Fetching is something that just seems like something that comes with owning a dog. But if your dogs are like mine, they do the chasing part really well and then fail at returning the item they fetched. So today, we’re going to learn how to teach your dog to fetch… and then actually bring it back.
When my dogs give back what they fetched, it gives me a sense of accomplishment as well. So teaching your dog how to get something and give it back is an enriching experience for you both.
When you teach your dog to fetch (the right way), you’re teaching them more than just how to play a game. It’s also about obedience, consistency, exercising them both physically and mentally, and teaching them to control their impulses. So you’re really not losing anything by adding this skill to your training commands collection.
So you’re all fired up to teach your dog to fetch, but what do you need?
Just a few things, all of which are probably already in your home!
Here’s what you need: a toy or two, both of which hold appeal to your dog. It shouldn’t be hard to look for these if your dog has a whole hoard of toys which they love (like mine does!). If your dog’s not much for toys, then try to find an item that they are interested in. This can be a ball, a Frisbee, a stick, or something else entirely. Feel free to experiment at the beginning!
Next, you’re going to need some treats to reward your dog’s good behavior with. As with all the commands we have talked about before, treats are a great motivator for dogs.
Finally, you need a long leash or a flexi-leash. It’s important for the returning part of fetching, as we all know how fond our dogs are of playing keep away when they’ve got something we want.
You start off by getting your dog to chase after the item in question. Some dogs do so my instinct, but some don’t. If your dog is of the latter kind, here’s what you can do: entice and encourage your dog to get an item on the ground. Once they grab it, reward with whatever motivator you have: treats, affection, praise, or a combination of any of those.
Once your dog grabs the item, take it from them after rewarding them.
Download our FREE printable cheat sheet that you can use to get your dog to come everytime.
Later on, you can start tossing the object to short and then longer distances. Immediately reward your dog once s/he goes after the item. Repeat and reinforce.
The next part of fetch is having the item returned to you. There are several ways you can go about this part. One is to call your dog back to you, and if they still have the object in their mouth, you can ask them to drop it in exchange for a treat.
Another way is to grab your dog’s attention with another toy. Entice your dog to return to you by showing them another toy that they will be interested in. This way, your dog gets used to the idea of going back to you after they have retrieved an item.
If your dog does go back to you but without the first item in their mouth, you can teach them to do so later by rewarding them only if they return the item to you.
If your dog already has the item in their mouth and won’t give it to you because their idea of fun is for you to chase them to get it back, don’t chase after them. That defeats the purpose of fetch wherein your dog fetches something and gives it to you willingly, not you running after them saying “Give it!”
Here’s where the long leash comes in handy. Once your dog reaches the first item, call them to you by gently tugging on the leash. Reward your dog once they get close to you. At first, even without the item, but you can improve on that aspect over time.
This is my problem with one of my dogs. She likes to hold on to the item even after she’s gone back to me after fetching it, and her idea of fetch is when I tug on the toy to get it back from her.
When this happens, don’t force your dog. Instead, tell them to “Drop It” or “Give” in exchange for a treat. Chances are your dog will drop the toy because the treat is more appealing to them.
Or you can also use the second toy to distract them. Throw the second one, and once they chase after that, you can pick up the first toy and just use them in a cycle like that.
It works wonders, trust me.
As with our other training commands, constantly reinforce your dog’s fetching skills by doing it as much as you can. Don’t forget to keep training sessions short and sweet, around 5-15 minutes only.
Constantly change up the items that you play fetch with, so your dog won’t get tired of the items either. Plus, it teaches them that fetch can be played with a variety of items.
As your training progresses, you can start phasing out treats and only rewarding exceptional performances like prompt fetching and returning.
If you have any other questions about teaching your dog how to fetch, leave us a comment below!