Teaching your dog to fetch is fun, mentally stimulating and if done correctly, very rewarding for you and your dog.
Many people tell me that their dog loves to fetch, he just doesn’t like to bring it back. To me this is, chase, not fetch.
Starting this exercise from the beginning will give you the best chance of long term success. If you are already at a stage beyond the basics, then start there, see how you get on, if necessary go back a stage, so that you and your dog understand what is expected. Do not assume that your dog will realise that when you throw something that it will run out pick it up and run back, tail wagging, sit at your feet, look up at you holding on to the toy/article until you take it, ready to go again. A lot of dogs run out to the toy/article look at it, sniff it and then sniff something more interesting to them.
Let’s start with what to use.
I use an assortment of dog toys, such as knotted ropes, balls, dog training dummies. If you are going to use a ball, make sure that it is large enough that your dog cannot swallow it accidently! NO STICKS!
Something to consider, in my experience almost all dogs will pick up a toy or object by the part that you handle, (balls excepted). For example if you have a rope type toy, hold it by the middle section, your dog is more likely to pick it up at that point, inadvertently making it much easier to carry, so help your dog out by handling and throwing the toy at the point you want your dog to pick it up by.
Retrieve; do this in an area with as few distractions as possible, start inside in a hallway is ideal. Only when your dog is consistently bringing the toy back to you, do you move to the next area, the garden for instance, making sure you set up to ensure success and that you are in a position that your dog cannot run passed you with the toy.
Only do a few retrieves during each training session, it is imperative that you stop before your dog loses interest. Keeping them focused and enthused about the toy is achieved by maintaining their motivation to go and get the toy. If you feel that your dog has a very short attention span, then just do one, do something else and come back to the retrieve later. It is much better to do one good one, than 1 good then 1 bad!
With your dog’s attention, produce the toy moving it in front of your dog, the movement is what interests most dogs initially. With your dog concentrating on the toy, throw it, no more than about 6 feet in front of you. If your dog walks to it and picks it up, that is brilliant, but don’t say anything at all to your dog. Lots of dogs drop the toy as soon as they hear a voice and run back expecting a reward for a re-call. Rather than speaking, clap your hands; make smooching noises if needed, just resist the urge to speak! As soon as your dog has picked up the toy, start moving backwards away from it, clapping (and smooching); do not turn your back on your dog. Moving away will encourage your dog to come to you.
Squat down when your dog is 2 feet from you, lowering your body posture makes you much more approachable and often this is enough to for a dog to come really close. Do not lean forward or reach out to take the toy, if you do, you run the risk of your dog moving backwards away from you and this can be the start of your dog teaching you to chase it! Do not try and get your dog in to a sit, this puts pressure on a dog and can be misunderstood as being punished, keep it fun with no control.
When your dog gets to you with the toy in it’s’ mouth, then you praise quietly and sincerely, “good dog, well done”. Then if you can take the toy, repeating the exercise, throwing the retrieved toy immediately.
Resist the temptation to say to your dog, “hold on, not yet”, for example. Your dog has just picked something up with its mouth, brought it back to and let you have it, now it’s its turn. Every second you hold on to it, it time that your dog may decide not to bring it back the next time.
If your dog drops the toy, pick it up and throw it again immediately, don’t delay this. Don’t worry about patting your dog, just pick up the toy and throw it again, this is what your dog wants!
What to do if your dog does want to give the toy back?
Don’t try to take it from your dog forcibly; this will be self-defeating, next time your dog will make sure it is out of arms reach.
Try; folding your arms and/or turning your back on your dog, showing no interest in the toy, hopefully your dog will follow your body movement and then drop the toy. When this happens, be pleased, pick it up and throw it immediately.
Try; swapping the toy for a high value food treat, most dogs will let go of a toy for some great tasting food.
If your dog is determined to hold on to the toy then;
Start with 2 objects, if possible identical, waving the one and throwing it as described above, as it is picked up, clap and move backwards. As your dog approaches you, produce the second toy from your pocket, wave it about and throw it in and catching it yourself. Most dogs think, hang on what’s that, I want that and drop the first toy. When this happens immediately throw the second toy. Good practice is to throw it a very short distance behind you, so that your dog comes passed you, rather than pulling up short in front of you.
When your dog picks up the second toy, gently pick up the first toy and repeat the above, waving it, throwing it to yourself.
When doing the retrieve exercise, stop after perhaps 2 or 3 goes, it is important that your dog does not lose interest.
Progressing the exercise.
Only move to a more challenging area when your dog is consistently retrieving. Adding distractions make it harder for a dog to concentrate exclusively on the toy, so be aware of your surroundings and make sure you set you and your dog up to win. If not, don’t do it, there will always be another time to practice.