While there are some dogs that just seem to intrinsically understand the game and will automatically chase and retrieve whatever object you use the first time you try, most do not. Either they sit and stare at you, wondering why you would choose to throw away a perfectly good toy, or they chase after the object but don’t “catch” it, or bring it back
Fetching and dogs have always been synonymous in most people’s minds, yet the reality is a lot of dogs do not fetch, or they don’t fetch well. What looks like an effortless and natural game between dog and owner is often the result of a lot of training (and sometimes frustration) on both ends. However, it is possible to teach most dogs to fetch correctly and here are the steps to get you started.
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.
The last step – giving you the ball – is the most rewarding.With some dogs, you’ll have quite a little wait for that first drop of the ball. You can grease the skids by offering a treat in exchange for the ball during the first few reps, but you may want to phase the treat out quickly; usually, a ball-loving dog’s big reward for giving back the ball in a game of fetch is the chance to get hold of the ball again. On the other hand, the Training Police will not come get you if you stick with treats forever. The real point is for you and your dog to have fun and to succeed. How you work that is your call
The point is that your dog probably won’t instinctively run after a toy or ball and bring it back like the dogs in the movies. That doesn’t mean they won’t and it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t. Almost any dog can be taught to fetch and just about every dog will quickly learn to love it.
Fetch is a great way to get your dog exercise that will stave off health problems like obesity, and provide an energy outlet to curb any destructive behaviors. It’s also a handy way to tucker them out so they get the sleep they need. Plus, it will keep them mentally stimulated and strengthen your bond together.
The instinct to retrieve is all in your dog’s genes. Some types of dogs take to it naturally, some don’t. As the name says, any type of retriever loves chasing things and bringing them back (of course, getting them to give you what they caught make take some training!). But if you have a terrier, for example, whose instinct is to burrow, trying to teach “Fetch” will probably just frustrate you both
Most dogs will do this naturally, says Pliner. Some dogs may not understand what a ball is yet, however, so you have to introduce it to them. “Get your energy up; be excited about the ball,” suggests Pliner. “Bounce it so it doesn’t go too far above eye level for your dog so he doesn’t lose site of it. Also roll it around in front of him at different speeds, but don’t let it go too far away.” The key here, says Pliner, is to keep the ball within his reach so he doesn’t lose interest.
In fact you may be better off having to teach from the start. When I was working in Obedience competition with my dogs many years ago, I had two Border Collies.
Rupert was a natural retriever. He loved pouncing on toys, making them scoot away so he could chase them again, grabbing them, tossing them in the air, and racing around shaking them. Can you imagine how hard it was to get a formal retrieve from him? Dear Rupert could lose a lot of marks on retrieve.
When a adult dog loves to retrieve, the behavior can be used as a powerful non-food reinforcer, as well as a tool for keeping the dog’s attention around distractions, and for getting really sharp recalls and other operant behaviors of dog. A highly valued tennis ball can be a great reinforcer – for some dogs, a ball is even more valuable than food! – for spiffy recalls and downs, among other behaviors. These are all great reasons to help a dog love to retrieve!