How to Teach Your Dog to Play Fetch

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Dogs and fetching have always been synonymous in many folks’ minds, but in reality, tons of dogs don’t know how to fetch, or simply don’t fetch well. What appears to be an effortless game between canine and owner is often the result of a lot of training, and sometimes frustration, on both ends.

Here is how to effortlessly teach your dog this stimulating and fun game.

What is Fetch?

A typical game of fetch goes something like this:

  • The owner throws a ball
  • The dog chases the ball
  • The dog retrieves the ball
  • Dog brings the ball back to owner
  • Dog places the ball in his owner’s hand

Choosing the Right Toy

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Your dog can be extremely particular about the toy he’ll want to play fetch with. While others prefer balls, some want a Frisbee. Still, more dogs are content with playing with a plain old stick. Experiment with different toys to find out which ones tend to excite your dog the most.

Avoid toys that could be hazardous to dogs, such as a smooth ball that he could swallow or a stick with sharp edges.

Some good toys to try include:

  • Tennis ball
  • Rubber bumper
  • Frisbee
  • KONG Toy (comes with or without a rope attachment)

If your dog is averse to putting toys in his mouth, soak a tennis ball or plush toy in chicken stock or stuff an old sock with his favorite treats. This will entice him to taste the toy, and you can then reward him by giving him a treat.

The Reluctant Retriever

For dogs that simply cannot grasp the concept of chasing a toy, you’ll need to start with the basics. The easiest way to do this is beginning at the end, a concept called “back chaining.” This means you are going to first teach the dog to drop the ball in your hand.

Step One: Place the Ball in Your Hand

Start with a toy that your dog loves. Stand or sit on the floor with him and get close enough so that they can reach the toy from your hand. As soon as your dog picks up the toy, quickly put your hand underneath their snout while you place a treat by his nose with your other hand so that he releases the toy. When he releases the toy into your hand, say your market word and give them the treat. Don’t use a cue.

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Step Two: Distance

Once your dog can place the ball into your hand without a lure, gradually start placing it further and further away from you so that he has to bring you the toy. Don’t rush this process!

Originally, the ball was right next to you and your pet. Now, place it about six inches from you, and then a foot, etc.

If he thinks a game of keep away is more fun than fetch, start by rolling or placing the ball away from you, so that a “game” is not initiated. If your dog fails more than three times at bringing it back to you, start at a much closer distance.

Step Three: Cue

If you want to utilize a cue, now is the time to introduce it. As your dog is bringing the toy back and placing it in your hand, use the word(s)” bring it, get it, fetch, etc.

The Bait and Switch Game

If your dog loves to chase and pick up the toy but won’t bring it back, try the bait and switch method using two identical toys. Show your dog one toy, get him excited, throw it, and encourage him to fetch it. When she picks it up, call him, then show him the other toy and act as if you’re going to throw it in the opposite direction. Chances are, she will drop the first toy and come running after the second one. This exercise will get your dog used to picking up a toy and returning it back to you.

Remember, that fetch is supposed to be a fun game, not a situation where you or your dog gets flustered. If frustration on either end starts to happen, stop the activity and focus both of your attention on something else.

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