The Best Way to Teach a Dog to Fetch

Fetch! [v2]
young_einstein / Foter / CC BY-NC

In looking for a fun way to exercise your dog, one of the first activities to consider is the game of fetch. Some breeds such as Retrievers have natural instincts to retrieve, but most other breeds also love to chase after objects and bring them back. This is a fun way for you to bond with your dog and get in some good exercise at the same time!

Even though the game of fetch is a natural activity, there are some basic tips and guidelines that will help you to enjoy this pastime in a fun and safe way.

Safety Issues
First, be sure to use an object that doesn’t present any type of choking hazard, so make sure the size is sufficiently large. You also want to be sure that the material will not splinter, will not be too hard on your dog’s teeth, and will not be toxic.

Popular items to use in the game of fetch include tennis balls, Frisbees, and sticks. An object such as a KONG toy has irregular bounce patterns that can introduce a fun added level of challenge.

If you use a Frisbee, special dog versions exist that have softer surfaces with less danger of damaging your dog’s teeth.

When your dog is chasing after the thrown object, he will not be paying as much attention to the environment, so be sure to check the area beforehand to ensure that the environment is safe—no broken glass, etc.

How to Throw Object
Some objects, such as Frisbees, have special techniques to launch them, while others such as tennis balls can use a regular throwing motion. If you have trouble throwing a tennis ball a sufficient distance, you can use a special ball launcher, a flexible apparatus that will magnify the effect of your throwing motion. If you have a small area in which to play, you can also use an underhand motion.

Teaching the Dog
Dog behaviorist experts such as Cesar Milan (The “Dog Whisperer”) caution against getting into a tug-of-war with your dog. Playing tug-of-war can unintentionally promote dominance issues, as the one who ends up with the object ends up winning the game of “dominance.” Playing tug-of-war can also damage a dog’s teeth and mouth if things go awry. Also, playing tug-of-war can result in your hand inadvertently being damaged when your dog goes for a better grip on the object.

Instead, teach your dog to lay the object down at your feet when he brings back the toy. Refuse to engage in the game until he lays the object down. You can use treats for positive reinforcement when your dog does the desired behavior and lays the object down.

Here are some steps to teaching your dog the game of fetch.

Step 1: Interest Your Dog In the Object
Get down on your dog’s level and introduce the object to your dog. Show your enthusiasm about the object, and move it around to arouse your dog’s chase instinct.

Step 2: Reward Your Dog’s Interest
Once your dog picks up the toy, reward his interest by giving him a treat and/or clicking with a clicker (if you’re using clicker training). Awarding the treat will automatically get your dog to drop the toy if he hasn’t already done so. Give extra verbal praise for a quick drop. Gradually increase the amount of time your dog holds the toy before awarding a treat.

Step 3: Fetch! Show Dog They Must Return Toy to Get Treat
Use body language and move away from your dog to encourage him to bring the toy to you. Reward him when he drops the toy.

A nice YouTube training video can be seen here:

By following the guidelines set forth in this article, you and your pet dog will enjoy a safe way to bond while reaping the benefits of exercise in a fun activity.