The fetch game, also known as “retrieve,” is a common activity where a dog is trained to pick up an object and bring it back to the owner. The object can be Fluffy’s favorite ball, a toy, a stick, or any other item that your dog can easily pick up and carry.
The fetch game is not only a form of exercise or just simple play for dogs to tire them out, but serves as a very good stimulant to use their natural instincts inherited in their DNA to run after, retrieve and carry back hunted prey.
Many dogs have a strong prey drive, which is their instinct to chase and catch small animals. Playing fetch can mimic this natural behaviour and provide a controlled outlet for this instinct. Dogs are naturally energetic animals, and fetching allows them to expend energy in a constructive way.
Some breeds have been bred specifically to retrieve, such as Retrievers, Spaniels, and some hounds breeds. In India the Rajapalayam, Chippiparais, Kanni dogs and even the very common Indian Pariah dog are known for their hunting skills and endurance. The fetch game can be a natural way to keep their instincts in check and help them to achieve a more balanced mind while providing physical exercise, keeping them active and energetic.
Playing Fetch can also be used to increase the bond with your dog and provide mental stimulation and serves as a powerful training tool to teach your dog commands such as “fetch,” “drop,” and “give.”
Let’s play Fetch!
- As with most of the exercises and behaviour you want to train with your dog start in an environment with little distractions, especially if you train your puppy to fetch. Using an enclosed space like a hallway, a fenced backyard or garden or even your living room helps during the early days of training. As your dog has nowhere else to go, the limited space helps your dog to remain focused on the task to retrieve the object and bringing it back to you.
- Usually most dogs will run and chase after a ball or object if you throw it, but there are a few couch potatoes, who will just sit and stare at you with big eyes, wondering why you would do such a thing as throwing away their favourite toy. In that case, try to get your dog excited about the toy, bounce it, play with it like it is the best thing in the world and roll it around in front of them. My dog Benny was such a case, but once I pretended to nibble at the ball as its the most yummy treat in the world, I got all of his attention.
- Once your dog chases after the ball full of excitement, its time for the next step: Make Fluffy understand that you want him to bring it back to you!
Thats where the tricky part of teaching Fetch! starts. Every dog is different, so you can try out a few methods to encourage it to bring back the ball to you.
- If your dog already knows Recall, then this method should work pretty well. Throw the object a short distance away from you, a few meters will be sufficient and then call your dog back, using the already established command clue like e.g. „Come!“ If he returns with the ball, well done! Reward and praise it full of enthusiasm and joy and a tasty mega treat! If you want you can slowly introduce an extra word like for example „Bring!“ to distinguish it from the simple Recall clue.
- If your dog excitingly chases after the ball, but wont return it, you can introduce a fun game to teach your dog that bringing back the toy to you is what you actually want. For this keep two of Fluffy’s favourite toys ready. Throw the first ball and let him run after it. The moment he reaches the ball, show him the second toy, Ducky, his beloved rubber duck to tease him.
- Fluffy may run back to you with the ball in his mouth to grab the rubber duck in your hand. If he does, reward him with the toy and lots of praise after he dropped the ball.
- But even if Fluffy is not interested to carry back the ball when he is running back to you to grab the chicken, just go ahead and throw beloved Ducky in another direction while you pick up the ball. Repeat the pattern of throwing one toy, then teasing him with the other. There is a good possibility that Fluffy will quickly get too excited to drop the toy and rather keeps it in his mouth when running back to you.
- Fluffy will have lots of run playing this game of chasing after one toy, bringing it back to you in anticipation and excitement to chase the other one. At that point you can make the rubber duck disappear and continue to play with just one toy.
Benny never had a problem to drop the toy he just retrieved as he is a foodie and the treat in my hand was a far better deal for him than Dino ever could be, so he just dropped it to get his snack. But every dog is different.
If the trade-in-for-a-treat-bribery doesn’t work for your dog you can teach your dog the „Drop it!“ command. For this simple hold your hand below its mouth with your palm facing up and say: „Drop it!“ which will result in your dog looking at you and having no clue what you want. Thats okay!
With one hand hold the ball or toy in your dogs mouth, giving it a very gently pull, just that your dog gets the idea and repeat the „Drop it!“ command. It might take a while but eventually your dog will release the ball. Then, as usual, shower it with heaps of praise and treats!
TIPS & TRICKS
- Similar as in basic Recall Training, you can use a long leash to entice your dog to come back to you once it catches the object. A simple, gentle tuck on the leash to get its attention, combined with lots of enthusiastic encouragement will get Fluffy the idea that running back to you with the ball will lead to praise, cuddles, treats and of course more and more fun tosses of his Ducky!
- If your dog doesn’t understand immediately that reeling in the leash will lead to something incredible great, don’t worry and don’t pull it back by force. Simply reel in the leash a bit and praise it when he makes a few steps closer to you, waive a treat and praise it. Never forget, we always set up your dog to succeed and even it will take a while, mini steps towards success are the key.
- Some dogs simply cant get off their ass, even their favourite toy is tossed. One trick is to get up and run with your dog after Ducky or Dino. Most dogs just cant resist running alongside you.
- Benny, when learned to fetch as a pup, once he had reached his favourite toy, Dino, the…you guessed right, the dinosaur, tossed it a bit around and chewed it in his mouth, but once he races back to me, he simply dumped Dino, not caring about it, he just wanted the praise, belly rub and snack. Pointing at the poor dinosaur, while telling him to „Bring Dino!“ eventually made him understand that he will only get a tasty snack if he brings back Dino to me.
- Fetch! is a game, so make it fun for your dog! Its not just a simple exercise of Fluffy run after an object and return with it, its the joy to have the ball or toy thrown over and over again! Put your enthusiasm in it and make it for your dog the best 5 to 10 minutes of play of the day.
- It sounds like a no brainer, but make sure that the object you throw is a toy your dog really likes. It will not chase after something which it doesn’t really connect or have interest in. When Benny and I lived in Berlin we visited sometimes those huge pet stores where they had heaps of toys and I allowed Benny to choose the toy he wanted. There is a huge variety of things which make your dogs heart beat faster, be it balls, rubber things, frisbees or it can be a simple stick. Try to connect with your dogs mind and view through its perspective what might be the perfect irresistible toy.
- Always end the Fetch game before your dog looses interest. Especially with puppies and their short attention span and energy level management, less is sometimes more. Make Fetch! a fun entertainment for you and your dog.