So it's time to teach Fido how to fetch, but he just stares at you with his head titled to one side. You just threw a perfectly good toy yards away from the both of you. What do you do now? You've come to the right place to learn how to teach a dog to fetch. We'll show you how to get Fido retrieving like he's, well, a retriever.
In all seriousness, playing fetch is a great way to spend time with your pet. It's fun, your dog gets some good exercise, and the bond created between you and your pet will last a lifetime. So whether you're looking to mess around in the backyard or train Fido for the big leagues, here's how to teach a dog to fetch.
What Is Fetching?
Ah, a question that has baffled mankind since the dawn of creation. But no worries, we've cracked the code. It turns out fetching is actually just going to get something. Sort of like when you say you're going to the grocery store to “fetch” some Preparation H. Simple, right?
The connection between dogs and fetching probably originates with the dog's heritage of hunting. Long ago, we used them to fetch game after a well-placed projectile had dropped the animal. Eventually practice may have become play and play a pastime. Now you don't have to be a beagle to go after things; even the majestic Shih Tzu can join in the fun.
A fetch is sometimes called a retrieve. Put plainly, you throw a thing and then the dog gets the thing. Sure, it sounds easy, but when Fido refuses to grasp the ball or chase it or return it, you'll see just how complex it can get.
Are There Benefits in Teaching a Dog How to Fetch?
The Health Factor
For real: dogs need exercise—even the fat ones! Especially the fat ones. Not getting enough exercise can lead to a dog becoming overweight (shocker) or even obese, which is associated with a whole boatload of diseases, maladies, and plagues such as increased risk of torn ligaments, cardiac problems, back issues, difficulty breathing, skin problems, increased surgical risks, arthritic changes in overly burdened joints, back problems, and more. Sound fun? No That's why you should learn how to teach a dog to fetch.
The Fun Factor
Having a dog chase after your object of choice is not only fun for you but for Fido, too! Seriously, Debbie Jacobs, who wrote A Guide to Living With & Training A Fearful Dog, said that fetching is a self-rewarding behavior for pups. They don't need a treat to be happy about it; just like you might enjoy playing video games, watching football, or gardening, your dog is probably pretty fond of going after that ball or Frisbee or whatever it is you've just thrown. If your dog isn't fond of it already, only you teach him how to fetch he will be.
Likewise, the Mental Floss article “Why Do Dogs Play Fetch?” claims that dogs who play fetch have the same thing go on in their brains during the experience that humans do when they exercise. Endorphins are released and they feel pretty swell. So if you want the chemicals in your dog's head to shoot off like an RPG, get out there and throw some junk across the yard.
The Behavior Factor
Dogs are programmed to be active creatures. Their ancestors were fearsome wolves who’d travel kilometers every day looking for something to munch on. A lot of dogs were bred to be active, too, so keeping those dogs from being who they were born to be could cause some extremely intense frustration, resulting in home destruction, digging, tail chasing, barking, hyperactivity, and worse: boredom.
Seriously though, if you don’t want your pup to dig a hole to China in your living room, maybe teach your dog to fetch.
The Glory Factor
Maybe fetch isn’t just a game to you; maybe fetch is a way of showing off your dog’s skills before a bunch of pretentious judges who hold your fate in their hands as they decide whether to award you twenty-thousand dollars for having such a magnificent specimen of a canine. That’s right; teaching your dog how to fetch could make you a rich, rich guy or gal someday. Go for the glory.
How to Teach a Dog to Fetch in Six Steps
So now that you know what fetching is and why it’s super important for your dog to know how to do it, it’s time to get down to business and finally learn how to teach a dog to fetch. You ready? Of course you’re not; this isn’t something you’re every really ready for. But now’s the time to take that leap of faith. You can do it!
Step One: Chasing
So your dog doesn’t do anything but sit and stare when you throw the ball? Your initial move needs to be to teach him to chase the doggone thing. Pick out what you want to give him for figuring it out, like love, treats, or a bonus on his next check (we suggest the latter). Then, prompt your pet to go after the toy you want him to retrieve. When he gets it, give him his prize and then take away the toy.
Do this several hundred times: we’re kidding, just several will suffice unless your dog is really dumb. Then throw the toy a little way. When he runs after it, promptly give him another bonus. Repeat this step until that little light switches on in Fido’s brain and he gets it every time.
Step Two: Give Him Something to Work For
If you really want to get him to go after it, restrain him as you launch the toy. He'll pull, and you can really get him going by egging him on while you've got hold of him. When you release your canine companion, he'll break the sound barrier on his way to the toy.
Step Three: Fetching
When you've finally got Fido to chase after his toy, it's time to convince him to bring it back. If he doesn't bring the toy back period, try using a backup toy. Once he gets a hold of toy number one, bust out number two and let it rip in the other direction. It's unlikely he'll bring number one with him, but you might get him used to running back your way after he's caught it.
Once Fido's got this part down, call him back and ask very nicely for him to set it down. If you take out toy number two, he might even drop the first one to chase after it. Along the way, he'll learn that when he returns and lets go of the toy, you'll launch it again.
Step Four: Keep Him From Playing Keep Away
If Fido likes catching the toy and taking off with it, try using a rope. Once he gets ahold of it, tug on the line and run away from your dog. He'll probably follow you; if he doesn't, you can bring in the rope and tell him how eloquent and sophisticated he is when he gets close (he'll appreciate the commendations so much that he might even do it again). This might take several sessions, but eventually Fido will learn to come your way.
Step 5: Returning the Toy
If Fido doesn't come all the way back before dropping the toy, back up and encourage him to bring it. When he gets to your initial spot, go to him, tell him how amazing he is, and toss the toy all over again. If you've got a problem with him not letting go, tell him to drop it and put the check with the bonus by his nose to pull the old switcheroo.
Step 6: Choose the Right Toy
Fido might not be picky, but even if he isn't, hook him up with whatever his favorite toy is. Make the fetch experience mind-blowing for him by selecting that Frisbee, squeaky, bone, or ball he just can't get enough of.
Fetch is a dog's favorite pastime, and you owe it to your pup to learn how to teach a dog to fetch. To some dogs it'll come easy, but others might take weeks to learn. Still, it'll be worth it in the long run. Your dog needs exercise and a good time, and teaching him how to fetch might very well help him avoid troublesome behaviors and a number of nasty health problems. Some might even bring you unparalleled glory in the dog show arena. So show your dog a good time and take him out back with his favorite toy; he won't thank you for it, but he will be very, very happy.