How to Teach a Dog to Fetch

Not all dogs automatically know how to fetch.

It might seem as though it should be instinctive behavior for dogs to chase, retrieve, and bring back toys that we throw for them. It seems like a law of nature: fish swim, birds fly, and dogs play fetch. The truth is that some dogs don't naturally want or know how to play retrieving games. However, fetch is terrific physical and mental exercise for dogs. It allows them to release pent-up energy that might otherwise come out as negative behaviors such as chewing on objects in the home, digging holes in the backyard, or barking and howling when you leave them alone. So how can you teach a dog that doesn't do it naturally to play fetch?

Positive Reinforcement

As you prepare to teach your dog to fetch, it's important to remember that dogs learn best through positive reinforcement. Praise, treats, and attention in exchange for the behavior that you want your dog to perform is always a great way for a dog to learn. Negative reinforcement: yelling, hitting, or otherwise punishing for the behavior that you don't want your dog to do is wrong, plus it generally triggers anxiety, stress, and more negative behavior.

Steps for Teaching Your Dog to Fetch

  1. First, figure out what your dog's favorite type of toy is. It may be balls, stuffed animals, or tug-of-war toys.
  2. Start by showing your dog a brand new, never-before-seen version of his favorite toy and letting him play with it briefly (just for a minute or two). Then, toss the toy a few inches away from the two of you.
  3. If your dog moves toward the toy, praise him and give him a treat.
  4. If your dog does not move toward the toy, move it around a little bit to get his attention back on it, then reward him with a treat and praise when he moves closer to it.
  5. When your dog grabs the toy after you've thrown it a short distance away, use an excited voice and demeanor to encourage him to bring it back to you, then reward him with a treat and praise.
  6. Once your dog consistently grabs the toy and brings it back to play with you at the distance of a few inches, toss it away a little bit further.
  7. Continue repeating steps 5 and 6 above, throwing the toy further and further away. During every step, always give your dog praise if he follows the toy when you throw it, and LOTS of praise if he brings it back to you. If he doesn't, get his interest again by moving the toy around, then return to tossing it a shorter distance.

Work on training for five to ten minutes at a time. Trying to train for too long can cause your dog to lose interest or become frustrated.

These steps used consistently: playing, increasing the distance of the thrown toy, and lots of praise and treats will have your dog playing fetch, usually, in a week or two.

Solutions for Common Fetch-Related Problems

When you are playing fetch with your dog, try to throw the toys low, to decrease the amount of jumping up that your dog does to catch them. Knee injuries are a common occurrence, especially with Frisbee toys. Also, never play fetch with sticks or other potentially damaging items. Sticks can puncture the tongue, throat, neck, or chest. Use only soft, safe toys.

Examples of Good Fetch Toys, Tug-of-War Toys, and Treat Toys

Tux Treat Zogoflex Toy: Tough, soft, colorful, and non-toxic toys that can be stuffed with treats.

Tizzi Dog Zogoflex Toy: Rugged, gentle on gums, attractively colored, non-toxic toys with a treat hiding spot.

Toppl Treat Zogoflex Toy: An extremely entertaining treat toy that can be used to teach fetch.

Bῡmi Tug Zogoflex Toy: This is a great tug toy and it bounces in unexpected ways when thrown for fetch. This keeps dogs interested.

Zisc Flying Disc for Dogs: This is a great fetch toy for dogs because it's gentle on their gums, very durable, and it floats, so it's great in or out of the water. Just be sure not to throw it high so that your dog has to leap for it, as this can result in injury.

Spot Bites Tennis Balls: Tennis balls are the old stand-by for fetch for a reason. Dogs love balls.

Mega Twister Rope Toy: This durable toy is great for teaching fetch to dogs that love tug-of-war.

Clicker Training

Clicker training is another great way to enhance your efforts while training your dog to play fetch. When your dog has done one of the steps properly, you use a certain sound to let him know, then give him his reward. You can read specific instructions for using clicker training to teach a dog to fetch How to Teach a Dog to Play Fetch Using Clicker Training.

By following the easy steps above, remaining positive and playful during training, and keeping your eye on the ball, you can train your pup to play and enjoy fetch. This will lead to hours of fun, interaction, and physical and mental exercise for you and your dog.

You May Also Like These Articles:

Why Dogs Beg

Tug Of War

Clicker Training for Dogs: An Overview

How to Stop a Dog from Digging

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