Everyone loves to watch a dog chase a ball, Frisbee, or even a stick. But getting them to bring it back to you and willingly give it up is another story. However, playing fetch with your dog at the park can greatly increase your bond with your dog and help then get some much-needed exercise. If you’re wondering what it takes to teach a dog to fetch a ball for you, look no further. We have the solution for you, and it’s only four easy steps!
My dog Marty is a beautiful two-year-old golden retriever and he loves to play fetch with me every day that the hot California sun will allow it. However, things weren’t always this way.
When I adopted Marty, he was only 8 weeks old, and I didn’t have any prior experience with dog training except by watching some videos on YouTube.
I thought I’d get a dog and he would instinctively just fetch and have perfect recall, and everything would work out smoothly (laughing at myself now for thinking such silly things).
If you have a dog that is still learning to fetch and maybe doesn’t even consider the idea of dropping a toy, I have some advice that helped me and my dog go from dreading fetch training to having a blast at the park.
Teaching your dog to play fetch is a great way to have some fun and get some exercise. It can be a bit tricky to teach, but with these 4 easy steps, you’ll be able to have your furry friend fetching like a pro in no time!
What to consider before you start practicing
Picking the right fetch toy
Choosing the right toy for your dog’s game of fetch can be a bit of a challenge. After all, there are so many options out there! Don’t worry there are plenty of ways to figure out which toy will work best for both you and your dog.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting a toy for your furry friend: size, sturdiness, and fun factor. First, you’ll want to make sure the toy is an appropriate size for your dog. If it’s too small, they may choke on it; too big, and they won’t be able to pick it up.
Next, if your dog gets easily bored with their toys consider subscribing to a monthly dog toy box, this way you can surprise them with new toys often and keep them engaged in the game.
Last, you’ll want to choose a toy that is durable and can stand up to lots of chewing (because let’s face it, that’s half the fun of fetch). Finally, make sure the toy is something your dog will actually enjoy playing with – after all, that’s the whole point of the game!
Dogs love a lightweight ball or Frisbee and most dogs enjoy catching these types of toys. Something that will float is also a good choice if you plan on playing fetch near water. With these guidelines in mind, you’re sure to find the perfect toy for your pup in no time.
Make sure your dog has the right nutrition for the level of activity they are getting.
Fetch is a great way to get your dog moving and exercising, but it’s important to make sure they are getting the right nutrition to fuel their bodies. Dogs that are active need a diet that is high in protein and fat to help them maintain their energy levels.
You may also want to consider investing in some joint supplements if your dog is older or has any preexisting conditions that might make fetch a little more difficult for them.
Joint supplements can help to reduce inflammation and pain in the joints, making it easier for your dog to move around and play. With the right nutrition and supplements, your dog will be ready to take on whatever game of fetch you throw their way!
Now that you’ve considered all of the necessary factors, it’s time to get started on teaching your dog how to fetch!
Step 1: Teach Your Dog How to Drop a Toy
Are you ready to teach your pup to fetch with the best of them? Let’s dive in!
Ever had to pry your dog’s mouth open to get a ball back? 🙋♀️ Yep, that’s not teaching them anything.
If you want a dog to drop a toy or ball you need to make them decide for themselves that they want to let go of the toy through reward and praise for that positive behavior.
The best way to do this is to have another toy! I know I’m a genius right? 😏 But in all seriousness, this is what made my dog learn to drop a ball.
My husband plays tennis so in our garage there is a huge Costco pack of tennis balls, like hundreds of tennis balls. So, I just grabbed a few cans and went into my backyard, and started throwing them around.
Marty (my dog) would chase the first toy, and then I’d pick up the second toy and throw it a short distance. Basically, what I was doing was helping him realize that tennis balls are not a limited resource worth fighting over.
Eventually, he would get the ball I threw, come back to me and drop it, and start running for the next ball to be thrown. This is because he was becoming conditioned to expect another ball once he dropped the first one.
That’s why the first step to teaching a dog to fetch is to teach your dog how to drop a toy. That way the game is enjoyable for both you and your dog.
If your dog is really food motivated you could try to do this with a treat in your hand. Show your dog the treat and then hold the treat close to their nose. When they start to sniff at the treat, say the command “drop it” as your dog drops the toy.
These are the best ways to consistently teach a dog to drop a fetch toy on command. You should repeat this process a few times until your dog likes dropping the toy for you. You should be able to do this pretty easily with a food-motivated puppy.
But if your start with your dog’s favorite toy it may be too difficult, so try to start with a low-value toy and gradually increase the difficulty until the dog understands to drop even their favorite toy.
Step 2: Teach Your Dog How to Chase a Ball
The next step is to teach your dog to chase a ball. If your dog struggles with not wanting to chase a ball, then I have some good advice to help with this.
You may be throwing the ball too far. At first, you want to get your dog excited to see the ball. You can do this by moving the ball away from the dog, yes, away from the dog is what builds interest.
Don’t walk up to the dog and stick the ball in their face, because dogs have a BIG thing about space, and instead act like you have something really exciting that they have to get from you, trust me on this one. 🙂
Then when they get excited and want to see the toy toss it a short distance, so they keep the excitement going. Slowly increase the distance with each training session with your dog.
If you throw it too far and it stops moving before the dog gets there, then it can lose interest as the toy is no longer moving (dogs love chasing moving objects such as cars, rabbits, people, and even other dogs).
Congratulations you are one step closer to teaching your dog to fetch.
Step 3: Teach Your Dog How to Recall
Recall is why I love the game of fetch so much. Recall is when your dog runs to you at the fastest possible pace.
You need to be a little bit scared your dog is going to plow right into you they are running so fast, straight at you. And there is no better way to teach recall than by playing a fast-pasted game of fetch every day with your dog.
Training recall is also a great way to save your dog’s life because you are rewarding your dog for the consistent practice of racing to you with excitement when they hear you call them back. So when you need them to come to you, they likely will out of instinct.
I find exciting behavior from me makes my dog the most interested in running after a ball or plush toy. So if you get excited and then run around a little until your dog is on you and excited this will greatly increase their chance of success during fetch.
Next, you toss the ball a good distance while he is running with you still (your dog will then keep running to get the ball first), then you turn around and run in the opposite direction and start clapping your hands or whistling and yelling “DOG’S NAME, COME” in a happy playful voice.
And watch your dog come running to you with the cutest flapping ears and tongue hanging out and the happiest grin on his face.
Once your dog brings the ball back to you, give your dog lots of praise and pet your dog with affection. Once your dog returns the ball consistently without you having to run first you will be well on your way to many days of fetch in the park.
Now that your dog knows how to chase a ball and recall, it’s time to put it all together.
Step 4: Having Fun Playing With Your Dog
The last step is to enjoy spending quality time with your dog. Dog training is not for everyone but many dogs learn these skills quickly with the right energy and implementation.
There are no other animals who enjoy our company and companionship as much as dogs do so why not help them live their best life by playing games and taking them out to play.
Keep practicing with two toys until your dog masters the “drop” command, then slowly work up to using only one toy. As your dog gets better at fetching, you can start throwing the object further and further.
You can also try playing in different locations, such as the park or the beach. This will help keep your dog’s attention and interest in the game. Just make sure you bring a long lead for safety until your dog can do a long-run recall off-leash reliably.
Now that your dog knows how to fetch, it’s time to have a great time playing with him. Fetch is a great way to bond with your dog and can even become a great family activity every weekend. So get out there and enjoy playing fetch with your dog buddy!
How to handle frustration when teaching your dog to fetch.
Before you teach a dog anything new you need to understand how dogs think. Dogs are very opportunistic, they mostly just want to eat, sleep, and have a blast. If you are trying to teach your dog something new you should be in the mindset that you are going to have fun even if the outcome is not perfect.
If you feel yourself getting frustrated, please know that some dogs can take a long time to fetch perfectly. My dog is still not 100% into fetch every day. If he doesn’t retrieve a ball at the park because he wants to roll around in the grass instead, I just start running around with him and doing other training games. Ultimately, dogs have unique feelings, and some days they may be hot, tired, have sore muscles or have a tummy ache, and they cannot communicate this to us.
How old should my dog be to play a game of fetch?
You can start teaching your eight-week-old puppy to fetch a toy if you want to. Just know that puppies get distracted easily and can only exercise for short periods of time.
What kind of toy is best for fetch?
You could use a tennis ball, frisbee, tug rope, or even a cute plush toy if you don’t mind it getting a little dirty. As long as your dog is interested in it you are good to go.
What if my dog doesn’t like treats or isn’t food-motivated?
If your dog doesn’t like treat you don’t have to use them when training. Just use whatever your dog enjoys the most, this could be verbal praise, pets, or excitement.
Once you begin to implement some (or all) of these tips into your daily fetch sessions you will start to see results as it did. I remember it getting better and better each week until we got to the point we are at now, with daily fetch sessions at the park down the street.
Marty (my dog) even sometimes draws a few viewers outside the baseball park when we are doing some really long-distance frisbee throws and he is really into it and recalling with every throw.
Teaching your dog how to fetch is a great way to bond with your furry friend and provide them with some exercise. With a little patience and practice, you’ll be playing fetch with your dog in no time! Happy fetching!