How to teach your dog to fetch

How to teach your dog to fetch

Author: Canadian Living


How to teach your dog to fetch

One of the things I like to teach early in training is the fetch. I don't see this as formal training but as a fun game to play during the day. The fetch has immense value in training, however. Dogs will naturally chase any attractive object or small creature, and even large ones. But bringing a captured prize back to us involves an act of willing service. This is an attitude we want in the dog.

Here is how to teach the fetch to a young puppy
Crumple up a sheet of paper to use as a ball. I sit down with a pad of paper so that I can crumple up a fresh sheet into a ball whenever I need one.

Put the puppy on the light line and get down on the floor with it. I like to sit about three feet away from a wall in the kitchen. Sometimes I will put my legs out and press my feet against the wall, creating a triangle space between my legs where I position the puppy.

Tuck the line under you, leaving just enough slack for the puppy to chase the paper ball. You don't need much slack, perhaps three feet or so, because you want to keep the dog in the triangular space formed by your legs.

Wiggle the paper ball in front of the pup to excite its interest, and then throw the ball against the wall so that it bounces back toward your lap. Crumpled up paper makes a good ball for beginning to teach the fetch indoors for three reasons: It won't damage anything, it is light and easy to retrieve, and it will not snag in a puppy's needlelike teeth. Throwing the paper ball against the wall and having it bounce around animates it and makes it a more attractive object to chase.

• When the pup catches the ball, entice it back to you by cooing and by clapping your legs with your hands.

• If the pup does not return, use the light line to make it do so by tugging sneakily on the line from under your leg. Tug with little pops that are just forceful enough to encourage the pup to come to you.

When the pup returns, praise it heartily and pet it.

• Hook a finger under the pup's flat collar, and with the other hand, begin to wiggle the ball in its mouth to encourage it to release it. Say "aus" or "out" while you do this to teach the dog the signal for releasing an object from its mouth.

• If the pup pulls and refuses to release its "prey," do not tug on the paper ball. Let the hand wiggling the ball move with the pup's mouth, and instead hold the pup in place with the finger on the other hand that is hooked under the collar. Never exert pressure on the pup's mouth. The pup will eventually make a chewing motion with its mouth, and you can pop the ball out. If the paper gets soggy, simply crumple a fresh sheet into a new ball.

• As soon as the pup releases the ball, say "free" and throw and the ball against the wall again immediately as a reward for the release. The intimacy of this game, with the puppy chasing and bringing the ball into your lap, where it can snuggle and be petted, and immediately getting a fresh chase soon as it releases the ball will build immediate, eager compliance later on, whenever you need the dog to let go of something in its mouth.

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Excerpted from Let the dog decide by Dave Stavroff. Copyright 2007 by Dave Stavroff. Excerpted by permission of Harper Collins Canada. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


It is perfectly normal for a dog to refuse to release objects from its mouth that it has captured. It is also normal for growling to accompany refusal. This is a fundamental behaviour in the dog that has to do with survival in the wild. The most compelling argument for the dog to release an object is that the release will immediately produce the chase game and another chance to capture the abject. This satisfies the dog's instinctive prey drive.

Playing the game of "give it to me and I will give it back or give you something better" with a young pup will prevent possessiveness problems in the future. If the dog is very possessive, I reward releasing the ball with the best possible treats. When training a dog that is tough or dominant or both, I trade treats for objects for an extended period, sometimes until the dog is a year old.

What not to do when teaching fetch
Never pull on something that is in a dog's mouth unless you intend to protection-train the dog with an expert trainer. Exert any pressure necessary to keep the dog from jerking away from you (again, this should always be the minimal pressure required) with one or two fingers hooked under its flat collar, and do not grab or hold the dog directly. Let the dog pull against the flat collar as hard as it wants while you wiggle the object loose from its mouth.

Do not play tug with your dog, especially if you have children. This will encourage the dog to bite and so should only be done in protection training with the participation of an expert trainer.

One of the most counterproductive things that people do with dogs is to tease them during the fetch game by pretending to throw the ball or fetch object and then holding it behind their backs. Repeated teasing in this way makes a dog prone to aggressive mouthing, nipping, and even biting to protect its prized possession and to refusing to return the object during fetch. The dog will do unto you as you have done unto it.

If you offer a ball or object to the dog, you must throw it. Hiding or withholding it is cruel to the dog and creates problems that the dog may pay for with its life, if it bites someone seriously.

As your pup becomes larger and better at the fetch game with the paper ball, you can switch over to a Hacky Sack, the small beanbag like toy that kids kick in the air with their feet. You will probably not want to throw the Hack Sack against the wall. You can toss it across the room, or at this point, you can move the game outdoors, gradually increasing the distance that you throw. You can stay with the Hacky Sack while the puppy is small and then transition to a rubber chew toy like the Kong or a sturdy rubber ball, like a lacrosse ball, that the dog cannot compress in its mouth. Never use a tennis ball or anything similar that the dog may choke on.

Always stop the game of fetch while the dog is still excited about playing. This will maintain its enthusiasm for the game the time you play. Pick up the fetch object and put it away. Do not leave it down for the dog. This is a game that you want the dog to be dependent on you to play, and the fetch object (in the dog's mind, the prey object) must belong to you and you alone. The dog must earn the pleasure of capturing it again by returning it enthusiastically to you.

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Excerpted from Let the dog decide by Dave Stavroff. Copyright 2007 by Dave Stavroff. Excerpted by permission of Harper Collins Canada. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.



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How to teach your dog to fetch