How to Teach a Dog to Fetch
Almost every other dog loves a game of fetch. Whether it is a piece of stick or an old tennis ball, many dogs love the idea of running after something and bringing it to their pet owners. Having a treat or a good hug from their beloved owners afterwards can be very rewarding. While some dogs are already “wired” for the task, there are some that still require some form of training. So, before you start buying one of the best dog ball launchers on the market, it is wise to teach your dog to fetch first.
Start with the Basic Obedience Commands
There are two fundamental obedience commands that your dog should be able to master for a game of fetch to be successful. First, it must know what “sit” means. All games of fetch should start with the dog in a sitting position. It is critical that the dog is in a calm and relaxed state before you start tossing an item for it to fetch.
Another command that a dog must know by this time is “come”. This is the recall command. This is a game of fetch, which means the dog has to “come” back to you after getting the ball or any other toy. If it doesn’t understand what “come” means, then you will not have a game of fetch. What you will have is a game of chase.
There is another command that you need to teach your dog before you play a game of fetch. This is the “drop it” command. You would want your dog to “release” whatever is in its mouth when you tell it to. Otherwise, you will be in for a real tug-of-war fight.
Choose the Right Item for Your Dog to Fetch
Some dogs prefer tennis balls while others are very happy with a Frisbee. There are also dogs that are more satisfied with an ordinary stick. The point here is for you to pick an item that your dog will be more than interested to fetch. It should be something that it loves or is very interested in. Otherwise, you could be tossing the object all day long and your dog will never budge from its place.
Whatever you do, don’t choose an edible item such as rawhide or a flavored doggie chew. The idea of a game of fetch is for the dog to return the object to you. If you give it something edible, there’s a chance it will never bring it back to you.
Always pick a fetch toy that is sturdy. Not all dogs have soft mouths like Golden Retrievers and Labradors. These toys should also be pet-safe.
Teach Your Dog to Interact with the Fetch Toy
In most cases, placing the fetch toy on the floor is enough to elicit an instant response from the dog. It will immediately go to it and initiate an interaction. It may look at it or sniff at it. Whatever kind of interaction you see, make sure to “mark” it. You can use a clicker for this or a verbal cue. As soon as there is an “interaction”, mark and reward your dog.
Take note to “mark” and “reward” every interaction that your dog has with the fetch toy. So, if it gets close to the fetch toy, mark and reward. If it sniffs the toy, again mark and reward. The idea here is to make your dog realize that interacting with the fetch toy brings with it a reward.
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Move the Toy You Want Your Dog to Fetch
By this time your dog already knows that interacting with the fetch toy is very rewarding. It’s time to start moving the fetch toy around. Don’t throw it yet, however. What you’d want is for your dog to get accustomed to “interacting” with the toy in different directions. So, you can hold the toy with your arm extended and encourage your pet to “interact” with it. Every time it does, mark and reward.
Encourage Your Dog to Use its Mouth to “Grab” the Fetch Toy
Start by placing the fetch toy on the floor. Your dog already knows that it needs to “interact” with the toy if it wants the reward. If it sniffs the toy, don’t give its reward yet. This will make the dog wonder why it hasn’t received its reward yet. It will make it want to grab the fetch toy using its mouth. If it does, mark and reward. Practice this many times until your dog learns that grabbing the fetch toy with its mouth is more rewarding than simply sniffing it.
Start Throwing the Fetch Toy
When you’re ready for a game of fetch, it’s best to start indoors. You will have more control of the situation when you’re indoors. The method is almost the same. You want to mark the behavior you expect from the dog and then reward it for doing so.
Toss the fetch toy a few feet from you. Your dog now knows that it needs to pick this up with its mouth. When it does, mark and reward. Now is also the best time to use other verbal cues such as “come” and “drop it”. Always start with shorter distances. Once your dog is already consistent in picking up and bringing the fetch toy back to you, you can gradually increase the distance.
When you’re ready for a game of fetch outdoors, it’s always a good idea to do it in a fenced yard. Make sure there are also no distractions. You will want your dog to focus more on what you’re teaching it and not on anything else.
Teaching a dog to fetch is not that difficult since most dogs can do it in an instant. For those that may have a more challenging dog to work with, always start with the simple commands of “sit” and “come”. Picking the right fetch toy and marking and rewarding every interaction that the dog has with the fetch toy also help.