I arrive at my neighbor’s door and knock. Pete answers the door and invites me to come in. I enter and sit on the couch and the two of us begin the discussion on improvements for the school festival. About 4 minutes into the conversation I feel something nudging my leg and look down. Pete’s border collie, Missy, is nudging me on the leg. I look down and see that she has a ball in her mouth. I take the ball and toss it for her. She fetches it and returns to nudge my leg again. The light bulb snaps on. Missy has,accidentally, trained herself to deliver to hand in order to get a person to toss the ball for her. If Missy could do that by accident, then we brilliant humans should be able to do it by design.
Being an astute dog trainer, I come up with a training model:
Start with two tennis balls:
Roll one ball across the ground. The dog pounces on it. You call him over and take it from his mouth and immediately give him a short throw. That is classic operant conditioning. The behavior is bringing the ball to hand. The reward is an immediate retrieve. Repeat a number of times and add on the cue, “fetch.” Correct deliveries to hand are immediately paid with a toss. Non delivery to hand is not paid. The dog will figure out the payment system quickly. You will have a dog that delivers to hand and fetches on cue in about 3 sessions of a couple of a couple of minutes each. That beats the heck out of the traditional force fetch programs that can go on for six or eight weeks.
Here is a short video clip of Buccleuch Temperance learning delivery to hand.
Note the strings thru the tennis balls to compensate for fumble-fingered humans. Note also that a training dummy is slipped in when the dog is getting good. Note also that Tempie is not rewarded for a delivery when she picks the dummy up by the string.