Teach Your Dog to Fetch

The game of fetch is a well-deserved favorite which has many added side benefits aside from being fun for you and your dog. Playing fetch is a way:
-To exercise your dog.
-To get him focused on toys, which means he will be less inclined to chew on inappropriate objects.
-To continue to improve manners and obedience (by asking your dog to sit, down or hand target prior to tossing the toy and to call him back to you when he picks it up).
-To bond with your.
-To get him outside for social exposure and enrichment.

While some dogs are certainly more inclined to have a natural affinity for this game (hello Labrador Retrievers!), almost all dogs need guidance to learn the ground rules of the game of fetch. Otherwise, a pup might start off running to fetch a toy, but then decide to run off with it and keep it all to themselves. This does not bode well for the game being fun for you, and may be a seedling for the behavior of resource guarding (i.e. guarding valued objects, such as toys).

So, regardless of your dog’s breed or mix, it is wise to take some time to teach your dog how you want him to play fetch rather than assuming they have read and understand the rule book.

1. Start With Your Dog on Leash:
Keeping your dog on a 6-12 foot leash to begin provides you with a gentle means of preventing him from grabbing the fetch toy and running off with it. The more a behavior is practiced, the more it becomes a habit. You want your dog to develop the habit of running to get the object and bringing it back to you. Playing fetch on leash means this will happen.

2. Start With an Easy Fetch Object:
While your dog can learn to fetch just about anything (including your car keys or the TV remote) you should begin with something he can easily hold in his mouth, but that is not so easy for him to play tug with (for example, long squeaky toys). A tennis ball or soft rubber chew toy is usually best.

3. Take the First Baby Step
The image of a dog dashing across a field to retrieve an object tossed a 100 or more yards away is quite appealing. After all, think of the energy your dog is exerting doing so and the fun they are having in the process! However, start teaching in a controlled environment, such as your home. In most cases, a hallway is best as the long narrow passage way will prevent your dog from grabbing the toy and running about in circles in an effort to get you to engage in a game of Catch Me if You Can! Get your dog interested in the toy and toss it about 5 feet away. When your dog runs to get the toy and pick it up, encourage him to bring it back. You might need to back peddle a few steps to do so. When your dog arrives with the toy, let him know how proud you are of him. Encourage him to drop the toy by either simply waiting for him to do so (if you remain completely calm and quiet, odds are he will figure out the game ends if he doesn’t drop the toy for you to toss again). If your dog doesn’t drop the toy after a minute or so of quiet waiting, have another toy of equal or greater value ready to show him. This way he will be inclined to drop what he has in order to run to get the other toy you have offered.

4. Put the Law of Supply and Demand to Good Use
The law of supply and demand (i.e. if something is in short supply, the demand or desire for it is likely to increase) should be put to good use in your efforts to teach your dog to play the game of fetch. Choose a few of your dog’s favorite toys which should be put out of your dog’s reach and used solely for fetching. Your dog is far more inclined to have a strong desire for the object (and therefor the game of fetch) if you do so.

5. Mix It Up!
Once your dog is getting the hang of the game while still on leash, practice playing in different areas of the home. If you have stairs, tossing a toy up or down is a superb way to add to the exercise related benefits of the game (just be sure to chat with your veterinarian prior to any new exercise routine).

6. Off Leash Fetching Begins!
When you are confident your dog is reliable with the game of fetch while on leash in your home, you can start to play the game with the leash on , but letting it drag behind your dog as you toss the object farther away. This way, you can calmly and gently pick up the leash if your dog chooses to run off with the toy. Then, work towards playing the game with your dog off leash in the home and finally, outdoors in safely enclosed areas.