Teaching Your Dog to Fetch

As simple as it may seem, teaching your pooch to retrieve can be quite a challenge! Depending on the breed and personality of your dog, it might be a skill they learn quickly, or the game could take some serious practice. Some dogs might enjoy chasing after a toy or item, but don’t understand the concept of bringing it back to you, while others will chase and come back to you, but not release the item from their mouths. Start with the basics, and you’ll have your pup fetching in no time!

Before You Start
It’s a good idea to master basic commands before working on more advanced tricks. Establishing a foundation of obedience is essential to your dog becoming successful at learning more difficult commands. Also, make sure you know what motivates your dog. Does he work for treats, affection, or play? Many dogs are treat-motivated, but if affection or a favorite toy is enough of a reward for your dog, consider those alternatives. It’s possible that if your dog knows you have treats, he won’t leave your side to actually fetch anything! Lastly, make sure you are teaching your dog to fetch something he is actually interested in. Whether it be a stick, favorite ball, or Frisbee, use something that will get your pup excited.

Chasing the Object
First, you want your dog to go after the toy you chose. (For some dogs, this might be the easy part!) Toss the item, verbally encourage your pup to go after it, and reward him with praise as soon as he picks it up. Take the object away and repeat this process several times until your dog is consistently chasing after the item. If your dog isn’t interested, take a step back and first reward him for touching the toy when it is in front of him. Gradually, he will figure out that he must touch the toy to be rewarded.

Bring it Back!
The next step is to get your dog to actually bring the toy back to you (usually the harder part!). Try calling your dog once he is holding the object. If he comes back and drops the object, reward him. If not, coax your dog to come back to you with your voice, a treat or another toy. You might also need to tug firmly on the item in his mouth to encourage your pup to drop it. If he won’t drop it, show him a treat or toy as motivation. He will likely drop the first toy to go after whatever new item you’re holding. Reward your pup as soon as he drops the item you tossed. Repeat this process several times, rewarding your dog immediately each time he comes back and drops the item in front of you. The repetition and consistency will encourage your dog to make a clear connection between dropping the item and receiving a reward.

Change the Variables
As your dog gets better at fetching, start switching things up by increasing the distance you toss the item. The game then becomes more challenging, as your dog has more time to get distracted on the way to retrieving. You can also start alternating the item you toss, whether it be a ball, toy, stick, Frisbee, etc. While you change each individual variable, make sure to keep yourself in the same position and practice in the same area so it’s not too many changes at once. Small steps will give your dog a chance to master each new aspect of the trick.

Be Patient
Don’t get frustrated with your dog if he doesn’t catch on right away, especially if he is young! Be patient and clear about which behaviors get rewarded. Practice for a small period of time up to several times a day, making sure to give your pooch plenty of time to relax and have fun in the process. Patience and positive reinforcement are the best ways to get your dog fetching like a pro in no time. And remember, in the grand scheme of training priorities, fetch is pretty low. Laugh through the process and have fun!