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.

The Dodo reached out to Russell Hartstein, a certified dog behavior consultant, trainer and founder of Fun Paw Care in Los Angeles, and Diana Ludwiczak, a certified dog trainer at Wolfie’s Place and master K9 scent detection trainer at Doctor Sniffs Bed Bug Dogs in New York City, to find out how to teach a dog to fetch.

Benefits of teaching your dog fetch

Fetch is a great game because it allows you to easily exercise your dog.

Since physical stimulation helps keep your dog happy by reducing stress and keeping boredom away, fetch is a perfect way to let him burn off some of that energy while also letting you bond.

“Fetch is an important game for working dogs because it allows them to release some of their pent-up energy,” Ludwiczak told The Dodo. “One of my main bed bug sniffing dogs named Goosey needs to play at least one hour of fetch per day. If there are ever days when she can’t play, she is not happy. Allowing her to get her energy out through fetch keeps her sane and happy!”

How to teach your dog to fetch

There are a couple different methods for teaching fetch, so you can try both and see which one works best for you and your pup.

Method one: Backward chaining

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 command, like “open.” Keep repeating this until your dog starts opening his mouth, using the verbal command 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 command “take it” with giving your dog an object he wants. Or, whenever he takes something you want him to take, use the verbal command. Repeat either (or both) of these so your dog can get comfortable with the command 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 command “drop it.” Keep repeating until your dog drops his toy without being offered a treat.

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

Put a low-value toy next to your dog on 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 command, 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 after throwing it a short distance across the room.

  1. Teach your dog to “come.”

You can teach your dog to come to you (aka recall) by pairing the command with the behavior. So, every time your dog is running towards you on his own, say the command “come” 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. So 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)!

Method two: Tug and reward

If backward chaining doesn’t work for your pup, you can also try these steps recommended by Ludwiczak:

  1. Start by finding a toy that your dog loves (like this Paw of Approval winning tug toy) and begin playing a game of tug with your dog. Let your dog win the game. Repeat this for a few days.
  2. On the fourth day of tug with the toy, throw the toy, and then if your dog willingly walks back towards you, give a big praise and play tug again. Throw it again, and every time your dog starts to walk back towards you, make a big deal with lots of praise and playtime. Repeat.

“Some dogs catch on quicker than others,” Ludwiczak said. “Some dogs only need a few days to figure out if they bring the ball back towards you then they get a reward (the ball gets thrown again).”

Troubleshooting fetch

If you’re confident your dog knows how to play fetch, but still 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.

Keep in mind that not every dog is going to love fetch, so if yours just seems to be not interested despite your best efforts, that’s OK.

“If your dog does not seem to get the hang of it after a few weeks, then perhaps your dog does not want to play that type of game,” Ludwiczak said. “Not every dog needs to be a fetching dog.”

If your dog doesn’t love fetch, there are plenty of other ways to stimulate him, like using puzzle toys or going on long walks.

Additional tips for training your dog:

Here are some additional tips to make every training session a good one:

  • Exercise your pup before training to ensure he’s calm (he learns better this way!).
  • Always keep training light and fun (no stress = better results).
  • Keep training sessions short (two to five minutes is ideal).
  • Always have some treats with you (just in case he does something good).
  • Vary how many treats you give (to keep him guessing).
  • Teach the handle signals before the verbal cue (dogs learn best through body language).
  • Say the verbal cue one time only (so that he knows it’s important).
  • Practice in different environments (so your dog can learn how to do the trick anywhere).
  • Eventually wean your dog off of treats (and he’ll eventually respond to the cue without them).

While teaching your dog games can be a fun bonding experience, just remember to be patient — and give your pup plenty of breaks if you start to notice him getting restless.

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