Teaching a dog how to fetch is not rocket science but it can definitely feel like it, especially if your dog’s idea of a howling good time is to dig up tunnels in your yard or hide stuffed animals in odd places around your house. The concept of fetching an item and returning it to you may seem mind-boggling to your pooch. Plenty of dogs lack the instinct to fetch and would rather have you chase them around the yard in frustration while they run with your beloved TV remote in their mouth. Teaching your dog how to fetch is a great way to bond with your pooch but it is also a great opportunity to get your dog ready for flyball championships, obedience exercises and much more. Luckily, nowadays there are fun and easy ways to teach your dog how to fetch but they all require three things: practice, patience and positive reinforcement.
Choose a Fetching Toy
Dogs can be very picky when it comes to their toys, so make sure you choose an appealing, fetch-worthy toy for your pooch. Luckily, dog toys are available in different colours, shapes and sizes and some of them are even tailored for fetching such as frisbees and tennis balls. In order to get started, present your pooch with a wide array of dog toys and see which ones excite it the most. If your dog is more of a frisbee aficionado, then buy one that is dog-friendly and made out of light material since regular frisbees tend to be rigid and can easily injure your dog. And if your pooch is treat-driven and crazy about his kibble, then you can buy him a fetch toy that you can stuff with all kinds of scrumptious treats.
Go Back to Basics
Teaching your dog how to fetch is like playing a game of Lego where you line up your building blocks in the right order before combining them together. In order to teach your pooch all the steps required for a successful game of fetch, you need to complete each step individually, using positive reinforcement in the form of treats or praise, depending on your dog and his personality.
Use Treats and Marker Words
Make sure you have some doggie treats ready and then move a few meters away from your pooch. Crouch down and stretch out your hand, encouraging your dog to touch it with its nose. If your dog complies, shower it with praise and give it a treat as a reward. Once is not enough, so repeat the same steps over and over again until your dog figures out what you want. Add a marker word in order to emphasize this behaviour and follow it up with more treats and praise. You may use simple words such as ‘come here’ for example. Finally, when your dog has fully grasped this concept, you can move on to teaching him how to fetch his toy.
Place the dog toy right next to you and praise your pooch when he approaches it. Give him more treats and use encouraging words if he touches the toy with his nose. Repeat the same process until your dog falls in love with this toy and discovers that touching it will result in more delicious treats. Now comes the part where you move the toy around so your dog is forced to move in order to reach it. Refrain from throwing the toy and just stick to holding it at arm’s length while encouraging your pooch to touch it. Remember to shower him with treats and praise every time he successfully touches it.
Encourage your dog to put the toy in his mouth by placing it on the ground and giving him treats and words of encouragement when he gets closer to biting the toy. Continue to reward him until he finally picks up the toy with his mouth, and when that happens, make sure to reward him like a student who had just received a gold star on his test. Your pooch needs to know that this is exactly the type of behaviour you are after.
Play Indoors First
This part is probably the hardest because here is where you teach your dog how to really fetch. Start by throwing the toy a few meters away from you and maintain the same pattern of giving praise and treats when your dog picks it up. Afterwards, encourage your dog to bring his toy back to you and reward him when he does. Repeat the same action over and over again until your dog fully comprehends what he is supposed to do. Practice this step indoors at first to avoid any distractions that may get in the way of your lesson and choose a long hallway for lengthier throws. If you want your dog to place the toy in your hand, you can easily teach him how to do that by positioning your hand under his jaw and saying the words ‘give it’. When he drops the toy into your palm, praise him profusely and throw it once more.
Upgrade to Outdoor Fetch Games
When your pooch finally becomes adept at fetching dog toys and your house is too small to contain his talent, the backyard automatically becomes the perfect choice for him to practice his new favourite game. Nowadays, you can get your dog an automatic fetch machine to sharpen his skills and keep him entertained for hours on end. The best automatic fetch machines on the market are the ones that use dog-friendly balls that are easy to fetch and pick-up. They can also keep your dog mentally stimulated while you’re out running errands or simply finishing up some housework. All in all, playing fetch is a great way to get your dog moving while improving his mood at the same time. It also provides an outlet for him to release his energy and allows you to introduce basic obedience cues that will benefit you both in the long run.