Playing fetch can be a simple, healthy way to help your pet burn off excess energy. The age-old game of throwing an object and having your dog bring it back is as simple as it gets. But contrary to popular belief, “fetch” is not an instinct for all dogs. Many dogs need to be taught to retrieve before they can play.
If you’ve ever thrown a stick high into the air and yelled out, “Go get it, buddy!” -- only for your dear doggo to cock her head and stare at you in confusion -- you’re in the right place.
Here are some tips for teaching Fido how to fetch.
- Small, training-size treats
- Soft, dog-friendly ball in a bright, easy-to-spot color (tennis balls work great)
- Access to a clean, grassy
, outdoor space with room to run
Before your dog can really understand the concept of bounding after an object and bringing it back to you, they have to grasp the idea of sitting still and waiting on you. If you haven’t yet tried obedience training with your dog, start there before you try to teach your pup the game of fetch. The typical game of fetch involves four parts, each of which is signaled by a different command (“Sit,” “Fetch,” “Come” and “Release”) -- so you need to make sure your dog can handle it.
Instruct your dog to “sit” the way that you usually would, and make sure they have mastered the command. If your dog won’t sit on demand, he or she may simply jump up and try to grab any ball or stick out of your hand before you can throw it in the other direction.
Once your dog is in the sitting position, give them a treat to indicate that they have done well. This can also be a cue to signal that training is in session, and your dog will start to shift from play mode and into learning mode.
Retrievers, labradors, and shepherd dog breeds are bred for the chase. That is, it may come naturally to them to chase objects down after you throw them. But any breed of dog can get confused if they have never played fetch before.
Once your dog is in the sitting position, throw the ball a short distance into the grass. If you can, maintain eye contact with your dog as you throw to remind them that the “sit!” command is still in effect. Once the ball lands, break eye contact and say the word, “Fetch!”
Your dog may go running after the ball right away. If that’s the case, reward them with a treat to signify that they fulfilled your expectation.
Your dog may also take a few tries to catch on. If that’s the case, simply retrieve the ball yourself, repeat the “sit!” command, and throw it once more.
If, after repeated attempts, your dog still won’t make a retrieval attempt, you may need to encourage your dog’s interest in playing with the ball. Go ahead and give the ball to your dog, letting him chew it and frolic around for a bit. Reward your pup for their play with a treat or two before starting again with “Sit!” and “Fetch!” commands.
Once your dog has found the ball in the grass, you’re halfway to the finish line. You may want to practice the “Sit!” and “Fetch!” commands several times, rewarding your dog with praise and treats, before you move to calling your dog back to you.
This part might get tricky. If you simply call your dog’s name to get them to return to you, their instinct may be to drop the ball before coming on command. If you haven’t yet introduced the word “Come!” to your dog’s training, now would be a good time to use it. You might also try the word “Bring!” if you’ve already used “Come!” to simply get your dog to come to you.
If your dog doesn’t bring the ball back to you, simply walk to get it yourself, hand it to your pet, and praise them as they hold the ball in their mouth while they stand next to you. Keep trying the command, shortening the distance that you throw the ball if your dog is having trouble understanding. For some dogs, learning all four commands at once may be overwhelming or exhausting, so feel free to take a break here and resume tomorrow if it’s getting frustrating for both of you.
The last part of the Fetch exercise involves getting that love-slobbered ball back in your hand. If your pup doesn’t have any experience with the “Drop!” or “Release!” instruction, this might be especially challenging.
If your dog will sit, fetch, and return, but won’t return the ball, some bribery might be in order. If you open your palm to reveal a handful of treats, your dog will be much more motivated to drop the ball. Once you have it back in your possession (and not a second sooner), hand over that reward. If your pup shakes their head and tries to initiate a game of keep away instead, don’t engage. Hold your ground and wait for your pet to return the ball to you before you entertain any other activity.
Praise your dog verbally and make a commotion the first few times they successfully execute all four commands in succession. After a training session or two, you can start to drop the verbal commands and watch as fetch becomes second nature.
If you’re practicing on your lawn, all of that training might take a toll on your backyard. Wrap up every play session with a quick inspection of your grounds, and clean up any “presents” your pup might have left outside. Keep your BarkYard products (Good Boy™ and Bad Spot!™) handy to ensure that your lawn stays lush and beautiful after every frolic with your furry friend.