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Retrieving is a useful and highly enjoyable skill for your puppy to learn. You can start training your puppy to retrieve as soon as you bring him home, at seven to eight weeks old.
Some dogs are specially bred to retrieve, such as Labrador, Nova Scotia duck toller and golden retrievers. Often puppies of these breeds will begin retrieving as soon as they are old enough to run and play -- at about five weeks old. They may go and grab any object that is thrown and bring it back, even without a command. However, training is still required to make sure your puppy only retrieves requested items and that retrieval is executed only after a command is given. Sporting dog trainers recommend that retrievers be taught to retrieve as soon as they are brought home.
Most dog breeds were not specifically bred to retrieve, but had other intended purposes. Many dogs will never instinctually retrieve, but just about any breed of dog can be taught how to play fetch. You can start training your non-retriever puppy to bring items to you as soon as you begin the rest of your play-based training, around eight weeks old. Depending on the breed, your puppy may not be as interested in retrieval as some other games, but with the proper reward after a successful return, your puppy will learn that bringing you a ball, your slippers, your newspaper and so on is a good idea and a fun way to expend energy.
From birth, every puppy varies in their level of obedience. Some pups are born wanting to please and follow their leader, while others are more willful and independent. If you have a willful puppy -- one who often doesn't listen to commands on the first, second or third attempt -- your puppy is probably more likely to retrieve as it pleases or not at all. A stubborn retriever will usually retrieve early, at around five to six weeks, but will require a lot of training to retrieve only on command and to do so properly. It may take several weeks of patient training before a willful non-retriever pup to fetch and return on command.
If you have been blessed with a puppy who is happy to do whatever you ask, he will quickly learn the retrieval game. As soon as you begin playing with your puppy you can start training him to "go get it," "bring it back" and "drop it." For non-retriever breeds, the learning process will be a bit slower since the concepts of retrieval may not come as naturally. But with consistent rewards for a job well done, your obedient puppy should be showing his love of fetch after a few weeks of training, at age 10 to 12 weeks.