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It actually sounds like you starting in the right direction-at least the same as I did with Kayla. You want to try to backchain the retrieve. I'll try to find the article that explains it clearly (there wer some discussions in the Front & Finish magazines last year). I'll try to explain a little here-from my working with Kayla on building the retrieve.

Start with placing the dumbbell in his mouth and mark and award (click, praise, treat) when he does it. Shift the mark and award to when he releases to your hand. At first it will probably be real quick. You want to work on this part until you get the timing down with you telling him to give it to you before he releases to your hand. Patience with these first two steps!

When you've established that Zack gets the award only for waiting for you to take the dumbbell start extending the time between him taking the dumbbell and you having him release. You want to establish the release (on your say so) as the "money" point.

Then you start moving the dumbbell around and farther away for Zack to take it and bring and hold until you take it, mark and "pay" him. Eventually you start tossing a distance for him to pick up.

This worked really well with Kayla. When we finally started the exercises in class, when I would put the dumbbell away, she would go looking for it, getting it if possible and bringing it back to me

And go with your instinct! No ear pinching!
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