I have been working with Willow a little on retrieving, I started with a tennis ball but it seemed a little big for her and usually she hit it with her paws and sent it rolling. She thought it was great but I found it a little distracting for the lesson. :P
I am now using one of her toys, a stuffed frog. I will toss it across the room and she will go after pick it up then run by me with it or take off in another direction.
I usually have to stifle a laugh because it is funny watching her run away almost like she’s doing something wrong and knows it!
Some times she shows no interest in the game and I have to really coxes her to get started.
I used a hallway to teach Ender. TONS of praise whenever he did it correctly. He's still not great in the house but once we got outside he was all about the retrieve. Someone on here has a great "how to teach retrieve" explanation... looked for it in Best Advice thread but didn't find it.
A hallway or on a long line is the perfect way to teach fetch. I also work tug into the game to get them excited! So....wiggle the toy around to get their attention, toss and get really excited once they get it, call them to you, play a little tug, take it from them (eventually with a "give") and repeat With a young pup, a handfull of times is more than enough...you always want to stop the game with them wanting more, so they don't burn out.
If I remember correctly, the trainer that I saw in a local exhibition used a 20'-30' piece of rope with a knot tied on the end and put through the ring on the dogs collar. It was just enough to give the puppy a bit of direction back to the trainer if started to "wander".
The neatest part was what he used for the object to retrieve, a paint roller (new of course ). He explained that they were small enough for the puppy to get in their mouth, lightweight, and were soft so it was easy on the mouth. I thought it was a neat and inexpensive idea for training.
Retrieving isn't a strong instinct for all Labrador Retrievers. Chasing after something usually is but sometimes the retrieving part has to be supplemented by a little (or a lot) of training.
If you have a long blind hallway, tossing a favorite toy toward the far end while you're the gatekeeper of the only exit -- that works well for some.
For some time, I thought my first Lab, my beloved Bess (BF, AKC bench line, 55 lbs., 1967-81) was a Labrador "chaser" rather than retriever -- chasing after things thrown but never bringing them back.
But once she learned that retrieving meant getting to chase it again, she became indefatigable. Too much retrieving was never enough for her. Throwing dummies into a pond for her to fetch became a marvelous way to give her the maximum amount of exercise in the minimum amount of time.
So when I got my beloved Puff (YF, AKC field line, 57 lbs., dob: 8-'01) and discovered she didn't care that much for retrieving I was alarmed.
Here are the things that I learned working with Puff and that helped a lot.
#1 For a Lab that hasn't yet learned retrieving can be fun -- keep the training sessions very brief and with not too many repetitions. You want it to be always FUN for them, not work. If they lose interest after only 4 reps, try just 3 next time. ALWAYS KEEP IT FUN FOR THEM TO DO.
#2 Schedule your training sessions for just before a usual meal so you get maximum food motivation and you can use a few pieces of your dog's usual kibble as a treat for a successful retrieve.
#3 Onto the retrieving object, tie something like a kite string (if it's a puppy) or if a larger dog, a stouter rope -- maybe 5-6 mm, ¼" -- about 25 ft or 8 m. That means you can pull it back without having to fetch it yourself. And when your pup/dog grabs it and doesn't want to bring it back, you can then reel back to you both the object and attached Lab together.
#4 When your pup/dog comes back -- whether on its own or being pulled as it holds onto the toy -- give high praise and excitement plus exchange a treat for the retrieved object. (You might say your dog's name "XXXX, give!" as you reach for the object each time.)
#5 Be sure to vary the places and the directions you use for the retrieving. That's because dogs so easily associate learning certain responses with certain places -- their learning can become quite context specific. I remember a couple years ago one woman complained that her Lab would only retrieve when she sat in a certain chair in one room and threw the toy in a certain direction -- but in no other place. So, it helps them generalize if you vary places and directions.
This worked well for us. We go on morning walks and Puff makes 30-40 retrieves -- some of them hundreds of feet back on a trail to get a training dummy I've dropped. She's not near as obsessed with retrieving as Bess was but it's good enough.
(I also used much the same technique -- with some modifications -- in teaching Puff to swim. She was a natural wader and splasher but not a natural swimmer. )
I think in the past "Queen of the Dogs 7" has also given some useful suggestions about teaching retrieving that have helped others -- and they probably differed from mine. Maybe she'll offer them again.
BTW, I like "Lucky Dog" (brand) vinyl knobby dummies (training dummies = TD)(AKA "bumpers"), 2" x 12". A B&W dummy is easiest for a dog to see because it has maximum contrast and dogs are essentially color blind. (For special types of training orange may be preferred; that's why they make so many different colors.)
I tie a 1/4" (or smaller) dia. line to the grommet end of the Training Dummy with a bowline knot (Google will find an illustration of tying a bowline knot - it's a knot that holds fast buit always easily unties). I leave about 2" of space between the knot and the end of the TD to make a loop of that length so that my finger, even with a glove in winter, can hook into the loop to carry. I stand holding the line with the TD suspended just off the ground, then make a knot (to pinch just below) in the line at the point that I grab the line when the TD is at that point, then cut the line just beyond it.
After the dog has learned to retrieve, I use the line attached to the TD to be able sling it farther. I windmill it very much like a softball pitcher winds up and release it underhand so it takes an initial trajectory up at about 30º - 45º. With enough practice, you'll be able to sling it at least 70-100 feet and usually place it within a 5ft. radius -- or less at shorter distances.
Another type of retrieving that we now do but that I did not EVER use with Bess was forced on us by our daily morning walks in the nature preserve where we have narrow trails through frequent woods. Since the trees often block slinging the TD, I frequently drop the TD on our trail and then send Puff back to get it. Now we use it more often than any other type of fetch whether there are trees or not since it promotes more running over longer distances and more exercise.
It was very simple and easy to teach since Puff already knew how to retrieve a TD that was slung some distance. We started by my dropping it only 15-20 ft. behind us and then telling her to fetch it. Gradually we extended the distance so that very shortly she was running back several hundred feet and out of sight. Occasionally I may forget for awhile that I've dropped it and she'll have to go back 1/8 to 1/4 mile.
For this, we use several interchangeable commands: (Verbal) "Go find"; (arm signal) pointing back; (mouth whistle) a triplet roughly C-G-E.
Puff [YF, AKC field line (from competing HT/FT breeder) 62 lbs, dob: 8-'01]