Although it always looks so easy on TV and the movies, knowing how to fetch doesn't come naturally to many dogs, which is too bad since it can be a great way to give your dog exercise in a relatively small area that you both can enjoy. However, with a well laid out plan and patience playing fetch can soon become part of any dog's repertoire. As with so many undertakings, it's best not to overlook the details. What shall we throw to teach "fetch"? We are looking for two main characteristics; these are safety and excitement. Make sure the toy or ball you are using is not so small as to present any kind of choke hazard. On the other hand, we want to provide something that your dog will be excited to chase right from the start. Of course this will depend on your dog and what toys he likes. And don't forget, when you're starting out, it's OK to make the toy more exciting by applying something like a bit of plain yogurt, peanut butter, or chicken broth to it.
Now that we have an interesting toy, the next step is getting your dog to go get it after it is thrown. This speed that this step occurs is quite different for different dogs. Some dogs will head straight for that toy as soon as it leaves your hand. Other dogs will just stare at you, trying to figure out why would you throw away a perfectly good toy? Do you have something better that you are going to take out to show me now? For these dogs, we apply the tried and true method of getting to our goal in small steps. Get your dog excited about the toy, by moving it around a bit with some excitement. Then toss it just a foot or so away. Praise your dog if he is just paying attention to the toy's movement. If you have built up enough excitement he will take a step or two towards the toy, either now or after a few repetitions. If he doesn't, reach out to the toy and leaving it on the floor or ground, animate it a bit. This should get your dog interested enough to chase after the toy and now you can work on increasing the distance the toy is thrown. Reward here can be praise, a quick tug-of-war game with the toy or treats, depending on the dog.
Okay, your dog is getting all kinds of positive feedback for chasing after the toy, now it's time he learns to bring it back to you. Calling your dog will usually get him to come back to you, but he may not realize that he is supposed to bring the toy back with him. You may have to shorten the distance, or even put the toy back into his mouth and then move back away from him before it all begins to click. Once he has well learned everything up to this point, you can withhold the praise and/or reward until he comes back with the toy. If he runs off with the toy, don't chase him (and create a new game!). Simply wait for him to get focused back on you. We want to teach that the fun happens when he follows the steps we laid out for him. The final step of course it to teach your dog to actually give the toy up to you when he brings it back. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this. One is to say "drop it" and wait for him to drop the ball, and then reward him. If this is all it takes for your dog, consider yourself lucky. For the rest of us, using either another toy or treat that you have ready to divert his interest and then cause him to drop the ball which will work fine. One other piece of advice is to be cautious when you bend down to get the dropped ball. Some dogs see this as just another part of the game and will happily snatch the ball away from you. Of course this isn't anything personal, just another game! The easiest way to communicate to your dog that snatching back is not part of the game, it to have him sit once he drops the ball. As always, be sure to let your dog know how happy you are with him when he gets this final piece of the puzzle. As with many dog training events, it may seem to go slowly at first, but once your dog "gets it" you will always have a great way to pass the time together.
Scott Clearfield has always been a dog enthusiast and currently has two rescue dogs that keep him busy. Over the years, Scott has learned about dogs and dog training from books, trainers, as well as his own dogs, of course. He always enjoys making happier dogs and dog owners. For a free "Fundamentals of Training" PDF download and more information on training and caring for your dog, visit his site at => http://www.betterdogsfaster.com