Though it might seem like second nature for a pup to retrieve a thrown object, that’s not always the case. While many dogs are pretty good at running after their favorite toy or ball, it’s the whole return part that gets a bit tricky. So how do you turn a game of chase into a game of fetch? It takes some patience, but if you follow our step-by-step guide on how to teach a dog to fetch, then you and your pup will pros in no time.
You Will Need:
✓ An enclosed, small space
✓ A ball or toy
✓ Training treats for dogs, like Zuke's Mini Naturals Chicken treats
✓ 15 to 20 minutes per day Patience Enthusiasm
How to Teach a Dog to Fetch
When learning how to teach a dog the fetch command, consider every step a teaching moment. Follow these steps in your training sessions, encourage your dog along the way, and remember that playing fetch is all about having fun!
Step 1: Start in Enclosed, Small Space
Stay in an enclosed spaced—like a hallway, fenced backyard or bedroom—during the early days of teaching a dog fetch. Because your dog has nowhere else to go, it helps them remain focused on you and the task at hand. It also means there are fewer places for them take their retrieved object versus bringing it back to you.
Step 2: Teach Your Dog to Chase the Ball
This step is pretty straightforward. Simply throw the ball (or your object of choice) a short distance and encourage your dog to chase after it! Since many dogs are programmed to chase after a thrown object, there’s not much you’ll have to do aside from toss the toy. However, some dogs may not quite understand what a ball or toy is yet, so you must introduce it to them. Get them excited about the object by bouncing it, playing with it, and rolling it around in front of them.
Step 3: Get Your Pup to Return the Ball
Once your dog consistently chases after their ball or toy you can move onto one of the trickier parts: getting your dog to bring the item back to you. Break down the dog fetch command into three parts:
- Throw. Throw the ball a short distance—like down a hallway, across a room or about 10 feet if you’re outdoors.
- Call your dog back. Using a positive, excited tone, call your dog back to you, using the same word every time. That word might be “come” or “bring.”
- Reward. Reward your dog with lots of happy expressions, belly rubs or a treat when they come back to you with the ball. Blue Buffalo Blue Bits Tender Beef Recipe Soft-Moist Training Dog Treats are the perfect bite-size training treat.
- Repeat: Repeat this process to give your dog time to learn the cue. You want them to understand that there’s a reward associated with bringing back their ball. Once your dog reliably brings the ball back to you, move onto the next step.
Step 4: Teach Your Dog the “Drop It” Command
Once your dog returns the ball to you, put your hand below their mouth with your palm facing up, and say the command, “Drop it.” Your dog will probably not understand the “drop it” command right away, and that’s OK.
Simply hold the ball while it’s in your dog’s mouth and repeat the “drop it”command until the ball is released. Don’t try to tug on it or pull it away. If your dog runs away with the ball, then try the whole process again. This takes some patience and practice, but your dog will eventually get it. Give your dog praise and a reward your dog with a treat once the ball is released without a struggle.
Step 5: Throw the Ball Again
Part of the joy of learning how to teach a dog fetch is that it’s a game. It doesn’t just end with a throw and return—the joy for your pup is having the ball or toy thrown again! Our experts recommend allotting at least five to 10 minutes of consistent play time so your dog will better associate returning the ball with having more fun.
Things to Avoid
Teaching a dog the fetch command requires patience, practice, and positivity.
- Don’t Scold: Always use positive reinforcement during training sessions, which means rewarding your dog for positive behavior versus scolding them for doing something incorrectly. If you find yourself getting frustrated, step away and try again tomorrow.
- Don’t Push: Be aware of your dog’s physical limitations. Not every dog is physically inclined to play fetch.
- Don’t Practice in Unsafe Spaces: Always play fetch in a safe space. Avoid playing around moving cars, in extremely hot or cold weather, or anywhere they might get injured.
How to Teach a Dog to Fetch FAQs
How can I teach my dog to fetch in the park?
A:Our dog training experts recommend teaching a dog fetch in a small, enclosed place when you first begin. Your house, apartment, or backyard is the perfect environment since it helps keep them focused on the task. Once your dog is reliably retrieving a toy and dropping it, you can graduate to a larger space such as the dog park.
Can I teach a senior dog to fetch?
A:The adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is simply untrue. Senior dogs can learn many things, including how to fetch! The only limitations, of course, are their health and desire to learn said trick. Be mindful and accommodating of your older dog’s physical abilities. For example, you may need to throw the ball a shorter distance, use a squeaky or light-up toy that they can find more easily, or shorten the length of time you play.
What are the best toys to teach a dog to fetch?
A:The best toys for fetch are the objects your pet desires most! That might be a simple ball, their favorite toy, or perhaps something a bit fancier. Dog training experts recommend using an object that’s large enough for them to easily find, but not so large they cannot carry it easily. Also, durability is key as the object will see a lot of action. We recommend the KONG Classic Dog Toy, Chuckit! Classic Launcher, or Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff Fetch Ball with Rope. Stuffed toys can work if they are durable and you don’t mind washing them often. Try out a couple different products and see which gets your dog excited and engaged.
My dog doesn’t fetch. What do I do?
A:If your pet seems completely uninterested in learning fetch, there’s no need to force it. Some pups who aren’t athletically inclined or have physical ailments may not be eager to make fetch happen. There are many other tricks you can teach them, such as “roll over,” “speak” or “shake.” A critical lesson that goes for every aspect of being a pet parent is to not force your pup’s paw, so to speak. Love them for who they are just as they do you.
The Bottom LineTraining your dog to play fetch is easy if you have a little patience and follow these five steps. Don’t worry if your dog isn’t interested in a ball. Keep trying out other items until you find what they are most interested in retrieving. (Check out other types of fetch toys here.) And remember, fetch is a bonding experience for you and your dog. The most important thing is to stay patient and have fun!