Fetching and dogs have always been synonymous in most people’s minds, yet the reality is a lot of dogs do not fetch, or they don’t fetch well. What looks like an effortless and natural game between dog and owner is often the result of a lot of training (and sometimes frustration) on both ends. However, it is possible to teach most dogs to fetch correctly and here are the steps to get you started.
What is Fetch?
Teaching a dog to do a “proper” fetch takes a lot of time and it is a bit complicated. The trick to teaching fetch (or any behavior!) is to know what you want before you get started.
The common fetch looks like this:
- Owner throws ball
- Dog chases ball
- Dog retrieves ball
- Dog brings it all the way back to the owner
- Dog places ball in owner’s hand
The following training tips assume you want this type of fetch.
The easiest way to start fetch is to begin at the end. It’s something called “backchaining,” and basically you are going to teach your dog the last behavior first. In the case of fetch, that means you are first going to teach your dog to drop the ball into your hand.
A caveat: if your dog is not a “toy dog” you will first have to teach them to PICK UP the ball. This is an entirely different issue and would need its own article. Here, we will assume your dog likes toys.
Step 1: Place the ball in your hand
- Start with a toy your dog LOVES and is sure to pick it up repeatedly. It does not need to be a ball.
- Stand or Sit on the floor with your dog, so you are close enough to get your hand quickly to their mouth.
- As soon as your dog picks up the toy, quickly place one of your hands underneath their mouth while you place a treat by their nose with your other hand so they release the toy (a similar way to how you may have taught “drop”)
- When they release the toy into your hand, say your market word and give them the treat – Do not use a cue.
Continue to practice this step until your dog is picking up the toy and dropping it when you place your hand underneath them, slowly fading the treat lure until your hand is the only cue for them to drop the toy into your hand.
Step 2. Distance
Once your dog is placing the ball in your hand without the lure, start putting it gradually further and further away from you so he has to bring it to you. Do this slowly!
Originally, the ball was right next to the dog. Now, place it maybe six inches from you, then a foot, etc.
Depending on your dog, there are two ways to do this. You can place the ball where you want it, or you can toss it. If you have the type of dog where once you have thrown it the “game is on” and he thinks it’s more fun to play keep away, start by just rolling or placing the ball out there, so the “game” is not initiated. Other dogs will need you to throw it in order for them to want to go get it.
If at any time your dog fails more than 3 times at bringing it back to you, you moved it too far away too quickly and need to put the toy closer.
If you are going to use a cue, now would be the time to introduce it. As your dog is bringing the toy back and placing it in your hand, use the word(s) of your choice: fetch, bring it, get it, etc.
These are the first steps to a great fetch. Remember, fetch is supposed to be a fun game between you and your dog and a great way to get her some exercise. Do not get frustrated if your dog does not take to this – not all dogs are natural fetchers. In fact, most are not. Be patient and above all, keep the fun in the game!
About the Author
Based in Tustin, Calif., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She also owns her own custom pet products company, A Fairytail House, where she makes personalized collars, leashes, beds, keepsake pillows and blankets, and anything else your imagine can think up. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.
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