How to Teach Your Dog to Fetch in 5 Easy Steps

Do you want to teach your dog to play ball?

Fetching is not only a fantastic way to spend some quality time with your dog, it’s also a simple and fun game you can play to help keep him fit. Ensuring dogs get enough exercise, attention, and mental stimulation is vital to their overall health and well-being.

With recent studies showing that many dogs have gained weight during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been more important to make sure your dog stays in good shape. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) suggests that veterinarians can introduce recovery as an option to dog owners whose overweight dogs need to lose weight.

Here are five easy steps to follow if you’re ready to teach your dog to fetch.

Select a suitable toy

Dog playing fetch in the park with a dog-safe frisbee

Photo courtesy: Public domain from Pixabay

Before teaching your dog to fetch, it is important to first choose an appropriate toy to use. Many pet owners assume that their dog’s favorite toy will be the best, but that’s not always the case.

The easiest way to determine what type of toy will work is to present your dog with a range of options. Balls are a good bet, but be sure to avoid anything small or slippery that they might accidentally swallow or choke on. Look for a toy that attracts your dog and is easy to throw.

If you don’t want to go out and buy the latest and greatest toy, the humble tennis ball should do the trick. You can also use a Frisbee, but check beforehand that it is safe for dogs. Although sticks may seem like a good option, many veterinarians advise against playing with sticks given the injuries they can cause, so it’s wise to avoid playing with them altogether.

1. Teach your dog to “come” and “hold”

In order to teach your dog to fetch, you must first teach him two basic commands: “come” and “hold”. Here’s what you need to do.

Begin by holding the toy you have chosen to use in front of your dog. You may need to sit or squat to be on their level. Then ask your dog to “come”. When your dog comes to take a closer look and smell the toy, reward him with praise and a treat. If necessary, use a leash to gently pull your dog towards you.

Then repeat this process, but have your dog put the toy in his mouth and give him lots of praise and a treat once he does. You can smear some peanut butter on the toy to encourage your dog to grab it.

Now that your dog associates putting the toy in his mouth with a reward, it’s time to teach him to hold on. Repeat the same process as before, but wait for him to hold the toy for a second before rewarding him. Practice several times, saying the command “hold” each time so your dog understands that you are giving him a verbal cue to hold the toy.

Once they’ve mastered holding the toy for a second, practice holding it gradually longer (two, then three seconds, etc.), always making sure to reward them when they follow through.

2. Practice with the toy in front of them

Dog practicing fetch with tennis ball in mouth

Photo courtesy: Public domain from Pixabay

Now that your dog is getting up to speed, you can focus on perfecting his “holding” skills. This time, place the toy directly in front of them. Ask your dog to “hold” the toy. When they pick it up and do it, praise them and give them a treat. Practice this until they get that stage right.

3. Place the toy further away

Dog playing fetch in the park with a tennis ball

Photo courtesy: Public domain from Pixabay

Once your dog has mastered step 3, place the toy further away from him. Ask your dog to “fetch” the toy and reward him when he picks it up and holds it in his mouth. When it’s clear that your dog understands the process, gradually begin to increase the distance to the toy.

4. Start throwing the toy at them

The fourth step is to start alternating between placing the toy on the ground and throwing it for him to retrieve. When you alternate between these two actions, be sure to keep saying the “fetch” command each time. Depending on how quickly your dog picks up this new trick, you may need to continue rewarding him with a treat.

5. Tell them to come and “let go”

Once your dog picks up the toy when you throw it, you can tell it to “come back” to you. To teach the “drop” command, simply offer your dog something of great value (usually a treat!) and when he drops the toy to take the treat, praise him…and the treat. Before you know it, your dog will have learned to play fetch in just 5 simple steps!

Tips to keep in mind

Dog in the field playing with a tennis ball

Photo courtesy: Public domain from Pixabay

Keep recovery sessions short and sweet at first

When your dog is learning the ropes of this game, it’s best to keep the training sessions short and sweet to avoid your dog’s frustration and fatigue. You can always spread out a few 5-10 minute sessions throughout the day if you’re both eager to play.

Practice playing with a ball launcher

Throwing a ball continuously can quickly tire even the strongest among us. So why not play ball with a ball launcher? The benefits of using a ball thrower to play fetch are twofold: it will reduce the tension you feel from continually throwing a ball and it will allow you to throw the ball further once your dog is an accomplished seeker.

Introduce new toys to keep things fun

Don’t let your fetch game get stale! Once your dog has figured out how to play, consider introducing new (but still safe!) toys for your dog to bring home.

Don’t Stress If Your Dog Is Really Unengaged

While some dogs have a natural instinct to fetch and won’t be bored fetching, others won’t be the least bit interested in the game. Persistence often pays off, but if your dog really doesn’t seem s ‘commit to fetch, don’t get discouraged. Just like us, different dogs enjoy different activities, so it’s perfectly fine if fetching isn’t for them!

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