How to Teach a Dog to Fetch

Dogs love to play, especially with their favorite human. Playing fetch with your dog provides healthy exercise for him and bonding time with you, and reinforces learning commands. But unless your dog is a retriever breed such as Labrador, golden, pointer, spaniel or setter, the game may not come naturally. Teach your dog that fetch is fun with positive reinforcement.

Learning the Game

Your dog may think that the toy you toss for him is to something to lay down with and chew. Or he might opt for a good game of chase and refuse to return to you with his prize. He may just look puzzled, confused about why you're throwing away a great toy. Start with basic steps to teach your dogs what fetch is all about.

Select his favorite toy. It doesn't have to be a ball; it can be a soft toy or a rubber squeaky toy -- whatever he likes best.

Choose a quiet spot and toss the object just a few feet away. Give the command, "fetch." Praise him enthusiastically if he moves toward the toy. Say "yes!" if he picks it up. Always say "fetch" when you throw the toy to reinforce the command.

Give him a treat. Your dog will drop the toy to take the treat and you can repeat the exercise again.

Keep It Fun

Wave the toy a bit and then throw it again, using the "fetch" command. Now your dog understands that he should run for the toy. The next step is for him to bring it back to you. Call him in a happy tone and show him a treat. When he comes to you for the treat, praise him and take the toy.

Repeat this several times. He will quickly understand that coming back to you with his toy earns him a treat. Once your dog consistently picks up the toy after you throw it, replace the treat with a short game of tug to make the toy even more appealing to him.

Give It Back

The hardest part of the game can be teaching your dog to drop the toy for you. If you've taught the "drop it" command, use it when your dog returns with the toy. When he complies, be sure to praise him and reinforce with a treat. If your dog doesn't know the command, now is the time to teach it.

  • Choose a phrase  such as "drop it" or "give." When your dog returns to you with the toy, praise him but don't give him the treat immediately. 
  • Show him the treat in your hand, but don't give it to him until he lets go of the toy. 
  • Give the "drop it" command once when he returns to you and wait for him to put it down for the treat. As soon as the toy leaves his mouth, praise him and give the treat.

Slow Learners

Some dogs take more time than others to fully comprehend fetch. Go back and reinforce each step separately if necessary. Always use the same commands each time. If your dog likes to play tag with the toy instead of returning it to you, use a second, identical toy to entice him. Stand still and toss the second toy in the air so he can see it.

If he comes to you and drops the toy he's carrying, throw the second one and give the "fetch" command. If he doesn't drop the first toy, throw the second one a short distance away from him. Most dogs will drop the first toy to chase the second. Pick up the first toy and repeat this until he comes back to you with the toy.

Fetching Other Objects

Once your dog has mastered the game of fetch, you can teach him to retrieve other things, such as your slippers or the newspaper. Teach him the name of each object first. Hold the object up and says its name. Then throw it a short distance and give the "fetch" command with the object's name, such as, "Fetch paper. " Praise and treat to reinforce the behavior.

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