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Help! My Lab Won’t Retrieve

white lab sitting on a beach

The friendly, playful Labrador Retriever has a variety of skills. As its name suggests, retrieving is one of them. But what if your Lab doesn't seem interested in playing fetch?

Don't worry. Even though Labs are born with an instinct to retrieve, it sometimes takes time and a little training to jumpstart what nature gave him. Also, if your Lab is a puppy and is still cutting his adult teeth, picking objects up with his mouth could be a bit painful. He may become more interested in retrieving at about 6 months of age, after he's gone through the teething stage.

Unleashing your Lab's retrieval skills

Whether you're working with a puppy or adult dog, the first step is simply to toss toys and look for your Lab to show interest in running after them. Play in an enclosed area, such as a hallway, where the dog can't avoid you after fetching the toy. When your pooch returns the toy, praise him and give the toy right back.

If the dog shows no interest in the thrown toy, try playing the game on a six-foot leash. Have the toy in your right hand and the leash in your left. Dangle the toy in front of your dog's mouth while slowly turning away from him. When he seems really eager for it, toss the toy out for him to give chase. Don't forget to let go of the leash! Done right, this will prompt almost any dog to run after a toy.

Keep it fun

Don't overdo the fetching sessions. Give your dog a few throws and stop while he still wants more. Then try again later in the day. If he does one successful fetch, pile on the praise-and maybe a treat. If he shows little interest in it, give it a rest and try again in a week or so. Once he learns that fetching offers the reward of praise and a treat, he'll gladly play along. Never make the dog feel this is a contest with a winner and a loser. Retrieving should be cooperative, not competitive. It makes you a team.

Don't ever punish your dog when you take something out of his mouth. Always make it a positive experience for him to return an object to you. You can even teach him a command to "give it" or "drop." Again, heap on the praise and offer a small treat as a reinforcement when he acts accordingly.

Above all, stick with the training and don't get discouraged. Your dog hasn't forgotten what he was bred for-it's in his DNA. Just be patient with him. You and your Lab have a lifetime of retrieving days ahead of you.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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