In this article we use a beverage as an example — however these training steps can be used to teach your partner to retrieve any object which is usually kept in a specific place.
Whether your partner assists you during a seizure, detects high or low blood sugar, pulls your wheelchair or performs any other job, learning how to teach a Service Dog to retrieve a beverage from the fridge and training your partner to do so can mitigate many disabilities. The training can be difficult, but with patience, a sense of humor and lots of really good treats, your Service Dog will be retrieving drinks* in no time!
The situations in which teaching your Service Dog to retrieve a beverage could prove useful (or even lifesaving) are so varied it would be impossible to list them all, but here are some helpful instances dozens of handlers have reported:
- Retrieve a beverage to take medication with
- Retrieve a beverage to help break a dissociative episode
- Retrieve a beverage to mitigate severe dry mouth
- Retrieve a beverage to provide alternate focus during panic attack
- Retrieve a beverage to assist a partner who isn’t very mobile
- Retrieve a beverage to encourage quicker recovery from a seizure
- Retrieve a beverage to ground a handler who’s having nightmares or flashbacks
- Retrieve a beverage to raise low blood sugar
- Retrieve a beverage to calm anxiety
The same process used to teach a Service Dog to retrieve a beverage can be used to teach your partner to retrieve anything that is always in a fixed location, such as medication that’s kept on a low shelf in your bedroom, a phone on a low table in the hall, toilet paper stored on a low shelf in the closet, or glucose tablets in a kitchen drawer. As long as the object you’re teaching your partner to retrieve can always be found in the same place, you can teach your Service Dog to retrieve it on cue. The trick is to always put the item back after you’ve used it!
Teach a Service Dog to Retrieve a Beverage: Prerequisites
Before beginning to teach your Service Dog how to bring you a beverage, she needs a solid formal retrieve. Your Service Dog needs to know how to take an object, hold it without mouthing, release it into your hand on cue and tug reliably before starting this task work. If your partner isn’t yet solid with her foundational retrieve behaviors, spend a little more time working with her on retrieving a beverage. Here are step-by-step instructions for training the formal Service Dog retrieve:
- Part One – Nose targeting the dumbbell/retrieving dummy and taking it
- Part Two – Taking the dumbbell on cue and holding it until released in all circumstances
- Part Three — Picking the dumbbell up off the ground and introducing new items
Ideally, your partner will also know how to target. Check out these instructions if you need help teaching your Service Dog to target.
You should be familiar with the use of a clicker or verbal marker, able to deliver treats smoothly and quickly, and understand the entire process of teaching your Assistance Dog to retrieve a beverage before you begin.
Things You’ll Need to Teach a Service Dog to Retrieve a Beverage
- High-value treats like diced chicken, cheese or hot dogs
- Door pull
- Empty Beverage Bottle
- Full Beverage Bottle
Teach a Service Dog to Retrieve a Beverage: Opening the Fridge
1.) Select a door pull, and be sure to pick a style that meets you and your dog’s needs. Choose a design with a “tug” part that is large enough for your dog to grasp comfortably and long enough for your partner to get enough leverage to pull the door open. Eight inches or longer tends to work best for the average-sized service dog. K9 Lifeline Designs offers custom-made, long-lasting, inexpensive door pulls in any color combination or design you could imagine.
2.) Introduce your Service Dog to the door pull you’ll be using to teach her to open the fridge door. Allow her to sniff it and familiarize herself with it.
3.) Pick up the door pull and ask your Service Dog to “take it.” Out, click and treat. Practice having your Service Dog “tug” the door pull, always ensuring that your partner is backing straight up. The door pull and your dog’s head, shoulders, back and hips should form a straight line. This not only helps your Service Dog open the door more easily, it ensures she does so with proper form, which helps her avoid injury. Continue practicing until your Service Dog reliably takes the door pull and tugs smoothly and continuously until released.
4.) Place the door pull on the refrigerator door. Check the height of the door pull and ensure your Service Dog can easily reach the “tug” part of the pull without difficulty. Your partner needs to be able to grab the “tug” part of the door pull without straining or needing to reach above her head and she should have all four feet solidly on the ground.
5.) Call your Service Dog over to the fridge door. While the door pull is still attached, pick it up close to the attachment point and hold it in your hand. Practice having your Service Dog “tug” the door pull. Assist her with opening the door, and always click, treat and release the instant the refrigerator door opens. Continue practicing until your partner enthusiastically grabs the door pull, tugs hard with proper form and releases when the door opens.
6.) Call your partner over to the fridge door. Don’t pick up the door pull this time. Ask your Service Dog to “take it” and “tug.” By this point, she should happily tug the door open. Click and treat, release her, congratulate her and have a party! Give your partner several treats, and practice this behavior for three to five days. Ensure that it’s solid before moving on.
7.) Introduce distance gradually. Take a single step away from the fridge, and ask your Service Dog to open the refrigerator door. Increase the distance one step at a time and only add more when your partner happily trots to the fridge and opens it reliably at the current distance. If your partner stops opening the door or responding to your request, you’ve increased distance too quickly. Move closer to the fridge and practice for a few more days before adding distance again.
Teach a Service Dog to Retrieve a Beverage: Getting the Beverage
1.) Decide on the type of beverage you’ll ask your dog to retrieve for you. Common options include bottles of water, plastic bottles of juice or soda and protein shakes. For your Service Dog’s safety, pick a beverage container your partner will be able to easily pick up, that isn’t slick and that isn’t pressurized.
2.) Designate a spot in your fridge for the beverage your Service Dog will retrieve for you. Pick a spot that’s readily accessible by your dog, roughly head height, and not in a drawer or behind a shelf. Your dog needs to be able to open the door, see the beverage and grab it without difficulty. You will always need to replace the beverage container in this same location so it’s always there when you ask your Service Dog to retrieve a beverage for you.
3.) Empty the beverage bottle. Make the empty beverage bottle high-value for your dog. Play with it a bit and practice a few repetitions of “take it,” “hold it,” and “out.” Click and reward your partner with a high value treat at each repetition to cement the formal retrieve and to prevent the bottle from becoming a chew toy.
4.) Place the beverage bottle in its designated spot and call your Service Dog over. Open the fridge and prop it open so that it won’t close on your four-legged helper. Point out the bottle and tell your Service Dog to “take it.” Have your dog place the beverage container in your hand and “out” your dog. Jackpot your partner with multiple treats. Continue practicing until your Service Dog knows where the container will be and grabs the beverage container without it being pointed out.
5.) Begin practicing having your partner go to the open fridge, retrieve your beverage and bring it back to you over slowly increased distances. Take one step back from the fridge at a time and repeat the retrieval process until you can send your dog to the open fridge to get a beverage from anywhere you commonly spend time, such as your office, the couch or your bedroom. If your partner stops responding to your requests or seems confused, decrease the distance for awhile until she’s comfortably and reliably able to perform.
Teach a Service Dog to Retrieve a Beverage: Closing the Fridge
1.) Ask your Service Dog to open the fridge. By this point, she should be quite familiar with the process. Once your partner has opened the fridge, have her retrieve your beverage from its designated spot.
2.) Before your Service Dog releases the beverage to your hand, use whatever command you use to request her to target an object with her nose or paws. Use your hand or your trusty Post-It note (check out our target training instructions to find out how to use a Post-It note to help with push-based tasks) to encourage your dog to target/push on the fridge, if necessary. The door will close. Click to mark the targeting and door closing, then ask for her to release the beverage to your hand, then jackpot.
3.) Stand right next to the fridge and practice the entire sequence. Have your Assistance Dog open the fridge, retrieve the beverage, target to close the door and release the beverage to your hand. Reward your partner every time she successfully manages the entire chain of behaviors.
Teach a Service Dog to Retrieve a Beverage: Putting It All Together
Once your Service Dog is very solid with opening the fridge, retrieving the beverage from its spot, closing the door, bringing the beverage to you and releasing to your hand while you’re standing right next to her, introduce the cue that’s going to mean, “Service Dog, retrieve a beverage.” “Drink,” “Water,” “Fridge,” and “Slurp” are good choices. It doesn’t matter what cue you pick as long as you use the same one all the time.
Stand directly next to the fridge and encourage your partner to begin the retrieval sequence. As soon as she grabs the door pull to open the fridge, delightedly give your “retrieve a beverage” cue. Click and treat once the behavior chain is complete. Practice until your Service Dog completes the entire sequence on cue reliably while you’re standing next to her.
Move one small step away from the fridge and cue your Service Dog to open the fridge, retrieve the beverage, close the fridge, and bring the beverage back to you. Ensure that she completes every step of the process reliably before adding more distance. Move closer to your partner and repeat the tasks in a cheerful manner if she forgets any part of the sequence or stops responding. Practice each distance for at least 2-3 days before moving further away.
Reward your Service Dog profusely every time she is successful and continue practicing until she successfully brings you a drink no matter where you are in the house.
Train a Service Dog to Retrieve: Tips
Keep training sessions short and positive, with consistent treat rewards, for optimum learning. Take breaks as necessary. Spend as much time on each step/stage as is necessary for consistent, reliable performance.
Train a Service Dog to Retrieve: Warnings
Never scold or punish your dog for missing a step in the sequence or losing concentration; instead, just return to the steps that are solid and go on from there. Stabilize items in your fridge so that nothing can topple over or injure your dog. Keep food in closed containers away from the beverage area so that your dog doesn’t accidentally eat something she shouldn’t.
Train a Service Dog to Retrieve: The Series
Train a Service Dog to Retrieve: Part One (Covers proper tools/equipment, dumbbell introduction, and how to get your Service Dog to grab the dumbbell)
Train a Service Dog to Retrieve, Part Two (Covers “hold” and proofing the hold)
Train a Service Dog to Retrieve: Part Three (Covers picking items up, introducing new objects and retrieval seeding puzzles)
Train a Service Dog to Retrieve: Part Four (The one you’re reading – covers object-specific retrieval, specifically retrieving a beverage on cue)
lynn August 23, 2013
I was taught you should always backchain a sequence, that way, the dog always knows what comes next. So, to teach the soda retrieve, you start by handing your dog a soda and having him hand it back to you, then put some distance on it. Then, with the fridge door open, hand your dog a soda and have him close the door. Once that is solid, still with the door open, isolate the beverage in the fridge, have your dog get it, then he already knows he needs to close the door and give you the drink. Then, with the door close, have the dog tug the door open and he already knows the rest. Continuing backchaining until you’re not in any room and can send your dog off to get you a drink.
Kea Grace August 23, 2013
That’s one way to do it, Lynn, for sure. As long as a method works for you and your partner and doesn’t cause harm, then the details are entirely up to each individual team. As has oft been said, “All roads lead to Rome,” but few of those roads, if any, are identical.
Darlene Reidy September 27, 2015
What do you do when your dog picks up the item and starts to walk off with it. When he does that I give the come command and he will then come to me and drop it in my hand on command. If I don’t give the come command he will start chewing it up. Help! Thanks, Darlene Reidy
Lynn Houston September 27, 2015
Which is why, if you back chain the command, the dog always knows what he’s supposed to do next and just walking away is not the correct thing. You must also have a strong retrieve before you start this process.