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- To teach a dog to play fetch, it’s important to keep it from being a boring game. Make sure to use rewards like treats and pets, get the toy back by teaching the “drop it” command, and make the sessions short to keep the excitement.
- If your dog won’t return the toy at first, it might be worth using one that has a long rope so you could pull it back to your direction and have the dog follow naturally.
- Not every dog will naturally like playing fetch, but a little patience and practice will soon teach them this game.
Playing fetch seems to be a game that should come to your dog naturally… right? Well, not really. Many dogs have the instinct to go after a tossed object, but bringing the object back often seems to be a point of contention for many dogs. When I first taught my dog fetch, we got stuck to that phase too. Typically, dogs DO love to play fetch because it involves working off boundless energy as well as positive interaction with their humans. However, dog owners should know that some pups do NOT take to playing fetch automatically. The good news is that you can teach a dog of any age to play fetch, even if it doesn’t come naturally. Check out my guide to fetch training your dog.
I. You may have to motivate your dog to chase the object
This involves figuring out what type of dog you have. Some dogs will happily chase an object, but once they procure said object, they may sit down and chew the object. Some may grab the object and run in the opposite direction. Then again, some dogs may just sit in place after the object is thrown and look at you as if to say, “What do you want me to do with that?”
You have to figure out what type of dog you’re dealing with—a chaser, a chewer, a runner, or a laissez-faire pup that doesn’t seem interested at all.
Now, if your dog is laid back, won’t even remotely chase the object type of dog, then you’re going to have to teach him to chase the object. There are at least three ways you can do this, and, you may have to play around a bit to figure out just how you should approach teaching your dog to chase. Your dog may respond to affection (praise) or she may respond best to treats.
So, you’ll work first to get Fido to simply go after the object— try using one of the best indestructible dog toys for this activity. When she retrieves the ball or toy you’ve thrown, go to her, take the object, and reward her. You should repeat this a few times before trying to teach her to retrieve it. In fact, it’s probably best to make sure she masters this part of the game before moving on to anything else.
II. Now, hold the dog back
Once she has figured out how to chase the object successfully, you should add another element. When you toss the object, hold her back momentarily. This taps into her need to chase down “prey,” and it reinforces the objective of a chase that you just taught her. As you hold her back, notice if she pulls against you (she should). As you hold her back, say to her, “Go get it!” Now, let her run for the object, continually encouraging her to go get the object. Odds are, once you do this, she will become motivated to chase without a need for much encouragement.
III. Now it’s time to retrieve
Here comes the fun part of teaching a dog to fetch, and that is learning to retrieve. You can do this in a number of ways, but you may once again have to try a few different techniques depending upon what motivates your dog.
If your dog chases the object willingly but is reluctant to bring it back, then you might want to keep a second ball, a tennis ball is a perfect size, or toy on your person so that you can offer it when Fido sits down beside the first object. Take the second toy and throw it in the opposite direction. Now, this needs to be behind your location. The idea is to get your dog used to the idea of running back to you once he has “caught” the initial object thrown.
Once your dog has mastered this, you’re going to have to be observant. You need to catch Fido with the first object in his mouth, and then call him back to you. If he will come back to you with the initial object in his mouth, then offer a reward and tell him to “drop it.” He will learn to bring back the object in order to get a treat. Again, do this a few times in order for him to get used to running after an object, catching it, and bringing it back to you.
IV. Teach the dog to “drop it”
We’ve already touched on this a tad in the previous paragraph. However, your dog may be stuck chasing after the second object. If you have this issue, you’ll need to get him to learn how to bring object number two back. Repeat the same steps in the previous paragraph, except now you need to have an object to offer him. This is when you teach him to drop the object or give it to you.
If your dog is more apt to chase after object one than object two, but won’t drop it, you need to start offering a treat when he brings the object back to you. Do not give the treat until the dog drops the object in his mouth or puts it in your hand, whichever is your preference. At this point, don’t throw the second object but offer treats when the dog returns to you with the object in his mouth.
Approaching a Dog that Wants to Play Keep Away
Fido will chase the object, then Fido will grab the object, but, when you call Fido back, he runs in the opposite direction. Perhaps he sits down and chews on the object and simply refuses to bring the object back to you. In other cases, some dogs will show disinterest in playing fetch for a number of reasons .
This is an easy fix! Purchase a small ball of twine (jute string works really well), and attach the twine to the ball or toy you intend to play fetch with. However, you need to make sure you give plenty of length to your object. Now it’s time to play as if you’re fishing. Throw the object, then allow it to drop. Now, wiggle it slowly back in your direction. Your dog won’t be able to resist the lure of the object wiggling its way back to you. Make sure you are praising her each time she goes after the toy on a rope.
You may want to allow a week or so to play the game of fetch this way, then try again to get her to both chases after the object and teach her to bring the object back to you. Now, your dog should want to go after the object and then bring it back to you naturally. However, don’t be discouraged if you have to go back to the old toy on a rope approach a time or two before Fido catches on.
What If My Dog Will Only Bring the Object Halfway to Me Then Drops It?
Keep throwing and encouraging her to go after the ball. Try the approach where you keep a second object in your hands to offer should she fail to bring the object back. If that fails, try putting the rope on the object and pulling her back to you that way.
Any time you are working to get her to retrieve and bring the ball or toy back, use the same command and encourage her all the way to you. Throwing the toy at a short distance at first will help make things easier.
What If My Dog Won’t Let Go of the Object?
Easy! Put a treat near her nose and offer your other hand, telling her to give you the ball or toy. Most times, the dog will cheerfully let go of the object for the treat.
Remember to choose a fetch toy that your dog likes. Some dogs love tennis balls, but you might want to rethink that if your dog loves to chew. If this is the case, then you might want to choose a bone-shaped toy made from tough material. You might want to consider a rope toy too.
Let’s say a word about teaching your dog to catch a Frisbee as a means of playing catch. If you do choose a Frisbee for the “fetch” toy, then you should choose one that is made for a dog. The traditional Frisbee is made from material that could cut your dog’s mouth.
1. How do I teach my dog to fetch and return?
First, introduce your dog to the toy. Make sure it is something that your dog will want to chase, such as a ball or a chew toy. You’ll need to teach your dog how to “come” to you when called. Do this before trying to fetch. Crouch down, offer a treat and ask your dog to come to you. You’ll need this command as you teach your dog to return.
You may need to repeat the “come” command ten to twenty times in order to get Fido accustomed to the command.
Next, move further and further back in order to reinforce the command.
Now, offer the “fetch” object to the dog, throw it, and tell him “go get it.” If he does chase the object and picks it up praise him. Now you can utilize the “come” command. If your dog fails to return the object, choose some of the approaches listed above.
2. Can you train any dog to fetch?
Yes, with plenty of work, you can teach any dog how to fetch. You may want to teach your dog to go after an object, hold her back, and then turn her loose to go get the object. Most times, this will help reluctant dogs to go after objects. If this doesn’t work, employ the tactic of using a second object to get your dog to return to you.
Remember, most of the tips above will get any dog of any age to learn how to play a game of fetch.
3. Is it too late to teach my dog fetch?
They may say that an old dog can’t learn new tricks, but this isn’t always true. Learn what motivates your dog, and build a plan for teaching him to play fetch based on what motivates your dog to do what you ask of him. Always have plenty of treats nearby for rewarding good behavior. Be patient with older dogs. They just may need you to go over the desired behavior a few more times than a younger dog might.
4. Why won’t my dog bring the ball back?
There are a number of reasons for this type of behavior. Your dog may love the chase of the game, but he may want to either run in the opposite direction of you, or he may want to sit down and chew on the object rather than bring it back. Look at the approaches above to eliminate this behavior.
Remember, not every dog takes to fetch naturally. You may have to put in a little extra work in order to encourage Fido to not only chase but to return the object to you.