This post is for Joel who asked for hints for teaching his adult dog to retrieve. Written in 2002 (you will note, Barbara refers to Bonnie as a pup) this is a great game to teach any dog of any age and goes a long way to teaching not only retrieving, but recall, sit, down, and the best of all, about partnership.
Two Toy Game
I started playing this game with Bienn when he was an untrained one-year old who couldn't be let off the leash. We didn't have a fenced play yard at the time, so we played while he was on a long lead. I used it to exercise him and also to train "out," "give it to me," "take," and "go get it" in a fun, positive way.
The game starts with a pair of identical toys. I use soft vinyl balls for the most part now, which can be flattened and hidden in a pocket, but any toys will do. I throw one toy, which he runs to get, then once he brings it back I say "out" just before he drops it because he sees that I have just the same (read: even better) toy in my hand. The minute he dropped it, I cheer, yell "Good job!" and toss the other toy. In the beginning, I'd occasionally need to tug lightly on the leash to remind him to come back with the toy--then cheer and throw the second one. We can continue forever. He got the idea of what "out" meant after about four throws; before that getting him to drop a toy involved prying his mouth open, and he also linked giving up toys with tug-of-war and keep away. (He was obviously in a home, even for just a few months.) If he doesn't bring the toy all the way back, I hide mine and say "give it to me" until he does, then reward with a cheer, "out," and a new throw. He also loves alternating "out" and "take" with no throwing involved.
The entire game is played with great drama, hoopla, cheering, and general enthusiasm, so he can tell I think it is a great game, too. I vary the throws a lot--throwing short, dropping it down into his mouth (he loves this), throwing long, and dropping behind me. That way he has to pay attention. In addition to teaching him basic commands, I've also had to work on discouraging him bashing wet, muddy toys--or cold icy ones--up against my leg to celebrate their return. I'm not sure which is worse!
I gradually phased out the long lead as he got more and more focused on the toys, first by dropping the leash and picking it up between throws, then by taking the leash off when I pulled out the toys.
My pup Bonnie knows how to play now, too. I taught her when she was alone, but once she got the idea, both of them play together and I use four balls and throw in all directions. I can keep them going until tongues are hanging out and they're happily lying down between throws. This is a fabulous way to really give them a good, thorough exercise session, either on a long lead or off leash. One warning: If your dog still needs to be on a long lead, it's not a game for kids to play, because they can get tangled in the leash too easily or can get clothes-lined by the leash.