Dear Carla,I have a 1-year-old male dog named Roscoe that we adopted from a shelter a few weeks ago. He is very sweet dog, but he doesn’t seem to know how to play. I’d love to teach him how to chase and retrieve a ball, but I have no idea how to do it. Any advice? — Roscoe’s Playful DadDear Playful,Many dogs who come out of a shelter environment were deprived of early socialization and learning opportunities and never learned how to play. With that said, some dogs just don’t have a natural inclination to play. This is especially true of dogs who spend more time playing with other dogs instead of with humans. There are many ways to play with your dog, but teaching “retrieve” is a fun way to play and exercise your dog at the same time. A retrieve is made up of several behaviors and each one must be taught separately. You will need to teach your dog how to:1. Go get the ball2. Pick up the ball3. Carry the ball4. Drop the ball (preferably at your feet!)When teaching a dog to do something that consists of several behaviors, it’s usually best to teach in reverse order. This way each new behavior is followed by one the dog already knows. Using this method, the first behavior you will teach is to drop the ball, however you’ll also need to teach him to take it so he can then drop it. Offer the ball and when he puts his mouth on it, say “Yes” and feed him a treat. Gradually increase the length of time he must hold onto it before rewarding. Once he will hold it in his mouth, work on the drop cue by showing him a treat and saying “drop” when he opens his mouth to get the treat. Teaching him to carry the ball is just a moving hold. Once he will take and drop on cue, you can gradually increase the distance he must carry the ball to you to receive the reward. For example, you toss the ball 1-2 feet away, he picks it up (take it) and gives it to you (drop it) to receive the treat. Once he has mastered this, toss the ball a little further away. Continue this process until he has to go get the ball (step 1), pick it up (step 2), carry it to you (step 3) and give it to you (step 4). Good luck and have fun playing with your new dog.— Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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