You throw a ball and encourage your dog to go and get it, but he comes back without it. The ball gets dropped somewhere on the return route. What is the secret to training your dog to fetch?
Fetch is more than a fun activity you can have with your pet. It is a vital training exercise for police dogs who are required to locate weapons, drugs, law breakers and missing people. It is used by hunting dogs to go out and retrieve ducks and other prey.
Fetch is a natural activity for dogs that must go out, find food, and return it to the rest of the pack. Clearly, this is an activity that should be easy for dogs to learn, but some people find it’s not that easy.
The first step in training a dog to fetch requires that you get the dog interested in the item. If you just throw the toy without introducing him to it first, and expect him to retrieve it, you might be disappointed.
The dog needs to get excited. You can get him into that frame of mind by showing him the toy, letting him sniff it, and then hide it behind your back. Repeat this a few times, even letting him try to take it from you. Pull it away and hold it out of his reach but still in his view.
Ask him if he wants the toy and he will get excited. That’s when you throw the toy and tell him to “get it” or “fetch”, whichever term you prefer.
At the beginning of this exercise, he might go to the toy and play with it in place, rather than returning it. For dogs that ignore the toy, choose a toy that is designed to be filled with dog treats, like the Kong toy.
Once the dog has touched the toy, call him to “come”. Some dogs will automatically bring the toy with them, but others won’t. After several tries and this method doesn’t work, move on to this method.
Put your dog on a long leash that allows him to go a few feet from you. Throw the toy and tell him to “fetch”. When he gets the toy, call him back and give the leash a gentle tug and pull him towards you. If he repeatedly drops the toy, try using the “forced retrieve” method to train your dog to fetch.
This is not as bad as it sounds. You throw the toy and then walk your dog to the item. Encourage him to pick it up. Praise him. If you like, give him a treat. The second phase involves having your dog bring the toy back. With the toy in his mouth, lead him back to here you started. Again, reward him for carrying the ball.
When your dog repeatedly obeys these steps, go back to throwing the toy and commanding him to fetch it. At this point, he should understand the command and do it perfectly. Just remember to keep it fun while training your dog to fetch.
Francis N. Tressler