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How to teach your dog to fetch

Labrador with toy in mouth advice © Pixabay

Most dogs will chase after a ball but don’t know how to retrieve it and bring it back to you. However, this is not difficult to teach your dog.

By Dawn Parrish

The age-old game of fetch has been played with our dogs for many years. In reality, not many dogs can do this correctly. Often they chase after the ball but don’t retrieve it or bring it back to the owner. When you see a dog happily running towards the ball, picking it up and returning to his owner, you know that a lot of effort has gone into training this routine. It is, however, possible to teach your dog to fetch when you ask him to. Be prepared to dedicate some time to achieve this goal.

Getting started

A lot of dogs will retrieve sticks, balls, Frisbees and toys. You may find that some dogs will fetch objects without any problem while others appear to have no interest in this at all. Know that teaching your dog to fetch could take some time and patience. On the other hand, your pet may pick up this game very quickly with little effort. Remember to reward with positive reinforcement. In the end, you and your pet will have lots of fun playing games of fetch.

teaching the trick of fetch to a dog
You and your dog will have lots of fun playing fetch ©Pixabay

You will need:

  • A large, fenced-in area with sufficient space to run around freely.
  • An object that is easy to throw such as a stick, Frisbee, your dog’s favourite toy or a ball.
  • Dog treats to use as a reward (or a clicker if you prefer to use this training method)

Above all, don’t get frustrated if things don’t go to plan. Not all dogs will take to this routine, but it’s a brilliant way to give your dog some exercise. Here are the steps to follow to train your dog to fetch to your command.

Dog retrieves a stick
Play fetch games with a ball, a stick or a toy©Pixabay

Step 1

It helps enormously if your pet already knows the “recall” command. Make sure that your dog knows how to respond to this command first. Once he has mastered this, you can move onto the “fetch” lesson. Begin the lesson by doing a few “recalls”, just to remind your dog that he has to come back to you.

Step 2

Next, choose a favourite object that your dog loves to play with and is happy to pick up from the ground. You need something that the dog cannot eat or easily destroy. An item that is brightly-coloured or has moving parts will retain your dog’s interest in the beginning.

Step 3

Decide on a location that is fairly quiet without too many distractions. Ideally, you need to maintain his attention and focus when you teach your dog to fetch. Your back garden is possibly the best place as you won’t have any other dogs running around causing a disturbance to your lesson. Begin by throwing the chosen object just a short distance in front of you. As you are throwing the item, give the cue that you wish to use. This can be either “fetch” or “get it” or even “bring it”.

Step 4

The moment your dog puts the object in his mouth, say the cue word. If your dog is very keen on retrieving, he will return to you with the object still in his mouth. At this point, offer him a tasty treat in return for the toy, then throw it again quickly. Now, repeat the same lesson again.
Some pets, during the first few sessions, will go to the object, drop the toy and then come back to you. If this is the case with your dog, just continue to repeat Step 3. Repeat this several times a day but for no longer than 5 minutes each session. When your pooch finally brings you the toy in his mouth, give him lots of praise and a favourite treat.

Step 5

Continue with these lessons to train your dog to fetch to your command, at least twice daily. Because your dog will soon get bored with the task, limit this to 10-minute sessions. Over time, begin to throw the object over a longer distance. Now you can begin to give just verbal praise for the retrieval and phase out the doggy treats.

Dog chases after ball
Have some fun with your dog playing fetch©Pixabay

Helpful hints when teaching your dog to fetch an object

Always remember that you should treat this as a game of fetch. Have some fun playing with your dog and consider it as a bonding session. Above all, stay calm and don’t stress about the situation if he doesn’t retrieve at the first few attempts. You may find that your dog prefers to play fetch with familiar things, but then not with others. Certainly, some dogs just love to chase after and fetch sticks, while others prefer to play this game with a ball. Decide which works best for your dog, then stick to using this.  Be patient, and have an entertaining training session!