Fetch is a great game to play with your dog and also a great way for them to get exercise. This can be a fun way for you and your dog to bond as well as giving them some mental stimulation. Some dogs naturally love to play fetch while others simply don’t seem to have any interest. Some dogs love chasing the ball but they end up just sitting by themselves chewing it. And this really ruins the game of fetch! In some cases you may have a pup that has no interest in chasing or retrieving the toy. In this post we’re going to walk you through how to teach a dog to fetch a toy.
Whether they’re fans of fetch or not, they’ll begin to love this game after following our simple 6 steps.
Today we’re going to cover a few simple steps that you can take in order to train your dog to fetch and retrieve. A couple of things you’ll need before we get started… You’ll need some tasty treats, a clicker, and/or some fun toys. Without further ado, let’s jump into how to teach a dog to fetch a toy!
Step #1: Teaching Your Dog To “Come”
First things first, your dog needs to learn how to come when you call them. So how do you do that?
First you’re going to want to move a few feet away from your dog and crouched down to their level. Hold your hand up and encourage them to touch your hand with their nose. As soon as they do what you want, this is where we are going to encourage the behavior. Use the clicker, give them a treat, and praise. When they complete the task you will click, say “good boy/girl”, and then give them a treat.
Next you are going to continue to repeat this until they start to understand what you want. This is probably going to take quite a few repetitions (15-20). Once they are familiar with that then move further and further away and keep repeating. As soon as they understand the behavior start using a marker word/command. The most common command is “come” and you’ll want to repeat the clicks, treat and praise process.
Once you can reliably call your dog over, you’re ready to start turning this behavior into a game. This is where the fun of learning how to teach a dog to fetch a toy really starts.
Step #2: Introduce The Game Of Fetch
Now that we understand how to teach your dog how to “come”, next is to introduce your dog to the game of fetch. Pick out a good toy and introduce your dog to the toy. Place the toy near your dog and as soon as they get close click, praise, and give them a treat. If they touch their nose to the toy, click, praise heavy and give them a treat. Continue this process until your dog really likes this toy.
Essentially what you’re doing here is you’re trying to get your dog to think of this toy as something that rewards them. Next you’ll want to start moving the fetch toy around. Now that your dog is starting to figure out that touching the fetch toy means treats.
You’ll want them to learn that they have to move to get it. Don’t throw the toy yet, simply hold the toy in different directions. Move it around your head, move it around to different rooms in your home and encourage your dog to touch it. Every time they touch it, click, treat and praise. Continue this for at least 15 times while you are moving the toy. This is the starting process in learning how to teach a dog to fetch a toy.
Step #3: Get Your Dog Holding Their Toy In Their Mouth
Now it’s time to start rewarding your dog when they actually put the toy in their mouth. This can take a little bit of time on your end because the key here is to make sure that your dog’s behavior is rewarded when it starts to look like the behavior that you want to see.
One of the techniques we use when training our dogs is first, we place the toy on the ground. When your dog moves from touching their nose to the toy and begins using their mouth, it’s time to click, praise and give them a treat. Each time they get a little closer to biting the toy continue to reward.
What we’re doing now is evolving from them simply touching the toy to actually putting it in their mouth. Now if they do end up picking up the toy, act like it’s the best thing you’ve ever seen. Don’t forget to click and give treats!
The big thing to remember here is that throughout all these different steps, you’re going to want to make sure that you are giving your dog the reassurance that they’re looking for. So if they’re on the right track, make sure that you’re giving them praise, treats and clicks.
Step #4: Get Your Dog To Bring You The Toy
At this point your dog should understand that touching the toy and placing the toy in their mouth means they’re getting some type of reward. The next phase is probably the hardest part about teaching your dog how to fetch.
What you want to do now is you want to throw the toy a few feet away from you and when they pick it up, click, praise and give them a treat. Just like we’ve been doing in previous steps. You’re going to continue this until they understand what they’re supposed to do. Toss the toy a few feet away, then encourage your dog to bring it back to you.
Next, start to throw the toy further across the room. Your pup should start to understand that they get treats when they go get their toy and bring it back to you. At this point you can throw the toy a little further away. It might help to find a place in your house that has an open concept, maybe even a hallway, that you can toss the toy down.
When they end up bringing the toy back to you this is when you’re going to click, praise, and give treats. Every time you have a successful fetch and retrieve you’re going to offer treats and praise. Then toss the toy a little bit further. Repeat this as many times as necessary for your dog to understand what this game is all about.
Here is a quick demonstration video of steps 2-4 on how to teach a dog to fetch a toy by Sophia Yin:
Step #5: Add A Marker Word (Optional)
Now, this step is definitely up to you. If you would like to add a marker word now’s the time to do so once your dog is successfully enjoying the game. A marker word is a word that you use when your dog completes the task that you trained them to do. For example, when you throw out the ball you can yell “Go get it” or “fetch” or “retrieve”.
Whatever the word may be, be sure to only select one that you want to use. If you choose to use a market work all you have to do is say the word before you throw the toy. When your pup completes the task, lay on heavy with treats and praise and say something like “good fetch”, or “good retrieve”, depending on the marker word you selected.
It’s not completely necessary to say any of these marker words. By this point your dog has probably already learned the game itself with or without the verbal cues. However, in some cases it’s helpful to have a word that your dog understands.
Step #6: Take The Game Of Fetch Outside!
The last step is taking the game outside. Up to this point you’ve been playing fetch inside, where things are nice, quiet, and without any distractions. Now it’s time to head out into the world where there’s plenty of distractions. In the beginning, you’ll want to start in a closed off area such as a fenced backyard. This way you can make sure your dog is safe and free from major distractions.
If you don’t have a big enough yard, try a quiet park and go during times where there aren’t other dogs or people. If your dog isn’t too well behaved off leash yet then you’ll need to teach them how to be safe when of their leash. Otherwise, your dog isn’t going to truly be able to enjoy the game of fetch as it’s intended.
Be sure to always bring some treats with you as you’re now asking your dog for a little more effort and they need a reward for everything to sink in. Also be sure to keep up the excitement about the game. When you’re outside all you’re going to do is play fetch like you were playing at home.
Tossing it a little further each time and using clicks, praise, treats as well as any marker words if you’ve decided to use them. Then, rewarding your dog for successfully bringing the ball back.
That is it! You have successfully learned how to teach a dog to fetch a toy.
Go forth and train your pup to be the best fetcher on the block!