Getting your dog to "hold" an object in its mouth is often the first command in a series of several to teach proper retrieval. It is also a useful command when training a service or helper dog, as it allows him to aid you in daily activities. Apart from that, the "hold" command is a fun trick to teach your dog to impress your friends. For most dogs, training the "hold" command will require patience throughout several sessions, likely spanning one to four weeks.
Your local pet training or hunting supply store should carry an array of bumpers and dummies made specifically for training your dog to hold. However, you can also use your leather-gloved hand or objects from around your home such as a PVC pipe, a paint roller or a thin board. Whatever object you select should be a comfortable weight and size for your dog to hold.
The beginning stages of teaching the hold command will be difficult as your dog learns to accept an object. Gently grab his lower jaw, open his mouth and place the object into it, behind his canine teeth. Tell your dog to hold with your chosen command. Apply gentle pressure to your dog's lower jaw, preventing him from spitting the object out. As you do this, calmly repeat the hold command, interjecting praise throughout. Take a break every 90 seconds, and then repeat the process. Stop your training session when you sense your dog is becoming bored or agitated. In time, your dog will accept the object into his mouth without the need to hold his jaw. If he spits it out, pick it back up and place it into his mouth, repeating your hold command. Continue these training sessions until he will steadily hold the object for upward of one minute. This often requires up to a month of daily sessions.
Praise and reward are key factors while teaching your dog to hold. As long as he has the object in his mouth, even if you have to hold his jaw, you should provide positive reinforcement. Petting and vocal feedback will communicate praise while your dog is holding. Avoid food treats during hold training, as you must remove the object from your dog's mouth to feed them to him. If you favor food treats, save them for the end of the session. If you feel yourself becoming angry at your dog during the session, take a break.
Once your dog understands the basic hold command, he can graduate to other objects. For example, if you need to train him to grip objects lightly for hunting, a bristled brush will teach him to control the bite pressure. If you are teaching him to carry objects for service, introduce him to each one in a training session. Your dog might dislike certain objects, requiring positive reinforcement much like initial hold training.
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