One of the most popular requests I receive from dog owners is “fetch”. The most common complaint, “He goes to get the ball, but won’t bring it back!” In many dogs, this is easy to fix. It just takes a little know how, and a little patience.
Keep in mind the dog thinks his fetch toy is a valuable object – and you are trying to steal it. After he learns to play fetch, he will eventually come to understand that giving you the ball is the only way to get you to throw it again. For now, he will need convincing to release his valuable toy.
Ok, to begin you will need two toys the dog considers identical. Ready? Holding the second toy behind your back, wave the first toy around; squeak it (if it squeaks). Move the toy AWAY from the puppy. When the puppy tries to get the toy, drop it on your right side. The toy should not be more than 12 inches away from you. If you have sufficiently interested the puppy, he will pick up the toy right away. Do not try to touch the toy, or show any interest in the toy. Bring the second toy – the one you have been holding behind your back – forward. Wiggle, squeak, and wave the second toy around. Your goal is to get the puppy to drop the first toy.
As soon as the puppy drops the first toy, you drop the second toy. Drop the second toy away from the first toy. So, if the puppy drops the first toy on your right, you drop the second toy on the left – or vice versa. You want to be able to pick up the first toy without the puppy noticing.
Congratulations! You have just played fetch. Yes, you did not throw the toy, but that will come with practice. Continue to play the game, using the toy in your hand to get the puppy to drop the toy in his mouth. When the puppy is good at this exercise, you may begin to “throw” the toy two feet away. Slowly increase the distance you toss the toy. Use two toys until the puppy drops the toy at your feet before you show him the other one.
If your puppy immediately runs away when he gets the toy, put him on leash. Do not use the leash to make him come to you, just use the leash to keep him from running away. The puppy must come to you willingly.
It is important that you do not reach for the toy in the dog’s mouth while you are training. This will cause the puppy to run away. Wait. Be patient! It may take several days of practice before the puppy begins to get the hang of it. Your patience will pay off when you can enjoy a game of fetch with your happy, cooperative dog.
Tricia Fagan, CPDT-KA