Jump To Section
How to Teach Your Dog to Fetch in 5 Steps
Teaching your dog to play a game of fetch is a relatively simple process.
- Choose a fetch toy that your dog likes. It doesn't matter if it's a tennis ball, plush toy, or frisbee, just make sure that it's a toy that your dog loves. The more excited your dog is about the toy, the easier your fetch training sessions will be.
- Introduce the concept of dropping the toy. Begin by teaching your dog the last step of the fetch process first—a training technique called "backchaining." First, wave your dog's favorite toy in front of its face until it gets noticeably excited. Then, give your dog the command to "take it" and allow it to grab the dog toy from your hand. Wait three to five seconds and then give your dog the command to "drop it." Your dog will most likely need some help learning what "drop it" means, so you'll have to hold out a dog treat near its nose to entice it to drop the toy. Once your dog drops the toy, promptly reward it with the treat.
- Teach your dog to master dropping the toy. Your goal is to gradually wean your dog off needing the treat to drop the toy. To accomplish this, once its toy is in its mouth, hold out your treat hand in an empty fist and give the "drop it" command. Open your hand to reveal there isn't a treat there, but then take a treat out of your pocket anyway to reward your dog. Over time your dog should learn to drop the toy without needing a treat at all. Slowly increase the amount of time between your dog taking the toy and when you say "drop it" so that it gets used to holding the toy in its mouth for a longer period of time.
- Introduce your dog to the "bait and switch" method. This is a technique using two toys that will teach your dog to fetch a toy and bring it back to you. To begin, throw the first toy and let your dog chase it. Once it grabs the toy in its mouth, get your dog's attention by calling its name and then throwing the second toy in the opposite direction from the first throw. Your dog should drop the first toy in order to go retrieve the second toy. While it's running after the second toy, it's your job to run and pick up its first toy. Then call its name again and repeat this sequence over and over. This method is essential to preventing your dog from playing keep-away once it grabs the ball.
- Teach your dog to bring one toy back to you. After a few successful training sessions with the bait and switch method, it's time to eliminate the second toy. Throw your dog's first toy and call its name as usual, but this time hold off on throwing the second toy. Wait for your dog to approach you with the first toy and once it starts getting closer, give it the "drop it" command and take out the second toy. Your dog should drop the first toy, and then you can throw the second toy. Repeat this sequence until your dog is bringing the first toy all the way back to you without needing a second toy as motivation. Once your dog has perfected this step, its fetch training is complete.
3 Tips for Training Your Dog to Fetch
If you’re having trouble teaching your dog how to fetch, there are a few simple dog training tips for making the process easier.
- Teach the "drop it" command in a narrow hallway. If your dog runs away and won't give up the toy when you're teaching the "drop it" command, avoid playing a game of tug of war with the toy by training indoors in a narrow hallway. When your dog has nowhere else to run, there are fewer opportunities for distraction and it will be easier for your dog to learn to drop the toy.
- Start by throwing the toy a short distance. If your dog isn't even chasing the toy or has trouble making it back to you after fetching it, start by throwing the toy a short distance and gradually work your way up to longer throws.
- Try using the "bring it" command. This command is useful if your dog makes a habit of dropping the toy before completely returning it. Take note of the location where your dog typically drops the toy and when it gets to that point yell "bring it.” Then wave your dog towards you using your arms and simultaneously walk backward away from your dog until it starts to follow you. Once your dog arrives at the spot where you were initially standing, yell the "drop it" command and walk back to that spot to retrieve the toy. Keep repeating this technique, and over time your dog should make it farther and farther before dropping the toy.