How to Teach your dog to fetch

So you would think it would be easy – throw a ball, your dog goes and gets it and brings it back.  Not quite.  Most dogs don’t fetch instinctually.  It takes practice, sometimes lots of practice.  The tools you will need are 1) a ball or toy, 2) a small, enclosed space, 3) High value treats, and 4) lots of patience and 15 minutes of free time.

Start in an enclosed space like a hallway or a bedroom.  Eventually, you will be able to get outside in the backyard but not yet.  First, make the ball or toy interesting – toss it around from hand to hand, shake it, then toss it a short distance and say “get it!”.   Next, call your dog with kissy noises and say “bring it!”.  Use an excited voice so he wants to come toward you.  While he is returning, back up a few steps so he feels he has to chase you – that will ensure he comes back and doesn’t try to make you chase him.  When he comes back, greet him with an excited voice and say “drop it!”, handing him his treat in exchange for dropping the ball or toy.  Rinse and repeat for 15 minutes and then end the game for at least an hour before you pick it up again.

What if your dog doesn’t even go to pick up the ball?  Well, not to worry, it will take some more skills and time but it is still possible to teach your dog fetch.  First, sit on the floor with your pup and hold the ball up between you and your dog.  When your dog even moves his head to sniff the ball, say “yes!” and treat.  “Yes!” is a marker word that tells your dog he did something you wanted him to do, so that when hears the word, he knows what action to repeat for the reward.  Continue to mark positive interactions with the ball for a while, then start only marking (saying “yes!”) and treating when his nose touches the ball.  Next, wait until your pup puts his mouth on the toy to mark and treat – do that for a while – like 10 times.  Then only mark and treat when he maintains having the ball in his mouth for a couple of seconds.  Now, hold the ball out and say “take it!” – when your pup “takes” the ball in his mouth say “yes!” and reward.  Do that for 20 times or so.  Now, put the ball on the floor between you and your pup and say “get it!”.  When your dog picks up the ball mark and reward – do this about 20 times.   Next, Roll the ball a few inches and say “get it” and mark and reward.  You are on your way to a true fetch.

This will take time, be patient.  Continue this game for 15 minutes at a time and end the game on a good note.

Next, take your game out to the backyard or park.  Start out by tossing the ball or toy just a few feet and repeat the above instructions.  Slowly increase the distance but if your dog is not consistently returning, shorten the distance again until fetch is happening smoothly again.  If you find that your dog is losing interest, try swapping out the ball or toy.  Eventually, as “drop it” continues to be reinforced, you will be able to do without treats.

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