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How to Teach a Dog to Fetch

A Jack Russell Terrier runs along a walking path with a green plastic shovel in its mouth

Teaching your dog to fetch serves many purposes. It allows for positive engagement between you and your pet. You can easily tire your dog out without much effort from you.

Most importantly, it gives your dog the ability to exercise an instinct that is often ingrained into their DNA. Fetch makes your dog feel good! Here is a simple guide to help teach a dog to fetch.

What Do You Need to Teach Your Dog to Fetch?

You will need something for your dog to fetch. A ball is a great option. However, some dogs prefer a toy that squeaks. This is great for dogs who seem less engaged initially. Fetch is a great time to play with the soft, plush toys your dog loves. You can let them enjoy the stuffed toy, and then put it away before your dog destroys it! There may be a period of trial and error when finding the right toy for your dog to fetch. Be patient and let your dog explore!

You will also need some training treats. Pick something your dog hasn’t had before. Depending on if they are more toy or treat motivated, you may need some low-value treats. These should be enough that they want to take the treat, but not enough that they lose interest in the toy and game entirely. Finding the right reward is very important to teach a dog to fetch.

If your dog is more toy motivated, sometimes a second toy is a better option than a training treat. Both toys should be equally engaging. If you have two of the same ball or frisbee, use them both! A training leash that is 15 feet or longer will also come in handy for the easily distracted dog.

How Do You Teach a Dog to Fetch?

Start by getting your dog excited about their toy. Only bring out one toy at a time. Move it around, squeak it, bounce it, or otherwise entice your dog. Once you find something that your dog wants, you will know! They will try to bite, jump on you to get it, or even bark for it.

Once you find their special toy, make them work for it. You can put them in a sit before throwing the toy. If the toy has high enough value, it will work just like a treat! Once they sit, throw the toy. Start very close. Only throw it a couple of feet away.

If your dog chases after the toy, you are on the right track! Once they get to it, call them back to you very enthusiastically.

If your dog doesn’t chase after the toy, you may need something different. You can also try teaching them to go get it.

When they have retrieved the toy successfully, the next step is the release command. You can use “drop it”, “leave it”, or any other term that suits you. However, it is important to use the same command consistently. When your pup brings the toy back to you, hold the treat up, and use your command. They will release their toy and get the treat.

It is important you get the toy before they finish the treat. Most dogs will divert back to the toy almost instantly. When they realize you have the toy again, put them back into a sit, and immediately return to the game.

Repeat the process in very close proximity for at least ten repetitions. Once your dog starts to understand the game, you can throw the toy further.

How Do You Correct These Potential Problems?

Many dogs enjoy a good game of chase. Humans, however, usually do not. If your dog is attempting to turn a game of fetch into a game of chase, avoid engaging with them.

This is a great time to use the training lead. Attach it to them before throwing the toy. When your pup gets that look in their eye (we all know it well), call them to you and reel them in like a fish! Once they get to you, reward them with praise or even a treat. This process helps you follow through with the come command while still having the opportunity to reward them. Eventually, they will earn it is a pretty good deal for them to bring the toy back.

Adding some variation to fetch may also prevent the intrigue of the chase. Try playing tug with them when they bring the toy back. Keeping them engaged with you is the key.

If your dog is getting distracted, don’t get discouraged! Teaching a dog to fetch can be a slow process, but also a very rewarding one!

Keep your sessions short. Puppies may only want to play for five minutes at a time. Your dog will learn, but there is nothing wrong with taking it nice and slow for them. If you find after ten minutes, they are more interested in sniffing around the yard, only play for eight minutes. You can increase playtime as they get older and more focused on the game!

Try throwing their toy closer to you. Sometimes the attention span of dogs, and especially puppies, is very short. If the ball is too far away, they forget what they were doing altogether.

If you find the treats are not enough to keep your pup engaged, you can also bring out another toy. It is especially helpful if the toys squeak or make other noises. When your dog gets to the other toy, start using the one you have with you to make them come back.

There are some days when your dog just may not be into playing fetch, and that is okay! If you try all these solutions and it’s just not happening, don’t force it. End the game and try again another day. Your dog is not in trouble, and this is not a punishment. It is just time for you both to move on from that particular session.

There is so much to be gained in teaching your dog fetch. You can build value in toys. It will help you bond with your dog. It will tire them out very effectively. It even benefits us to spend time outside moving around. Fetch is very valuable and fairly simple to teach. Just follow these guidelines and you can teach a dog to fetch in no time.

Meet The Author 

Nicole DeVault

Canine Specialist & Trainer

Nicole is a professional dog trainer who has been in the business for about 5 years. She has two dogs of her own. Milli is a ten-year-old Beagle with plenty of sass to go around, and Axel is her three-year-old Pit bull who has more energy than anyone knows what to do with. Both of her dogs are rescues who came to her with their own set of issues. Working with troubled dogs is where her passion for dog training started. She has grown to learn that teaching people how to communicate with their fur babies allows them to enjoy happy and stress-free lives together.

Working through a multitude of different dog problems has allowed Nicole to become very knowledgeable of the best products out there: collars, leashes, toys, treats, beds, crates, and even hiking, camping, and boating gear for pups with a more “extreme” lifestyle. Nicole is always learning and growing, so she can find what is best for her dogs and yours!

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