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. Next, call your dog with kissy noises and the recall word (whether you use come or touch). 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 hand 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.
After successfully getting your dog to fetch and return the ball or toy consistently. Now use the word “fetch” before you toss the ball or toy. When he returns and you are exchanging the ball for a treat, say the words “drop it” so he begins to understand what “drop it” means. 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.