As a pet parent, you’re always looking for ways to interact with your pup. Perhaps one of the most common ways that we play with our pups is engaging in a game of fetch. The game of fetch probably seems easy for Fido to learn. However, you might be surprised that many pet parents have difficulty getting dogs to return balls or sticks after throwing the toy and Fido has caught it. Yes, you need to teach a dog to not only catch the object being offered but to also return it to you so that the game of fetch can carry on! Let’s take a look at how you can teach your dog how to fetch— properly.
Some dogs don’t intrinsically know how to play fetch. While some dogs will chase the toy (or stick) you’ve offered, once it hits the ground, they may simply leave it where it lays. Some dogs won’t even chase after the object; they may stare at it (or you) because they don’t know what you expect them to do. Other dogs may grab the toy, then run away with it and never return it to you. This is actually quite natural. Just like other processes such as crate training your dog or even using a potty bell, learning “tricks”, or playing games, you need to teach your dog what you expect of him in order to play fetch.
How to Start
First, you want to find an object your dog enjoys. I would recommend a ball or a toy stick (yes, these exist; you can get one at a pet store that has the same texture as wood but is made from material that won’t splinter or otherwise injure your dog’s mouth). I personally don’t think a rope toy is a good idea; your dog may learn (inadvertently) how to play tug of war with you instead of fetch. Wait until your dog has successfully learned the mage of fetch until you introduce the rope toy to him. Another word about choosing the proper toy for fetch – if you wish to throw and have Fido retrieve a Frisbee, then look for a specially made dog frisbee at your pet store. Traditional Frisbee products may have a sharp edge that can cut your dog’s mouth.
Other popular “fetch” toys include tennis balls and baseballs.
Next, you need to determine if your dog will chase the actual toy/stick. (NOTE: It’s better to teach your dog to fetch with a toy or a ball. If you throw a real stick, you run the risk of the dog getting a splinter in his mouth or otherwise injuring himself.) If the dog will chase the object, but won’t bring it back to you, then go to him and offer a reward. This reward can be in the form of affection and praise, or it can be treated.
What if your dog shows zero interest in any of these toys? Then try a food puzzle toy that can be filled with a few treats to gain his interest.
Now here’s the fun part. Once you reward him for chasing the object, you need to take it away. This is how you teach him to bring it back to you (eventually).
Repeat this several times until your dog gets the hang of chasing the object.
Now, you’ll want to add a little extra motivation. Be sure your pup has a collar on before implementing this step, and, of course, only be firm when gripping the collar. Once your dog has learned to chase the object, when you toss the object, firmly hold her back for a few seconds. Then, let go and encourage her to go chase after the toy. You’ll need to reward her for successfully chasing. Holding her back firmly while encouraging her to “go get” the object will actually fuel her to go after the ball or toy.
Once your dog has the idea of chasing the ball down pat, you can begin to work on retrieving the ball or toy. There are actually several ways to do this. First, you need to consider your dog’s behavior in order to choose the best way to teach retrieving.
Does your dog chase the object, but refuse to bring it back? Then you may want to incorporate a second toy.
You may be able to get your dog to come back to you by simply offering the second object and telling him to come to you. If he does, then reward him with the second object as well as praise.
You may need to throw the second toy in the opposite direction of yourself. This will get the dog to run back to you, and you need to praise him for returning to you (albeit without the object.) If he’s got the “chase” part of playing fetch down pat, then he’ll likely go after the second object, but he’ll likely stop when he gets to you. This will require a little more work on your part.
If your dog will run back to you, even if he doesn’t bring the first object back to you, then you need to repeat this and praise him for returning. Keep a few treats handy. If he does happen to bring the first object back to you during any of these sessions, you should give him a treat when he has the first object. If he comes back with no object, simply offer praise. He’ll learn that he gets more of a reward when he brings the object back to you.
Once your dog masters bringing the object back to you without your having to offer the second object or call him more than a couple of times, you’ll want to practice this a few times. In fact, do this on a daily basis until you’re sure your dog understands the basics of fetch.
Problems You Might Encounter
Now, let’s discuss some problems that will often keep your dog from learning how to properly fetch.
Some dogs like to play “keep away.” They will chase the object say, a ball, and they will retrieve it. However, Fido will make you fight him to get the object away from his grip, or he may drop the ball somewhere away from you. You’ll want to affix a small but sturdy piece of rope or twine to the object. When your dog inevitably chases and grabs the object thinking he’s going to run away with the toy, then gently tug on the twine, saying, “Bring it.” This will bring your dog back to you, reinforcing that when you play fetch, the object is to come back to you in order to keep the game going. You’ll need to repeat this several times. When you can remove the twine from the toy and you don’t have to tug at Fido to return the object to you, then you can move on to working on perfecting his fetch game.
Some dogs will chase, grab the object, and either run a little with it, then dropping it, or they may run to the object and leave it lying there. If the dog grabs the object, then start to back away, and use the “Bring it” command. If he does come in your direction, then meet him where you originally stood. Praise him, and take the object.
What if Fido wants to fight you rather than drop the object? This is common, and it’s not that Fido is actively disobeying your commands. Some dogs love a good game of tug of war, and, in his mind, you guys are still playing a game. However, tug of war is best played with a rope toy and not a ball or frisbee or the like.
When Fido refuses to drop the object, let him see you put a treat on the ground. He’ll likely drop the object quickly for the proffered treat. What you want to do is let him see the object now in your hand as you praise him. You can also teach your dog to “give” using the same basic principle. Offer your open hand while offering a treat in the other hand, saying “give.” If Fido will let go of the object in your empty hand in anticipation of the treat, then praise him.
1. What if my dog isn’t interested?
If your dog isn’t interested at first, consider her age and if you’ve been able to do any other training at this point. You may have to try multiple times to get a younger dog to become interested in playing fetch.
If you think your otherwise playful pup might not know what you expect but is ready to learn how to play fetch, then you can entice her in a few different ways. Grab a food puzzle toy that will allow you to put treats inside and let your pup smell the treats. You may have to give her the toy and let her investigate it for a bit (hopefully, a treat will pop out as she does). Once you see she’s interested in the toy, then you can begin working with her on playing fetch.
Now, your dog may not respond to a treat. You may have to find an object that she likes to play with instead.
2. How do you teach a dog to fetch?
Teaching a dog to play fetch isn’t as easy as it sounds! Some dogs have to be taught how to play fetch just like housebreaking a puppy! It’s not a natural instinct for all dogs. However, if you’ll put time into teaching your dog to chase the toy and bring it back to you each time, then your dog will learn how to play fetch fairly quickly.
Remember to give lots of praise and treat Fido often when teach a dog to fetch. Some days you may have to just hang it up and try again tomorrow! However, don’t give up! Your dog can learn how to play fetch with just a little determination on your part.
3. Why do dogs like to play fetch?
Dogs like to play fetch because it summons their predatory instincts . Dogs are naturally born to chase prey. Herding dogs (and many other working dogs) spend their workday chasing after livestock. Retrievers, well, they are bred to retrieve. All of these natural behaviors can be somewhat imitated when dogs play fetch.
Overall, playing fetch is a fun exercise for dogs. Dogs of all breeds and all sizes enjoy playing fetch.