Fetch is a great way to play with your dog and exercise them at the same time, and it’s a lot more fun when you aren’t chasing your dog and engaging in a battle of tug-of-war after every throw.
While some dogs play fetch more naturally than others, getting your dog to retrieve is, more often than not, a matter of training. Teaching your dog to play fetch can be as simple as finding a toy they really like. Of course, it can also be as complex as training them in the whole retrieval process: chasing, bringing the toy back, and then relinquishing it.
Choosing the right toy
Just like us, dogs can be particular about what they like and dislike. Some like to chase tennis balls while others opt for a frisbee. Experiment with your dog and find that special something that is going to engage them. A few tried and tested favourites include dog toys that whistle or squeak, bounce or can travel a long distance when thrown. If you have trouble constantly throwing or bending over to pick up a ball, a ball thrower is a must.
Retrieval training 101
Step one – Come
Teaching your dog to “come” is a vital training cue not only for fetch but also for manners and safety when off lead. Teach your dog to love coming back to you by making sure “come” is always a positive, fun cue. Be exciting when you are calling your dog to come by using upbeat, happy tones and, if needed, squeaky toys, ropes and treats. Ensure you praise them when they do come and never call your dog and then reprimand them.
Step two – Drop it
Pick up one of your dog’s favourite toys in one hand, and some treats in the other. In a contained environment, like a bathroom or laundry, give the toy to your dog. Say the cue, “drop it,” while holding a treat close to your dog’s nose. They probably won’t drop the toy initially, but will have to release it in order to get the treat. Praise your dog and repeat until they become familiar with the cue. Gradually phase out the treats, a good way to do this is by using two toys. As soon as your dog returns to you with the first one, show them the other one you’re holding while using the cue, “drop it.”
Step three – Increase the retrieval distance
Now your dog knows “come” and “drop it” instead of giving your dog its toy, try throwing it a couple of metres. Once they have the toy say “come” and entice them to come back to you with happy tones or treats and toys. Continue to say, “drop it” when they return and reward them with attention and the fun of throwing it again. Keep increasing the distance and when you feel your dog understands the game, attempt different rooms in the house, and eventually the great outdoors.
Step four – Repetition and positive reinforcement
Training your dog to fetch takes time. You will probably need to spend several consecutive days, if not weeks, on each step. Always reward your dog, with verbal praise, pats and, when necessary treats so they will want to keep playing.
- Never play chase to retrieve the ball from your dog.
- Never ask your dog to ‘come’ and then reprimand them.
- Practice in short intervals of 5-10 minutes several times per day
- If your dog isn’t interested in fetch, maybe it isn’t for them. It might be worth finding a fun game that they enjoy instead
- Understand your dog’s breed. Some dogs – Labradors, spaniels, golden retrievers, pointers and curly coated retrievers – are natural retrievers.