Teaching Dogs To Play Fetch

*Please note: If your dog displays any signs of aggression over toys, please consult with a professional trainer.

Playing with your dog not only provides a fantastic outlet for expending their energy but also imparts essential lessons in manners and boundaries. Among the various games that offer both physical exercise and mental stimulation, "Fetch" stands out as an all-time favorite. Encouraging your dog to pursue a

thrown toy and return it involves not only beneficial physical activity but also fosters mental exercise and engagement when approached with the right techniques.

While many dogs instinctively chase after toys, mastering the art of bringing it back may require a bit of guidance for some. Fear not, as even if your dog initially shows reluctance, the vast majority can be taught to embrace and adore this playful activity.

Step by Step:

 1. Select a toy that your dog loves - it might not necessarily be a tennis ball, as every dog is unique. You may need to experiment a little to find the perfect match.

2. Fasten a long leash to your dog’s harness. Start indoors with a 10-15 foot leash to introduce the game where there aren’t many distractions. Allow the leash to trail behind them, and be ready to grab it in case your dog needs a bit of encouragement to bring the toy back.

3. Toss the toy a few feet away from you. Since you’ve already found a toy that your dog goes nuts for, they should eagerly run over to it.

4. Be excited for your dog when they pick up the toy and encourage them to return to you. Adjust your energy level to your unique dog. Be lively if they respond well to enthusiasm or adopt a calm and soothing tone if they seem unsure.

5. If your dog picks up the toy but doesn’t bring it back, pick up your leash to gently guide them back to you while taking a few steps backwards. Avoid grabbing their collar, as can seem intimidating and be unpleasant for most dogs.

6. If your dog doesn’t show interest in the toy, revisit step one to find a toy they have more interest in.

7. When your dog returns to you with the toy, if they don’t easily drop it or give it to you, use a treat to reward them for a job well done. By handing them a treat, most dogs will in turn drop the toy when they go to take the treat. Use this time to pick it up so you can repeat the steps above.

8. End the game while your dog is still having fun. You want to leave your dog wanting more rather than throwing the toy until they’re no longer interested. This will vary for dogs of different energy levels, ages, and personalities.

What if my dog prefers to play keep-away?

Similar to humans, dogs have diverse preferences when it comes to games. While some may enjoy being chased with a toy, others find joy in celebrating their catch independently. When your dog doesn't return the toy, it may seem harmless, but playing games serves as an opportunity to establish teamwork between you and your dog. For instance, if you throw a toy and your dog picks it up, running away as you playfully chase them, it inadvertently teaches them that keeping away objects you want them to give to you is entertaining. This can lead to confusion when they possess something they shouldn't. On the contrary, if your dog takes the toy to their bed to play alone after retrieving it, unintentionally, you might convey that it's acceptable to disregard your requests, potentially affecting other aspects of your day to day life with your dog. When engaging in any game with your dog, understanding the rules is crucial. In "fetch" the concept is straightforward: I throw the toy, and you bring it back to me. Just as children practicing soccer need to focus on soccer, it's essential to teach your dog the rules of fetch and stick to them, while also allowing for the enjoyment of different games at other times.

Next steps:

Once your dog has mastered the fundamentals of fetch, there are numerous ways to elevate the game, making it more enjoyable and exciting while better tiring your dog out. Once your dog consistently retrieves the ball, you can gradually increase the throwing distance. Safety is always the top priority, so only remove the leash if you have a secure, enclosed area for play or if your dog has been reliably trained for off-leash activities. If a fenced yard isn't available, opt for an appropriate length of a long line to attach to your dog's harness. "Fetch" also doubles as an excellent opportunity to reinforce obedience commands, adding a mental challenge to the game. Start by instructing your dog to "sit" before launching the ball. Once they are seated, enthusiastically command "get it!" as you toss the toy. As your dog becomes adept at sitting promptly, you can introduce a slight delay between the "sit" command and the release of the toy. This approach can be extended to other commands like "down" or any other tricks your dog has mastered. Just as treats are used in obedience training, in this context, the game becomes the reward.

Tips and tricks:

I recommend finding a toy that your dog loves, and reserving that toy for this game only. Leaving toys out on the floor that they have access to at all times can cause toys to become boring. You can make this toy special and exciting by putting it away somewhere your dog doesn’t have access to while you’re not playing.

In conclusion, teaching your dog to play fetch is not just a delightful way to engage in physical activity but also an opportunity to strengthen the bond between you and your canine companion. Remember to prioritize safety, especially when considering off-leash play, and tailor your approach to your dog's unique preferences and learning pace. As you witness your furry friend joyfully retrieving the tossed toy and eagerly participating in the game, you'll not only revel in their newfound skills but also share moments of pure enjoyment and connection that will undoubtedly enhance the overall quality of your relationship. So, grab a favorite toy, head outdoors, and embark on the enriching journey of teaching your dog the art of fetch!