Claire Denyer, Featured Expert

This subject is very close to my heart as we see many dogs who appear to have little to no desire to retrieve. It’s quite a common problem. We have many dogs come to us for training that other trainers have turned away or deemed “no good”. 

Unfortunately, this problem can cause dogs to be overlooked or moved on in the competition world. So, over the last few years, working with reluctant retrievers or dogs lacking drive and enthusiasm has become a passion.

Here are some training points that you can follow to help prevent your gun dog from losing interest in retrieving.

Although gundogs have been bred to retrieve, it would be fair to say that certain elements appear to be more exciting and come more naturally in some dogs than others. Many puppies or young gundogs love carrying things around in their mouth (and this shouldn’t be discouraged) and enjoy greeting you with something in their mouth. Most gundogs enjoy the chase (this is where the prey drive kicks in) and will chase a ball or other retrieving item happily.


The part of the retrieve where we are most often asked for help, and where things seem to go wrong is on the return. Without a doubt, this is the part is where we find most issues occurring. Sometimes it is down to something the handler has done or is doing, and sometimes not. Either way, we find it’s often a skill that needs developing.

Reluctant Retrieving

When we are working with a reluctant retriever or a dog who lacks the drive or desire the retrieve, we first put our efforts into igniting the prey drive. This will help develop and build the dog’s desire to retrieve. A dog without a desire to retrieve is likely to lose interest. With this in mind, we recommend that you spend time developing the desire to chase the retrieving item. The return, hold, and delivery can be worked on later once the dog is showing a desire to retrieve.

If you put steadiness in too early, especially with a young or less enthusiastic dog, you risk losing the retrieving desire. We tend to work on steadiness exercises separately to the retrieve with young dogs or dogs lacking enthusiasm. There are various ways of working on steadiness without dampening the dog’s desire to retrieve.


Do be careful not to overtrain. It’s not unusual to find that your dog will lose interest if you practice too often, make your training sessions too long, or do too many retrieves in a session.

There is absolutely no harm in having a break for a few days if your dog seems to have lost enthusiasm. It’s a good idea to work out how many retrieves your dog enjoys before getting bored. Once you have established this, it can help to stop your retrieving session whilst your dog is still keen, leaving your dog wanting more.

If you have been working on steadiness and your dog appears to have lost interest in retrieving, you may want to reignite the prey drive with some informal retrieves, letting your dog chase out after the retrieve.

If you get too hung up on the finer details of the delivery of the dummy too early, don’t be surprised if your young dog starts to lose enthusiasm. For example, I don’t insist on a sitting delivery from a young or inexperienced dog, I will take the retrieve from the dog and then ask for the sit.

It can also help some dogs to use a retrieving item which the dog finds exciting. For some, a plain canvas dummy may not cut it. Be careful the dog doesn’t find the item too exciting and decides it doesn’t want to give it back. A lead or long line can be useful when first introducing a new or more exciting item.

Other items you can use include a tennis ball, a rabbit dummy, a pheasant or partridge pelt dummy or even a pair of socks,  whatever your dog enjoys retrieving. The LWDG Tennis Ball Wrap can also help

Another way to reignite your dog’s interest is to hold them on a lead and let them watch a reliable, experienced dog retrieving. Let the older dog do a few retrieves, and then encourage your dog to have a go. Watching another dog retrieve can rekindle your dog’s interest in taking part.

Question Of The Week

How have you successfully encouraged your dog to retrieve? Post your stories and ideas in the comments below.

Further Reading

From Basic to Advanced: Understanding the Different Types of Retrieves for Gundogs

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