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.