Tip did it!!! He opened his mouth and took the dumbbell!!!!!
So maybe this seems silly but... I am so proud of Tip and so happy!!!!
I have been working for weeks to get Tip to take and hold the dumbbell. Started trying to just open his mouth and put it in, and that was met with fearsome resistance. Just a couple tries and I had a pissed off little dog who clenched his mouth shut, and shoved the dumbbell out as hard as he could, and who was clearly not pleased. He would avoid the dumbbell and look away.
So then I went to do clicker training for a week or so. That got him to the point where he would open his mouth and grab the dumbbell and immediately release. I could not get him to extend the hold. So he had a grab, but not a hold. But at least he was now feeling positively towards the dumbbell.
So then I went back to a more correct implementation of the inducive retrieve. The first week or so I got it so I could open his mouth, put the dumbbell in, and have him hold it very briefly. No longer trying his best to shove it out of his mouth! About a week ago I came home and decided he could certainly learn to hold it for a short period of time. Lo and behold, 5 minutes later he was doing so! All this training depended heavily on the amazing powers of liverwurst, and a small amount of "cut the crap and keep holding that, its not going to kill you."
Today, I decided that the next step I wanted him to take was I wanted him to open his mouth and take the dumbbell, rather than having me open his mouth and put it in there. aka: I wanted him to take ownership of the behavior and not be a passive participant.
For this I used chunks of fresh beef roast (from the deli, cut very thick) and Bo. And as I was grabbing lunch at home today, I decided to take 5 minutes and work the retrieve with the dogs. I did 3 repetitions of "put in Tip's mouth praise, take, and feed hunks of beef". Then I let Bo take and hold it a couple times and get treats. Then I decided that if Tip was going to get the chunks of roast beef, he was going to open his mouth himself.
He sat there for ~30 seconds, then I offered it to Bo, who got chunks of beef. I offered it again to Tip.
Poor little guy was so stressed that he was literally shaking like a leaf. All I was doing was holding it in front of his nose and I said "take it" once. I am not exactly sure what was so difficult, but clearly this was REALLY HARD for him to take the initiative. Finally he opened his mouth and took it, though it came out quickly. For this he got 2 pieces of beef and gobs of praise. We did that a couple more times, then took a break (and Bo got to take it and get treats). Then went back to Tip, who started consistently opening his mouth and holding it, and now I had him hold it for a few seconds each time before taking it. And each time he got HEAPED with praise and several pieces of beef. And by the end of the session the shaking had mostly subsided.
I am very proud of Tip. This was clearly VERY VERY hard for him, and he worked through it! But seeing him sit there shaking like a leaf while he was working it out -- wow. And I was working this in a very non pushy and low-stress way, just waiting for him to take the initiative.
If I can just teach him sits in heeling and fronts and not try to take on every big dog he sees... he could be going places!