Dogs are capable of learning incredibly complex behaviors, as long as they have a motivated and consistent trainer. While some behaviors are important for the health and safety of the dog, others are taught simply for their entertainment value or to give the dog a challenge. Teaching your pup to retrieve a television remote is no simple task, but with the right mindset, nearly any dog can learn to do it.
The first step in teaching retrieval is showing the dog how to release items. Give your dog a toy or ball that you know he likes to carry. Next, offer him a small training treat. When he spits out the toy to take the treat, mark the action with praise and brief affection. Offer him the toy again and repeat this action a few times. When your dog will spit the item out every time, you can add the command "Drop" to the process just before you offer the treat. Waiting to add the verbal command until the behavior is reproducible helps the dog link that specific behavior with the given word by ensuring the vocal command is always followed by a successful command execution.
Picking Items Up
The next order of business is teaching the dog to pick items up on command. Without this command, you will have a hard time convincing the dog to pick up and hold the remote control. To teach the “Take” command, grab your dog’s favorite toy and sit down with him in front of you. Offer him the toy; when he takes it mark the behavior with praise and affection. Have him drop the item, then repeat the process. Once he reliably takes the toy, add the command "Take” when you offer it to him. Deepen his understanding of the trick by adding a name to the item once he is solid in his taking; for instance, “Take Ball” or “Take Rope.” You’ll want the dog to understand “Take” can be specific to certain items.
The retrieval step is where things start getting tricky, though if your dog has a solid understand of Take and Drop, it goes more smoothly. Place your dog’s favorite toy on the floor just in front of him and give the Take Ball command. He should pick the ball up; if not, he needs more work on the Take command. Have him drop the item in your hands, reward him with a small treat and then repeat the process. Over a few training sessions, increase the distance between the dog and the item. By the end of this series, you should be able to say “Ball” and have the dog cross the room to pick up the item and bring it back.
Once your dog reliably brings you his favorite toy from anywhere in the room, you are ready to bring the TV remote into the equation. Sit down with the dog, hold the remote in your hand and give him the Take command. If his Take is strong, he should pick the remote up. Have him release the remote, then practice this action with the “Take Remote” command. Work up to retrievals in the same way you did with his favorite toy, using the Remote command instead. If your dog has a firm understanding of the retrieval process, he will learn to associate the Remote command with fetching the remote fairly quickly.