This dog trick started with Jersey, our American Eskimo, and has been passed down to our 2 other dogs now — both Lab mixes.
Each dog learned this trick as older, adult dogs.
See how we taught our dogs to “get the mail” or “get the paper” and then immediately (before it gets too soggy) “give” it to us.
Our Dog, Jersey, Likes To Get The Paper
Years ago, I used to get the paper delivered to my apartment. When Jersey and I would go out for our morning walk, we usually found the newspaper waiting for us on the doorstep when we returned.
First, I wanted to see if he would pick it up for me, on command, so I attempted to create this new “trick” when he was about a year old.
Of course he was clueless the first time I muttered “get the paper”… “pick up the paper”… “can you get the paper?”
In fact, those first couple times, I gave up pretty easy. He wasn’t getting it, and I wasn’t having any fun.
A few days later, I would try again.
Soon, he was becoming familiar with the phrases I was saying, but he wasn’t quite sure what I wanted him to do. So I picked up the newspaper and placed it into his mouth. He promptly dropped it (because he was being a good dog and he knew I didn’t want him chewing on anything that wasn’t technically a dog toy).
I would pick it up and put the paper right back in his mouth. He would drop it again. And we would stop only to try again the next day.
Eventually, things clicked and he just “got it”. When we walked out the door one morning, he beat me to the newspaper and he picked it up and brought it so me.
Thus, a new trick was born! Jersey had learned “Get the paper.”
Our Dog, Destin, Likes To Get The Mail
Years later, when we got Destin (our Black Lab/Golden Retriever), he used to enjoy watching Jim walk through the front yard to the mailbox to get the mail and bring it in the house. Jim would give me any mail with my name on it, and take the rest up to his office to sort and process.
Even when he was just a puppy, Destin started to feel left out. I’d go my way with my mail. Jim would go his way with his mail. And Destin was left to go find a dog toy or something to play with.
Still, his eagerness and excitement while watching Jim walk to the mailbox each day led us to attempt a new dog trick. We called it “Get the mail.”
It went like this…
Destin stuck to Jim’s heels like glue (because he had already been taught how to heel) and he stopped abruptly when they reached the mailbox. His mouth would be salivating, tail wagging, and eyes at full attention as Jim reached into the mailbox to retrieve its contents.
When Jim started back into the house, Destin just sat there as if to say, “What about me? Where’s my mail?” So Jim gave him a credit card bill or something (…whichever one we were least concerned about becoming soggy and gummed up with dog drool).
Without hesitation or any further commands, Destin proudly trotted right back into the house with that piece of mail firmly within the grip of his teeth. I was waiting at the door for him (with a dog treat in hand), which I promptly exchanged for the piece of mail with the command “Give”.
This began our daily routine. Jim gets home from work. Destin and I meet Jim at the front door. As soon as Jim gets to the mailbox, I let Destin run to the mailbox to greet him and bring back one piece of mail.
After a few months of this, if only Destin could’ve opened and closed the mailbox himself, we could have trusted him to retrieve all of the mail for us. He was so delicate and careful… though a little drool was inevitable.
Our Dog,Tenor, Likes To Get The Mail AND The Newspaper!
Fast-forward a few years, and our Great Pryenees/Black Lab dog, Tenor, had seen Destin “get” and “give” the mail several times.
He always seemed a little envious and confused by the fact that he never got to partake in this daily ritual.
He had a hard time getting past the fact that he wasn’t supposed to have non-dog things in his mouth though. We actually had to go through the motions of giving him a dog treat whenever he would simply put his lips on the piece of mail!
After a couple weeks of dog treats for “lipping” the mail, he reluctantly carried it a few feet and dropped it — at which time he got huge praise and a bigger, better dog treat.
Soon, he was retrieving mail with the best of ’em, and he is just as gentle with it as Destin always was. The only thing different between Destin and Tenor is we don’t let Tenor run to the mailbox. (Great Pryenees is a breed that loves to roam, so we usually keep him on a leash whenever he’s outdoors.) So instead, Tenor waits patiently inside the front door, waiting for Jim to return from the mailbox and give him his own piece of mail (…which he proudly carries upstairs to the treat jar in Jim’s office, where he exchanges the mail for a doggie treat).
The interesting thing about teaching Tenor to “get the mail” is the fact that he’s so adaptable. You can point to almost anything (paper, cardboard, telephone book… you get the idea. Point to it and ask Tenor to “get it” and he’ll pick up whatever it is you want him to bring to you. (But his tail still wags wildly any time he see us go out to get the mail!)
And bless his heart… he always looks at you with those big wide eyes questioningly at first. As if to say, “Are you sure you want me to wrap my teeth around that? You do realize that’s not a dog toy… But you really want me to get it, right?”
These days, Tenor has been doing it for so long now that we don’t even have to give him a dog treat when he “gives” us the mail (or another object) anymore. Instead, a bit of praise and/or a hug makes him just as happy. And treats on occasion keep him guessing…
Teaching “Give” or “Drop It”
Any time you ask a dog to fetch or “get” something, chances are, you want them to eventually “give” it to you as well.
“Give” was one of the first commands we taught our dogs. It’s similar to the “Drop It” command.
To teach your dog to “give” or “drop it”, simply have dog treats in hand and speak the command in a deeper-than-normal voice… like you’re very serious. If the dog even loosens his grip and starts to drop the item, he gets a treat.
The idea is to practice this several times in a row, and several days a week. As long as your dog receives a treat for dropping the item, then he’s likely to grasp this trick in no time!
Of course, lots of dog owners use the “leave it” command… which is similar but different. “Leave it” is usually used when you don’t want your dog to even come close to putting his mouth on an object. That command is used when there is no question that an item is not to be played with at this time. Most dogs learn to respect the “leave it” command if they receive treats for not going near items when they are told to “leave it” alone.