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Home > Dogs > How To Teach a Dog To Fetch: Vet-Approved Tips & Tricks

How To Teach a Dog To Fetch: Vet-Approved Tips & Tricks

weimaraner dogs playing fetch in the lake

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Veterinarian, MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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There’s a saying that old dogs can’t learn new tricks. That is untrue, and there’s nothing more special than your dog spending time with you and being praised for learning new things.

Teaching your dog to fetch is an engaging and exciting way to bond, plus it’s always an accomplishment when you both achieve your goal, and that ball or toy is brought back to you seamlessly. Read on to discover all the tips and tricks needed to teach your pup to fetch!

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Preparation: Before you Start

When teaching your dog to fetch, there’s some preparation involved. You can use any toy your dog loves to play with to fetch, but ideally, a ball or a rope toy (which is easy to throw) should be used.

Your dog also needs a good recall; when fetching, your dog must listen and return to you with the object, so teaching them to return when you call their name is a fundamental part of playing fetch.

Familiarizing your dog with a clicker is also a good way to prepare them to learn how to fetch. Clickers are small tools that emit a clicking noise when pressed, which can be used to signal and reinforce to your dog that they’ve done a task right and will be rewarded.

Teaching the game of fetch will actually require several smaller steps to be mastered, running after the toy, picking it up, returning it to you and dropping it.

australian shepherd dog in training
Image Credit: Melounix, Shutterstock

Familiarize Your Dog With a Clicker

Firstly, letting your dog sniff and see the clicker gives them an idea of what to look out for; once the clicker comes out, you want your pup to be at attention and be ready to get a treat!

Click the clicker, and immediately give your dog a treat. Doing this a few times will associate the “click” of the clicker with a treat to your dog, so when they hear that specific click, they’ll expect a treat.

This has then conditioned your pup to know that click = treat, and once this connection is made, the clicker can be used as a positive reinforcement when teaching them how to fetch.

divider-paw How To Teach Your Dog To Fetch in 3 Steps

1. Introduce Your Dog to the Toy To Be Fetched

Teaching fetch with your dog’s favorite toy is a winning way to get (and keep) them interested. Balls, rope toys, and toys designed to be thrown like these Frisco Squeaky Fetch Balls are all excellent choices for fetch, but ultimately, a favorite that can be thrown easily is the best.

Most dogs will instinctively run after the toy, which is precisely what we want them to do. Once the toy is grabbed, give them a well done and move on to the next stage.

owner using dog toy to play with his pet
Image Credit: Alena Veasey, Shutterstock

2. Teach the “Drop” Concept

Once your dog has had a play with the toy, start to recall them when they catch it after it’s thrown. As they return to you, get your clicker and treat ready to reward the recall.

Next we need them to drop the toy so that we can continue the game. Offering a high value treat will usually result in the toy being dropped. When they drop the toy, say “drop” loudly, click, and give another treat.

Some dogs will pick up on this immediately, and others will take a bit longer to associate the action of dropping the toy with the command and the treat, but eventually, your dog will bring the toy to you and drop it on the command.


3. Throw the Toy a Short Distance – Begin Incorporating “Fetch!”

Let your dog master the “drop” command first, and continue playing with them as you have been, throwing the toy and recalling them. This is fetch in a nutshell, but to teach them the “fetch” command, have them focus on the toy before you throw it.

When you throw the toy and the dog starts to move after it, say “fetch” loudly and with excitement, then let your dog race after it, bring it back, and drop the toy to you. This will earn an instant click and treat, with lots of praise! Repeat the command and the actions, and soon your dog will know that “fetch” means “If I bring this toy back, they’ll give me a treat!”.

To test the command, play fetch again but don’t reward with a click and treat every time; you want your dog to keep the anticipation of a treat in the forefront of their mind, but don’t hesitate to give lots of praise and pets.

golden retriever playing fetch with ball throw toy
Image Credit: Katrin B., Pixabay

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The 10 Tips & Tricks for an Easier Fetch

There are a few things that we can do as excited owners to help our pups grasp the concept of fetching more easily:

1. Make sure the command is given in an excited, positive way

This is a fun game, so be enthusiastic and let your dog know your intentions with your voice and body language.

Dog consistent training
Image Credit: DestinyWiens, Unsplash

2. Change things up a little from time to time

Dogs get bored too, and even an exhilarating game of fetch can get pretty dull quickly. Play hide and seek, practice other skills such as targeting or just have a good run around together before returning to the game.


3. Tease your dog with the toy

Holding the toy out of reach and making a big fuss of it can help to gain your dog’s interest and get them engaged and excited.

Woman teasing husky with toy
Image Credit: Yaroslav Shuraev, Pexels

4. Make the chase rewarding

If your dog doesn’t seem interested in the toy, switch it to one with a yummy treat inside.


5. Incorporate the ‘wait’ command

Dogs are very intelligent creatures; the second command can help some dogs connect the dots and keep them interested for longer.

dog training
Image By: Piqsels

6. Chase them

If your dog is reluctant to run after the toy, chasing it yourself with exuberant enthusiasm can signal to them that the game is amazing and that they must try it themselves!


7. Be consistent

While the commands “fetch,” “fetch it,” and “go fetch” all sound and mean the same to us, that isn’t true for dogs. While they can understand language, consistently using one command word or phrase can help your dog know what you want them to do much faster and more efficiently.

french bulldog playing a toy outdoor
Image By: christels, Pixabay

8. Use praise

You want your dog to know they’ve been very clever and that you’re pleased with them, so using praise and affection is a fantastic way to reinforce their positive connection to the game.


9. Surprise them

Mixing up the game by surprising your dog with fetch is an excellent way to keep them sharp and test that they understand the command and aren’t only responding to the situation. For example, instead of playing fetch at the park (which is where you might usually play it), have a surprise game in the garden.

white fluffy dog playing with pooch perks plush toy
Image By: Pooch Perks

10. Fetch by name

This tip is for more advanced doggies who have mastered the fetch game and enjoy it. Using a specific toy’s name, such as “fetch the ball” or “fetch the rope,” can add an element of suspense and choice to the game for your dog and keep them on its toes.

When teaching your dog to fetch, consistency, praise, and rewards are all incredibly important to reach your goal, but going at your dog’s pace and assessing how engaged they are is the key to a fun, notable, and ultimately fruitful game of fetch for both you and your pup.


Featured Image Credit: Eirik_Raudi, Pixabay

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