Turning tug-of-war into training

Turning tug-of-war into training

Retrieve training in service dog work is very important. The objective is that a dog will pick up anything from the floor, table or other surface and bring it to you.

When training the retrieve command, you need to assess if the dog likes to carry things with its mouth or not and we do that by playing tug of war games using different types of toys.

Once the interest is shown in holding toys with the mouth, we then start by sitting on a normal chair, because ultimately you will end up sitting in a wheelchair to mimic a client.

We will choose a specific toy, and have treats ready for reward. We also use a clicker (which is a marker of a behavior) to start formal retrieve work. When the dog gets the desired command right, it will be rewarded with a treat and a click will be made with the clicker. The sound of the clicker will further establish whether the dog has successfully done what the handler has asked them to do.  

There are also verbal cues that a dog must learn and understand for retrieve training. They are as follows:

  • Get it – as you offer the toy to the dog to hold with the mouth.
  • Bring it – from its mouth to your lap.
  • Give – to release from its mouth on to your lap.

Get it

Bring It


This above method will be repeated up until the dog understands and can perform this task in different environments. The trainer will put items such as a remote, cellphone, wallet, etc. in different places for the dog to retrieve and bring back to the handler. Training the dog to be gentle with the item is also part of this training session.

The trainer will then move from the normal chair to a wheelchair and the dog will perform the task while the trainer is in the wheelchair.

This training takes place in different environments, for example the office, house, shopping mall, etc.

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