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How To Train Your Chihuahua To Fetch Like A Retriever

How To Train Your Chihuahua To Fetch Like A Retriever

I thought fetching was only for dogs like Pluto and Air Bud. Big, yellow dogs who were dumb enough to bring their toys back, only for that toy  to be tossed across the yard, again and again.

It turns out, most dogs don’t naturally fetch. They’ll run after a ball, sure, and they’ll make it halfway back to you. But most dogs seem to have more fun playing with a toy on their own than returning it.

Have you ever wondered why your dog won’t fetch?

Dogs who don’t naturally fetch just don’t realize that you expect them to bring the ball back. It just hasn’t occurred to them. Once you teach your dog to fetch, she’ll be happy to retrieve anything – and she definitely doesn’t have to be a retriever.

All it takes is some toys, lots of treats, and 2-3 training sessions.

How To Quickly Teach Any Dog To Fetch

One thing that most of us get wrong about teaching a dog to fetch: we just throw a ball, say “fetch!” and completely lose control of the situation after that, going after our dogs before they start to wonder off with their toy.

The better way to teach fetch is through “backchaining.

That means you’ll teach your dog a string of behaviors in reverse order.

As it goes, you throw, dog runs, picks up toy, runs back, holding toy, and drops the toy in your hand. You’re going to teach your dog to drop a toy in your hand, then pick it up and place it in your hand, and finally, chase, pick up, and place a toy in your hand. Reverse order makes it easy for your dog to know what to do next, so they never have to guess what you’re asking of them.

1. Teach Your Dog To Drop A Toy Into Your Hand

The last behavior in “fetch” is when your dog neatly drops or places the toy in your hand. That’s the behavior you’ll teach first, and probably the most difficult.

First, choose a toy that your dog can comfortably hold in her mouth, and show it to her. Toss it from hand to hand, make it interesting. Then, offer it to your dog, holding it up to her nose, praising her when she grabs it.

Then, say, “give!” or “drop!”  just one time, and place your hand under the dog’s mouth. When your dog drops the toy into your hand, praise them and give them a treat. If the ball falls to the floor, instead of landing in your hand, just start over, the give the toy back to your dog. The important thing here is, if the ball lands in your hand, she gets a treat and praise.

I found teaching this easier when I gave Matilda a toy that easily rolled out of her mouth, like a ball. It made her less likely to hold on to her toy, and more likely to drop it. After she was praised for dropping her ball into my hand a few times, she began to get the idea.

Practice “give!” until your dog is quick to drop items when you say the cue or place your hand under her mouth. Teach this well, and get it solid. You never know what your dog might have in her mouth someday – teaching her to give you items when you reach for them will make your life a whole lot easier.

You can also work on “hold” at this step, if you’d like. If your dog spits her toys out quickly, you can gently stroke her chin while she’s holding her toy to encourage them to hold a toy for longer and longer periods of time.

2. Teach Your Dog To Pick Up Their Toy

Once your dog is giving you a toy that you place in their mouth, place that toy on the ground, just in front of them. Say, “give!” and extend your hand.

Your dog might already understand that give = ball in hand, but more likely, she’ll sit there staring at you.

It helps to toss the toy or roll the ball until your dog grabs it from the floor.

Say, “give!” just once, and put your hand out. Sometimes the toy is going to end up in your hand. Sometimes, it’s not. When it does, even by coincidence, praise your dog, and give them plenty of treats.

When your dog does a fantastic job of placing the toy into your hand, give them TONS of praise. Even better, give them lots of tiny treats all at once – I call this a “big yay.”

3. Teach Your Dog To Fetch

Once your dog masters picking up her toy and placing it in your hand, move on to the fetch.

Throw the toy a few feet away. If your dog brings it to you and places it in your hand, praise her, give her a “big yay.”

Throw the toy farther and farther away. At this point, you can say “fetch” as you throw toys, or you might want to phase out the “give” cue so your dog learns to fetch whenever you throw a toy and give you her toy when you put your hand out.

When your dog fails to fetch, just throw again at a closer range. Using treats is enough to motivate your dog to get it right. If you can’t get your dog to fetch after 3 throws, go back a step, and keep practicing!

4. Fetching Etiquette. Fetchiquette.

Once your dog learns to fetch, she’ll do it over and over. She might get so caught up in a game of fetch, so addicted to the adrenaline rush of the chase, she could forget to take breaks and drink water. A dog can’t tell you she’s tired, and she will barely realize it until she’s over-exhausted. Fetch sparingly, and make sure your dog gets other kinds of physical and mental exercise, too.

Keep your sessions short, and end them on a good note.

Dogs, just like squirmy kids in class, get frustrated when a lesson is too hard, and they can’t figure out how to get it right.

If your dog shows signs of frustration, such as looking away, ignoring treats, or lowering her ears, praise them for a job well done and try again later.

Keep fetch fun. For now, you’ll need to use lots of treats to get your dog excited about fetch, but you can use fewer and phase them out.

Have you and your dog learned to play fetch?

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.

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Wednesday 22nd of February 2023

My little chihuahua doesn't pay attention to me when I call him. Only if I pronounce the magic word "to walk", he immediately runs to me, in all other cases he considers that it is absolutely not necessary to obey me. Even if I offer him something delicious. After my 3 german shepherds, who grasped the science in no time, this little boy is very stupid to me. How can I teach him to even come to me when I call him?


Friday 30th of August 2019

After reading the above article I am.impressed

How To Teach Your Dog To Paint - Little Dog Tips

Tuesday 12th of June 2018

[…] after each stroke. Your dog might already know how to “retrieve to hand” if you taught her to fetch by having her return objects to your hand, rather than dropping them at your […]


Tuesday 27th of February 2018

I have a almost 3 yr old chiahuahua since 10 wks old that is by far the best fetch dog I've ever seen and loves all sports that he taught himself. No matter how far you throw it he instantly takes off and slides on his side and catches the ball and runs back to you full speed and 10 ft before he gets to you he drops it and kicks it between your feet and he does it over and over. I don't know why he's so good but totally not like a chiahuahua weighing 6. Lb. He sling his toys across the room and trys to run and catch them

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Saturday 3rd of June 2017

[…] probably didn’t understand the point of bringing toys to me until she learned how to fetch. To teach fetch, I used a lot of food rewards, so at first I didn’t think she’d develop […]

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