Here’s How To Train Your Dog To Fetch Perfectly

And actually bring the ball back!

Dog playing fetch

It might seem like every dog at the dog park knows how to play fetch — so why doesn’t your dog know how to do it, too?

Even though fetch is a super popular game to play with dogs, not all dogs are born knowing how to play fetch — and that’s totally OK. You can actually teach your dog how to fetch just like those other dogs at the park.

It might just take a little patience and guidance.

To help you train your dog to fetch, The Dodo reached out to Russell Hartstein, a certified dog behaviorist, trainer and founder of Fun Paw Care in Los Angeles.

Break down the steps

The best way to teach a dog how to fetch actually depends on the individual dog. According to Hartstein, the dog’s breed, age, personality and temperament play a role. “However, backward chaining typically works well for most dogs,” Hartstein told The Dodo.

Backward chaining basically means teaching a behavior in small steps and practicing the steps backwards, from last to first.

“Backward chaining is simply taking the very last part of a behavior chain and beginning to teach this first rather than last,” Hartstein said. “It is often easier to approach teaching a dog a more complex behavior this way.”

Here are the ordered steps Hartstein would take to teach a dog to fetch:

  1. Teach your dog how to open his mouth.


You can do this by offering a treat and pairing it with a verbal cue, like “Open.” Keep repeating this until your dog starts opening his mouth, using the verbal cue without using a treat as a lure.

  1. Train your dog to “Take it.”


There are a couple of ways you can teach your dog to take it. One is to pair the verbal cue “Take it” with giving your dog an object he wants. Or, whenever he takes something you want him to take, use the verbal cue. Repeat either (or both) of these so your dog can get comfortable with the cue and so you can use it while teaching fetch.

  1. Train your dog to “Drop it.”


For this one, you’ll want to first give your dog a toy that he only kind of likes. Then, offer him a high-value treat (like his favorite treat or a piece of plain boiled chicken) while using the verbal cue “Drop it.” Keep repeating until your dog drops his toy without being offered a treat.

  1. Teach your dog to pick something off of the floor.


Reward your dog each time he gets closer to putting the object in his mouth. Once he puts it in his mouth and lifts it up, reward him generously and pair the behavior with a verbal cue, like “Pick it up.”

  1. Teach him to chase an object and pick it up.


This should come naturally to your dog, but if not, you can definitely teach this behavior by rewarding your dog every time he puts the object in his mouth.

  1. Teach your dog to “Come.”


You can teach your dog to come to you by pairing the cue with the behavior. So, every time your dog is running towards you on his own, say the cue before your dog reaches you and reward your dog generously when he does.

  1. Put it all together.


“Much of this assumes the dog has a strong recall and other obedience behaviors,” Hartstein said. But as soon as your dog nails each of these steps individually, putting them together should be like a walk in the park (or a game of fetch)!

Troubleshooting fetch

If your dog knows how to play fetch, but isn’t chasing the ball or bringing it back to you, it’s possible your dog is simply uninterested in the game.

“Your dog must be motivated to chase or retrieve an object,” Hartstein said. “We can encourage motivation through our movements, energy, excitement and training.”

Keep your energy levels high and be sure to reward your dog with lots of treats and praise when he successfully retrieves the object. By making the game more exciting for him, he’ll be more likely to play along.

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