Fetch is a fun game to play with any dog. It involves throwing a ball or other toy and having your dog chase it and bring it back to you. Many people think this game is something dogs do naturally. However, many dogs actually need to learn how to do it, or at least some part of it. Fortunately, it's not difficult to teach your dog to fetch.
Start With Sit
Before you do anything else, make sure your dog has a good understanding of the sit command. All games of fetch should begin with you asking your dog to sit. Make sure he's sitting calmly next to you before moving on to the next step. This ensures that once he understands the rules of the game, he won't jump up on you to try to get the ball before you even get a chance to throw it.
Send the Dog Out
Once you get your dog to sit, throw the ball and tell him "fetch." Start off by throwing the ball just a short distance. Most dogs will instinctively chase the ball and pick it up. If so, you're done with this part.
If fetching doesn't come naturally to your dog, you may have to work on training him to play first. You can start off by giving him treats or praise for taking an interest in the ball. Then, slowly work your way up to having him run after and pick up the ball.
Call the Dog Back
This step and the next are the most important parts of the game of fetch, and the place most people run into trouble. If you can't get your dog to come back and drop the ball, you're not playing fetch, you're just playing chase!
The best way to get a dog to return to you with the ball is to make sure he has a strong understanding of the come command before you begin. When playing fetch, as soon as your dog picks up the ball, give the come command. Encourage your dog to come back to you by speaking in a happy voice, patting your legs, and giving him praise.
If a dog is having trouble with this step, you may need to shorten the distance you throw the ball. In some cases, this may mean to start with just a few feet. Gradually increase the distance you throw the ball. Your dog should be able to consistently bring the ball back to you before you move on to the next distance.
Use a Release Command
It can be tough to convince a dog to return the ball to you once he has it. It helps if your dog knows the drop it or release command. Practice that before you play fetch with a dog, and as soon as returns to you, give him the command "drop it." If he releases the ball, give him praise, and then throw the ball again as his reward.
If your dog will not release the ball, you need to make it worthwhile to release. Keep some treats on hand. Give your dog the "drop it" command, and then show him some treats. He'll have to release the ball in order to get the treats. Make sure you wait until you have the ball back in your possession before giving the dog a treat. Then give him an additional reward by throwing the ball to continue the game.
Another option is to use two balls instead of treats. As soon as your dog returns to you with the first ball, show him another ball you're holding in your hand. Many dogs will drop the ball they have in order to go after the second ball. As soon as your dog drops the ball, throw the one in your hand for him to fetch. Note: This doesn't always work. Some dogs refuse to let go of the ball they already have. In this case, the treat method above would probably work best.
Never Play Chase
Keep in mind when you're going through these steps that your dog is likely to be just as happy playing chase or keep away as he is playing fetch. Don't get sucked into a game of chase! If your dog runs off with the ball, turn your back to him and begin to walk away. Most dogs will run towards you. If your dog refuses to bring the ball back, end the game.
For dogs who persist in running away with the ball, try practicing with your dog on a leash. Throw the ball just a short distance, and then give him the come command and then just stand there and wait him out. Use treats and praise to coax him in the right direction.
If your dog does not pick up the idea of fetch right away, give it time. Be patient and consistent. If you practice a little each day, your dog will eventially figure it out. In fact, you may find that your dog becomes a fetch fanatic!
Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT