I decided that it was something I wanted to try and get him past, although it wasn't a pressing thing. I used a clicker and started out by rewarding him when he would touch the dumbbell with his face. I practiced it for a little while and then gave him a break. When I decided to try again he actually started offering to put his mouth on it - here is a video:
He completely offered to put his mouth on it by himself. You can see in the video he is pretty hesitant and somewhat stressed about it. Not so stressed that he won't do it, but he really thinks the thing might get him.
A few weeks ago I brought him out to work him and I grabbed the dumbbell. This time he started offering to pick it up! Fairly confidently! Again, I used the clicker to mark the behavior.
Today I decided to try it again and I actually got a retrieve out of the deal!
I am really excited he has gotten this far! He's still a little cautious about it - but I think if we keep building on this it will be less and less of a big deal. It was so cute, a friend walked by while I was messing around with him and when her husband walked up - while we were talking - Seth actually grabbed the dumbbell, on his own, and handed it to the guy! Then the guy gave it back to him and he took it! I could have died, but these folks aren't really animal people so I had to hide my excitement.
One thing I really like about using the clicker is that it is really handy to mark a specific behavior. I can use a word like 'yes', but I feel for whatever reason for some of the more specific things I have tried to teach my dogs that they seem to get it a lot more quickly with the clicker. I am not sure if it is a timing and speed thing? I do think the clicker maybe speeds up the reward time, so it might become clearer to my dogs. Whatever it is - Seth is now able to pick up the dumbbell and carry it!