I regularly see people who throw balls or sticks for their dogs and the dog happily gets the item, but does not give it back or drops it on the ground and encourages the person to pick it up. I figure I am not the retriever, the dog is! There are times when delivering to hand is essential, so I like to make it a habit for my Labs. We particularly enjoy playing ball with a chuck-it (since I throw like a girl at best!).
Here is my quick training tip: Think of the retrieve in "reverse". Instead of "you throw the ball and the dog brings it back and gives it to you" make it be "the dog gives you the ball, you throw it and the dog brings it back". So don't throw the first ball with the chuck-it. Drop it on the ground and encourage the dog to pick it up and deliver it to your hand. The reward is that you load the chuck-it and throw. Dog runs out, gets it, runs back - has a great time. The only way dog can have that fun again is if he hands you the ball. Turn and start to walk away if dog runs off or drops it on the ground (as in "game over"). I use body language to explain "sorry, I can't reach that and won't chase you. The only way to get me to throw it again is if you help by handing me the ball." This works well for my Labs and keeps them very enthusiastic and happy. It also teaches them to always deliver to hand. Throwing a stick or ball at my feet will not work. That's a pattern my naughty husband gets into when he plays with our Labs and I have to "untrain". This is my pain-free remedy. It gives me dogs that work to put items in my hand even when I am not offering. The only bad part? Sometimes my dogs insist on handing me road-kill frogs or wet, dead shrews, or ... But that is why we teach "drop it" - a different cue altogether. Have fun training your dog. It can be a joy for both of you! (This article was written by Amy Reges, copyright protected - despite what it might say where ever you find it after someone else has stolen it and claimed it as their own. Been finding my posts copied and pasted all over without credit or permission. Come on people - write your own!)
Pictured: OtterTail Labrador Retriever - Marius very proud of himself with his big red ball.