return with a dummy, but refuses to release it.

Answer: Again, this can be resolved at home.  With the dog in front of you (preferably sitting), command the dog to "Hold" whilst giving it the dummy.  Pause, and if necessary stroke the dog under the jaw or neck, then command the dog to "Give".  Should the dog refuse to release the dummy, you will need to encourage the dog to open its mouth.

Some options are:

  • To offer the dog another item such as its favourite toy.
  • To offer the dog food.
  • To place the hand over the dogs muzzle gently squeezing the jowls.  This will not harm the dog, only discomfort the dog enough to release the dummy.

This last method is extremely effective as:

  • It doesn't focus the dog's attention on what's in your pocket or behind your back.
  • When the dog is praised straight away, he will quickly forget about any discomfort.  He knows exactly what he is being praised for, and will quickly associate releasing the dummy with the command “Give”.

You will no doubt encounter other problems along the way.  The key is persistence.  When you finally succeed, the rewards far exceed the effort.