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How to Teach a Dog to Play Fetch Using Clicker Training

Clicker training is a great way to teach fetch.

Positive reinforcement techniques work the best when it comes to training your dog to do things that you want him to do that he doesn't do naturally. Believe it or not, the game of fetch can be one of those things. Not all dogs naturally know how to play fetch. However, the game is a great way for dogs to get exercise, spend time with you, and enjoy the outdoors.

So if you find yourself needing to train your dog to play fetch and you're looking for a great positive reinforcement technique to use, consider clicker training.

What Is Clicker Training?

Clicker training is a technique where a dog is taught to associate a particular sound with a positive result. In this case, a clicker is used to make a noise when the dog does the correct thing. Because you can click the device faster than you can give your dog a treat or praise, in most cases, the clicker works better to reinforce the appropriate behavior. It's an almost instant indication to the dog that he's done the right thing.

Getting Started with Clicker Training

Before you can begin using clicker training to teach your dog to play fetch, he must learn what the clicker sound is and what it means. Start by getting a good clicker and pairing a reward with its sound in your dog's mind. If your dog loves treats, you can use that as a reward. If he prefers a certain toy, you can give him a short play session for his reward. Just be sure to click every time you reward. Once your dog responds by paying attention to you every time you click, he is ready to start clicker training. You can learn more in the overview article on clicker training.

Using Clicker Training to Teach Your Dog Fetch

Once your dog understands what the clicker means, you can start using it for training. Everything from "Sit," and "Stay," to "Heel," and "Come," can be trained with the help of a clicker. The following sequence can be used specifically for training your dog to fetch using a clicker.

  • Find a toy that your dog really likes.
  • Play with the toy with your dog for a few minutes, getting him excited about it.
  • Gently toss the toy a foot or so away from you. If your dog moves toward the toy, click and give him a treat. If he does not move toward it, grab it and move it around a bit to get him interested and, when he moves toward it, click and give a treat.
  • Repeat that step until your dog will reliably move toward the toy. Then toss the toy a bit further away. Repeat the sequence of clicking and treating when the dog moves toward the toy after you throw it.
  • Next, stop clicking and treating your dog unless he touches the toy with his nose. Do this a few times, and then stop clicking and treating unless he picks the toy up.
  • Continue gradually working up in this manner to the point of having your dog retrieve the toy and bring it back to you. Use an excited voice and encouraging demeanor.
  • If your dog loses interest, back up to the previous step to re-engage him.

Tips for Training Sessions

Below are a few general tips for teaching your dog to play fetch.

  • It's best to limit training sessions to five or ten minutes at a time, two or three times a day.
  • When you begin a new training session, start a step or two back from where you ended up in the previous session.
  • Use the "Solutions for Common Fetch-Related Problems" section in the article "How to Teach a Dog to Fetch" if your dog is having trouble understanding the concept of the game.
  • Don't throw a fetch toy so high that your dog must leap up to catch it. Knee injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament ruptures are common in dogs that do lots of leaping up and landing on their rear legs.
  • Use toys that are soft and gentle so your dog's mouth, teeth, or gums aren't injured while playing fetch. Sticks are dangerous fetch toys because they can puncture the tongue, throat, neck, or chest. Examples of great fetch toys for dogs include:

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