DOG TRICK: Teaching your dog Fetch

 Most dogs are born with a natural instinct to retrieve or fetch. Playing fetch with your dog helps release pent-up energy your dog may have.  Here’s how to do it.

One of the joys of owning a dog is playing a good old-fashioned game of fetch.  When attempting to play fetch with a dog, people often make the same mistakes going outside and throwing the ball as far as possible and expecting their dog to get the ball and bring it back.  The problem is, all dogs don’t naturally retrieve or know the rules of the game that you are attempting to play with them.  We get asked a lot if we can teach someone’s dog to fetch; the simple answer is Yes.  However, teaching your dog to fetch can sometimes be a process in itself.

Dogs love to fetch.  In many cases, fetching is easier said than done.  Some dogs don’t want to fetch an item, while others don’t want to return it.  Some dogs will naturally fetch and will do it all day long.  Others have to be taught to fetch.  To teach your dog to fetch, you will need a solid foundation in obedience.  However, once you have this teaching fetch can be a fun and rewarding experience.  You may find that your dog loves to play fetch once he knows what it is!

Find a dog toy that interests them

The first step to teaching a dog to fetch is finding a toy that interests them.  Pay attention to what your dog likes to pick up or carry around naturally.  It may be a stuffed toy, a ball, a rope toy, a toy with a squeaker, or even a random item from around the house, such as a sock.  Whatever the case may be, build some excitement with the toy and raise the dog’s interest level.

Start by placing your dog in an environment that lacks distractions so he can be successful.  We usually like to start to fetch in a hallway with all the doors closed, so the dog has no other distractions; you and the toy are now the most exciting things.  Start piquing his interest in the toy by teasing him and making it look like fun.  Keep him leashed so that once he has the object, you can guide him back to you, and the game does not end up with you chasing the dog for the toy.  Refrain from praise until he comes back; this is key as many people praise the dog when chasing and mouthing the ball, and the game ends there.  Make a big deal that he did a great job by coming back to you with the toy.  It may be helpful to have an identical tennis ball or sock and throwing the second object as soon as the dog releases the first.  Remember, we are playing fetch, not tug-of-war.

If you get two great successes, stop there, and you may want to save the object that most interests him for your next play session.  By stopping the game before your dog loses interest, it will leave him wanting more.  As he starts to catch on to the game and is doing well, you will no longer need the leash to guide him back to you.  Change locations to a room with fewer boundaries, and then graduate to outside.  You may need to take a step back and reattach the leash to guide him back to you and remember to keep the distance of your throws short.  Once he does well, start increasing your distance.

Getting started

If your dog does not naturally fetch, you may have to teach him how to do it.  To do this, you will need to break the entire process down into several small steps and then link, or map, them all together.  When teaching fetch, your dog will need to learn several commands:  SIT, TAKE, HOLD, COME, and DROP.  Take each command one at a time.  Once your dog has learned one, move on to the next and start linking them together.

It is recommended that you pick one particular item or toy to use when teaching fetch.  Choose an item your dog likes and then only use it when you are “fetching.” By only allowing your dog access to this item, you can build a bit of excitement in the dog when he sees this item, therefore making fetch all that more appealing.

Sit

This is an easy one.  Your dog must learn to sit and then hold it until another command is issued or until he is released using his release word.  If your dog does not know how to sit, check out our website to begin the training process.

Take

TAKE is the act of your dog taking an item from your hand on command.  To teach this, you will need to place your dog into a sit and then present him with the item.  The item should be placed directly in front of his mouth.  You will tell him to TAKE the article and then open his mouth and insert the object.  The easiest way is seated in a chair with your dog facing away from you.  Present the item to the dog with your left hand and then use your right hand to open your dog’s mouth.  To open his mouth, apply a bit of pressure directly above his canine teeth.  As the mouth opens, insert the item.

Just as you did in basic obedience training, take things slowly and in short intervals.  After your dog takes the item, only have him hold onto it for a short period.  As you progress, you will increase the amount of time he is holding the thing.  Be sure to praise him as he takes the item (“good TAKE”).  Make your praise calm and relaxing.  Exciting praise can make a dog want to drop the item in his mouth.

As your dog begins to understand what you are asking, you will see him start to open his mouth on his own and reach out for the object.  Be sure to load him up with praise when this happens!!

Hold

After your dog has the object in his mouth, you will tell him to HOLD the object.  At first, you will keep your hand near his muzzle to ensure that he does not drop the item.  As you praise him, you will keep your voice calm and soothing.  In short, slow strokes, you can also stroke the dog’s muzzle (away from the eye).  As the dog begins to hold the object, you can start removing your hand from his muzzle.  If he drops the item, you will want to correct him toward the article (on the ground) and tell him, “No.” You will then repeat the process of telling your dog to TAKE and then HOLD.

As mentioned before, you will begin to increase the time your dog is holding the item.  Aim for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Drop/release

When it is time for your dog to release the object, you will need to pick a word to prompt him to do so.  It is recommended that you use something simple like DROP or THANK YOU.  Be sure you do not use these words for any other command.  You may have already taught your dog to drop items during basic obedience training.  If so, then you need to make the command reliable.  If not, then you can teach him to drop the article now.

When you are ready to have the item released, reach your hand up and take hold of the item (while it is in your dog’s mouth). Some dogs will naturally release the object as you take it in your hand.  If so, load your dog up with a bunch of praise.  If he does not release it, you can add some pressure by slightly pulling the object toward you.  If this does not work, then you can take your finger and place it toward the back of his mouth, and press in on his tongue.  As your dog opens his mouth, praise him! Then give him the command word.

One thing to keep in mind:  once the release word is given, it frees your dog from any other command (like SIT) that he may be in.

Continuing with Fetch

Once your dog has these basic steps down, you can begin to expand his definition of TAKE.   Begin to lower the item to the ground and give the command.  Begin to place the object on different surfaces and give him the TAKE command.  At this point, your dog may act like he does not understand.  Continue to use praise and motivation and add corrections if your dog refuses to take the item.  Remember, just like with your obedience training, this process needs to be taken seriously but should still be fun for both you and the dog.

Moving while holding an item

If your dog is taking the object from various surfaces and the ground begin to add in movement.  With your dog on a leash, have him take the item.  Then start to move around.  He may drop the article if he does; correct him toward the object (“No”) and start over.  You can also hold his muzzle so he cannot drop the item at first.  Once he can move around without dropping the item, start giving him basic commands such as SIT or DOWN.  Try HEEL as well.  This may be confusing for your dog at first so remember the praise and motivation!

Tossing the item and recall

Now that your dog is taking, holding, releasing, and moving around with the object, you can begin to complete the process.  Toss the item away from you.  Again, start with short distances, 1-2 feet away.  Tell your dog to TAKE.  Once he grabs the item, give him the COME command.  When he gets to you, quickly grab the item and tell him THANK YOU (or DROP).  When he does, shower him with praise.

As he pieces this all together, you can begin to tell him FETCH as you toss the toy and remove the other words.  If you’ve done this correctly, he will know exactly what you want from him.

Instructions to Fetch

Things You’ll Need:

  • Dog treats
  • Stuffed toy

Step 1: 

Have a plan. Structure is essential to effective training. Train your dog as many times as you can throughout each day but for no more than 15-minute increments.

Step 2:

Every dog is different, and each dog will learn at a different pace. You need to have a good relationship with your dog. Being loving and caring toward the dog will help your training. If you are bothered by the heavy responsibility of having a dog, especially a lab dog, which is known to be terrors when they are young, then the dog will sense your dislike and, as a result, will be harder to train.

Step 3:

Grab a treat bag, place treats inside it, and attach it to your pocket. If your dog does not know how to sit, work on that command first or simultaneously teach it to hold. Ask the dog to sit, and once it does, reward it with a treat, offer praise and caress its head gently. Then give the dog a small stuffed animal. Once the dog grabs the object and places it in its mouth, ask the dog to hold it. If the dog does not place the object in its mouth, sit next to the dog and place it in its mouth by using your thumb to pry open its jaws gently. Once the dog holds the object, reward it with a treat, offer praise and gently pet it.

If the dog drops the object before you ask it to give it to you, then place the object back in its mouth. If it again tries to drop the object before your command, gently touch its jaws with the palm of your hand and have it hold the object for at least one minute.

Tips & Warnings

  • Don’t overfeed your dog with treats when you are training it, and use healthy foods such as carrots, hard-boiled egg whites, or dry dog food.
  • When teaching a dog how to hold an object, carefully observe its mouth to ensure it is not biting its tongue or any part of its mouth. Never leave the dog alone or unsupervised with any object, as it may choke on the thing. Additionally, be cautious when using stuffed animals or a ball. Squeaky toys are dangerous because a dog can chew through the toy and swallow the plastic noisemaker. Tennis balls are rough on the teeth of a dog and should be avoided.

Unleashed Unlimited published parts of this article.

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