How to teach your dog to fetch
Playing fetch is fantastic exercise and mental stimulation for your dog. It’s especially beneficial for high energy dogs, as they can burn their energy more effectively playing fetch compared to walking. We all have those days when we don’t feel like going for a long walk and this is when fetch can come to the rescue. You can play almost anywhere: indoors, in the backyard, at the beach or in the park.
So, playing fetch is awesome. But, first of all, you will need to teach your dog how to play. Although it’s easier to training growing pups, it’s never too late: you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.
It’s best to structure your dog’s training around each of the 4 stages of playing fetch:
Chasing & Collecting
Dogs generally fall into one of two buckets when it comes to chasing the ball.
The first group of dogs are the eager chasers. Working dogs and retrievers, in particular, have a natural tendency to chase after the ball. If that’s the case for your dog, you’re lucky! You can move on to the retrieve & drop training.
The second group of dogs aren’t particularly interested in the ball. They’re the type that look at you after you’ve thrown the ball and you know they’re thinking “what are you doing, human?” This group requires a bit more persistence. You can start by throwing the ball a short distance, and encourage your dog to get it. Every time they do chase after it, reward them with pats and “good girl” or “good boy”. It’s best not to use treats at this point, and your dog may lose interest in the ball.
Before we move onto the retrieving step, we need to work backward and teach your dog to understand the dropping concept.
Here is how you can approach the ball dropping training:
- When your dog has the ball in their mouth, get their attention with a treat
- Once they drop the ball to get the treat, say “drop” (or whichever command you want to use)
- When they do this, reward them with the treat and say “good girl” or “good boy”
- Quickly give/ throw the ball back to them. Some dogs are reluctant to give the ball to you because they think they won’t get it back. You need to build their trust and show them that they will get it back so they are less reluctant to part ways with the ball
- Repeat this sequence a few times a day, trying to rely less on the treats as your dog begins to understand the drop command
- Eventually, they will respond to “drop” without any treats. Good dog!
We’ve all seen that dog, who fetches the ball but then runs around in circles or in the complete opposite direction to its owner. Many dogs will think that the game is actually to keep the ball away from you. The goal of this training is to teach them that the game is actually chasing the ball, and the sooner they drop the ball for you, the sooner they can chase it again.
Once your dog is confidently dropping the ball on command, the retrieving part is easier. They should already get the sense that dropping the ball is only a short-term state and be excited about chasing the ball again.
- Start by throwing the ball a few metres away
- Call “bring it here”, “come” (or whichever command you want to use)
- Say the “drop” command
- Once you get the ball back, reward them the same way as before, with pats and lots of positive validation
- Slowly increase the distance you throw the ball. Soon your dog will get the hang of it, and you will be to throw as far as you want.
And there you have it – say hello to your new super fetcher! Remember to always use the right type of ball for your dog, and never a tennis ball.