When we domesticated dogs, we limited their ability to explore and respond to the instincts that they once relied so heavily on. Shaping play and training to stimulate these instincts and urges is a good way to get the best out of a dog – as well as an excellent way to accelerate obedience training.
Breeds from the Gundog group, for example, tend to have a latent urge to retrieve, says Sam Lee, but games that stimulate retrieving from memory aren't limited solely to Gundogs. Most dogs will enjoy the following exercise and will benefit mentally from it too. Even if they never go hunting, many dogs love to learn the tricks of hunting retrievers.
A busy hunting retriever may have to remember where several birds fell and bring back every one. Hunters call this marking, but you don't have to go hunting to enjoy this challenging game. Warm up with a few throws where your dog can see exactly where the item lands. Then throw the retrieving item so it falls just out of sight, perhaps in tall grass or behind something. Your dog should have no problem finding and retrieving it.
Photo by Egan Snow
Next, hold him or have him sit and stay until the item has landed before sending him to retrieve it. As he gets better, make him wait slightly longer, up to 30 seconds. Now he is using his memory to find an item he saw land earlier but can't currently see. But can he find two such items? Probably not at first, unless he can cram them both in his mouth. More likely he will run to one and then take it to the other and either trade items or stand there and wonder what to do. You need to show him how to bring them both back to you, one at a time.
How did your dog do? Let us know - send your photos and videos to firstname.lastname@example.org - we'd love to see your dogs taking part.