Help! My Lab Won’t Retrieve

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.