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How To Teach Your Dog To Fetch

Written by FOTP Team


Jack Russell with a tennis ball

Run, Fetch, Return, Repeat! Many dogs love to play fetch. If you want to teach your puppy, we’ve got a simple guide to get you started.

The Benefits Of Playing Fetch

“Our dog Holly quickly picked up the idea of playing Fetch. She loves the chase, so she will always bring back the ball. If we ignore it for a moment, she’ll bark at us to keep playing! She had so much energy when she was younger that we would walk up hills and she’d run down and up to retrieve a ball, over and over again!”

When your dog plays Fetch, they will be covering more miles and getting more exercise than a dog on a regular walk. When we say 'exercise', we don't just mean physical exercise, but brain exercise too. Every time they're 'hunting' their ball and bringing it back to you, they're using way more brain power than just running long. This means double the exercise, and more chance of a happily tired out dog. That’s why many owners want to teach their dogs to play this brilliantly exertive game.

Is It Easy To Teach A Dog To Fetch?

For some breeds, retrieval is second nature. Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Labradors and Coonhounds, we’re looking at you! They’ll quickly learn that the game is fun and rewarding, and that will prompt them to return to you with the ball or toy. They wanna go again...

This isn’t always the case. For some breeds and personalities, getting hold of the toy is way too much fun. If you throw their favorite toy, well, they’re going to grab it and keep it. 

And for some dogs, getting another dog’s retrieval toy is a game in itself. They might steal a ball and hide or hold onto it, especially if they want to play with the dog or the owner themselves.

So Fetch is more natural for some dogs than others, but take heart: it’s a game that most can learn with enough persistence.

How To Teach Your Puppy To Play Fetch

The first thing you’ll need is a toy that your puppy really loves. You know the one. It’s always in strange places and looking more bedraggled by the day! That toy. Bring it with you, and start your training outdoors. 

Some trainers put their dog or toy on leashes and this can be useful if you’re in a busy area or you aren’t confident that your dog will return when called.

Play with your pup and their toy, engaging in tug-of-war and moving the toy around like prey; this will help to engage your dog’s interest. For some very high energy dogs, tug-of-war could result in their energy levels getting higher and higher though. In these cases, hiding the toy (even holding it behind your back or putting in your pocket) and asking them to find it, could be an alternative solution to get them engaged with their ball.

When you throw it a short distance, they will go to it – and if that’s not enough of a reward, use a clicker and give your dog a treat for following the thrown toy.

Next, call your dog and when they come to you, reward them by continuing to play with them and the toy. Most puppies love playing tug-of-war with their owner. Continue throwing the toy and using the clicker and treat when your dog goes to it; they will come back towards you for a treat. 

As your dog becomes used to the game, they will be motivated to bring the toy back to you for another go.


What if your dog won’t let go of the toy?

Using the positive training method, you need to offer a better alternative to your dog. Don’t chase them to retrieve the ball or toy; they’ll think this is a brilliant game.

Teach the “drop” command by placing a treat on the floor near your dog’s nose. They’ll learn to look for the treat on command. Next time they have a toy in their mouth, use “drop” and a treat to encourage them to drop the toy and take the treat instead.

This takes practice. It’s a difficult one for your dog, especially if they are equally fond of food and playing!

What if your dog drops the toy before they return to you?

If your dog starts coming back when called with the toy in their mouth, but drops it before they’ve gotten to you, this could be because they don’t like having their toy taken off them. If you pull the toy out their mouth or even give the ‘drop’ command every time they return, they could become reluctant to return the toy to you. If this happens, make sure you’re giving your dog a big reward before they have to relinquish their toy. Let them know they’re a really good boy (or girl), give them a ruffle of the fur or cuddle, the more pronounced the congratulations are, the less likely they’re going to be to keep the toy from you. 

When playing Fetch, you can substitute another toy for the treat. When your dog returns with a toy clamped in their jaws, throw another one. Their “chase” instinct will be fired up, and your dog will learn to drop the first toy and race after the next one. 

Choosing Fetch Toys For Your Dog

There is a whole market filled with different toys and accessories for dogs who love playing fetch. Here are some favorites – and how to use them safely:

A ball thrower

This low-tech piece of equipment is just an arm-shaped piece of plastic with a ‘cup’ shaped scoop for holding a ball. It enables you to throw a ball MUCH farther than usual, so it’s great for super-energetic dogs, and gives you longer breaks between throwing. But be wary of tiring out your dog too much, particularly when they are young (with developing joints) or older (with arthritic tendencies). 

A ball launcher

This is a machine which pops out balls – like the ones used on tennis courts. We don’t recommend using it on full-pelt. This type of machine might encourage your dog to lose focus and chase random balls, rather than fetching one and bringing it back. 

A toy with treats inside

You can buy hard wearing dog toys which can be stuffed with treats. Easy to throw and strong in doggy jaws, these toys are great for training pups in Fetch.

A Frisbee or Kong Flyer

What’s special about this shape? It’s easy to throw and catches the air currents to go further. Its descent is smoother and slightly slower, which allows a speedy dog to jump and catch it. Loads of fun for dogs who like to leap!

A dog float

When you go to the beach, it’s tempting to pick up sticks for your dog. Don’t do that: invest in a dog float instead. These toys look like Coastguard floats or sometimes bright fish – in a chunky shape and made from lightweight foam or rubber, they’ll float in the sea with high visibility. They’re essential for water-lovers like spaniels!

Stick and stone substitutes

You can buy some really fun stick substitutes, including rubber sticks which bounce, squeak, or even have funny faces. Surprisingly, you can now find “stone” substitutes too! Perfect if your dog likes to rescue stones from the rivers.