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How can you train a dog to bring their toy back to you ?

Jack Russell dog bringing back a stick advice

Training a dog to fetch its toy and bring it back

© Shutterstock

Learning how to train a dog to bring their toy back is a great way to enjoy a fun game with them. It also ensures they get good exercise, gives them an energy outlet while helping to tire them out so they can get the sleep they need. It’s also a great way of keeping your canine pal mentally stimulated.

By Zoe Monk

All dogs benefit from learning basic commands such as sit, wait and to come back to you when called. Dogs are pretty intelligent and most of them really enjoy learning and training is a great way to stop them getting bored. Training your dog helps them to become an obedient and well-behaved pet that you can take anywhere. It can also help to make your playtime together more fun and ensure your dog is getting plenty of exercise.

For training to be effective it needs to be reward based. Giving your dog a reward in the form of something they will really like such as toys, food and praise when they display a certain behaviour, means they will be more likely to do it again. The better the reward the more your dog will enjoy training and learning.

Jack Russell dog happy with his ball
Someone is happy to play ©Shutterstock

How do I teach my dog to play fetch?

Many dogs will be very happy to run after a toy that has been thrown. But many just won’t bring it back. They might actually pick the toy up, but get you to go after them for it. Dogs that don’t run after a toy and bring it back to you aren’t being disobedient. For many, it’s just not something they will do instinctively. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t. Most dogs can be taught to fetch and bring a toy back and nearly all dogs soon learn to love it.

Introduce the fetch toy

Choose a toy that you know your dog will love and won’t be able to resist chasing after. It can be their favourite toy or even something new. Just make sure you avoid throwing sticks. Show it to your dog so they can start to get excited about it. Put the dog near you and as they get close to it, give them praise and a treat. If they touch their nose to the toy, give them more praise. Carry on doing this until your dog is completely enthused by the toy.

Move the toy around

Your dog will likely have worked out that when they touch the toy they get treats. So start to move it around so they have to move to get it. Don’t throw it yet and you don’t even have to move it very far from them. You can just hold the toy in your hand at arm’s length and encourage your dog to touch it. Each time they touch the toy give them praise and a treat. Continue doing this until you can see that the behaviour has stuck with them.

Get your dog to grab the toy

It’s now time to start rewarding your dog each time they grab the toy with their mouth. This may take some time. Watch your dog’s behaviour and reward them when it starts to look like the behaviour you are aiming for. Put the toy on the ground at arm’s length. If they progress from touching the toy with their nose to using their mouth, then praise them and give them a treat. Each time they get closer to biting the toy, give them a reward. When they finally pick up the toy with their mouth then show them how happy you are with them and give them plenty of praise and a treat.

Play games of indoor fetch

Your dog should now have realised that putting the toy in their mouth means they will get a reward. You should next concentrate on throwing the toy a few feet away from you. When your dog picks it up, then give them a reward. Carry on doing this until you think they’ve understood what they should do. Next, throw the toy and encourage your dog to bring it back to you. When they do give them plenty of praise and a reward.

How can I train a dog to bring their toy back?

When your dog realises that they will get praise and treats when they get their toy and bring it back, start stepping things up by throwing the toy further away. Each time your dog successfully fetches the toy, give them treats and praise, then throw it further. Keep repeating this for as many times as necessary until your dog understands what the game of fetch is all about. It may help to use the word “fetch” when your dog successfully fetches their toy, to help positively reinforce what they should be doing.

Take your fetch game outside

Up until now, you’ve been playing fetch inside where it’s quiet and there are minimum distractions. But it’s now time to head outside. Start in a fenced or enclosed area, such as your garden or the park. Try to go during times when there won’t be many people or dogs around. Make sure you take plenty of treats with you. Play fetch just as you did at home. Throw the toy further and further away and reward your dog each time they successfully bring the toy back to you. If your dog does bring the toy back but doesn’t seem keen to let it go, tell them to drop the toy and show them a treat. Most dogs will drop anything for a treat!

Beagle playing fetch
I've got this! ©Shutterstock

Training your dog to bring their toy back

One of the most satisfying and rewarding parts of having a dog is being able to successfully train them. Taking time to train a dog to bring their toy back to you is not just about playing a fun game. It’s also a great way to bond with your dog and help you to build a good relationship with them. A well-trained dog is a happy and well-behaved dog that can take an active part in family life and you can have a lot more fun with.