As a dog owner, you probably feel like playing fetch with your favorite canine companion is practically a given. Sticks. Frisbees. Balls. Toys. Whatever the object, a favorite pastime of man (and woman!) and best friend has been playing fetch.
So if your dog is, how should we say, less than perfect at playing the game, you might feel a bit frustrated. “Depending on the breed of your dog, fetching could come as natural to him as litter boxes to cats,” says Oscar E. Chavez, DVM, MBA, Member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition.
For example, Retrievers have been bred for their innate willingness to retrieve objects and bring them back to their owners. “Little must be done to encourage them to do so other than some verbal, ‘good boy’ praising,” says Dr. Chavez.
A miniature Poodle, on the other hand, is likely to look at an object you throw, and then look back at you with a face that seems to say, “You want me to do what?”
If your pup is more like the Poodle, you’ll probably need a bit more in your training arsenal than just some gentle prodding. Treats and clickers are a good place to start. “For fetch, your pet must already know the basic sit and stay commands, and then you should teach her how to come when called,” says Dr. Chavez. In order to do that (if your dog doesn’t already know how to), try asking your pet to sit. Then walk away from her, using the stay command as you do so. “Then ask her to ‘come’, and give her a treat on the ground when she arrives,” says Dr. Chavez.
Once stay and come are old hats for your dog, you can try throwing an item and encouraging the dog to go after it by including a treat (attached to the item) that they can access when they reach it. You could also race along with your pet to the thrown object, and then provide him with the treat once he picks it up.
“Once your dog is going after the item and picking it up, you may want to call her back to another location, and reward her for coming back to you,” says Dr. Chavez. “Finally, the command of ‘drop’ may be useful to teach her to let go once she’s retrieved the item and brought it back to you.”
Knowing the steps to help you train your dog to fetch is important but, as with any type of dog training, remaining positive and repeating the steps as often as it takes for your pup to learn will be crucial.
For more on how to use treats to properly train your pup, check out this story.
Cheryl Lock is an editor at Studio One. Her work has appeared online at Petside and Pet360, as well as in print in publications like Parents, Family Circle and Runner’s World. She lives in New York with her adorable rescue cat, Penny, and a rabbit named Nugget.