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Ask the Trainer: How to Play Fetch With Your Dog

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“My 2 year old Poodle doesn’t give the ball back when I play fetch with him. Whenever he sees me, he wants me to throw his ball, but he doesn’t want to give it to me. He is active and actually wants to play but when I throw his ball he gets it in his mouth than goes off to a shady spot where he can sit down. How do I get him to play normally?” – Soumya R.

Hi Soumya,

I am glad you wrote in with this question, as it is a surprisingly common one for many dog owners.  It basically boils down to the fact that your dog does not know how to play fetch.  Many people think it’s inherent that their dog will play fetch, but it’s not. Obviously some dogs pick it up quicker than others, but it is important that fetch has rules and we properly teach those rules to our dog. The same concept holds true when teaching your dog How to Play a Structured Game of Tug.

The way I start out teaching fetch is to have the dog on a 20+ft long line.  This is NOT a retractable leash or steal cable, and the line is NOT attached to a fixed item.  It is simply a long leash that the dog is dragging around.  You should also NOT be holding the leash.  It is to be dragged and only picked up when necessary. Fetch should only be played in a securely fenced in area  

Once the dog is on the long line, I will throw the ball.  He will chase after it and pick it up.  Once he has possession, I will tell him to “Come”.  If he does, I praise lavishly.  If he does not come back or veers off course, I will use the long line to guide him back, reinforcing the recall.  Once he is back to me, some dogs will automatically drop the ball.  If your dog does not, there are two ways to handle this…  

Option 1:  Use two tennis balls.  One you throw initially and the second you use to entice your dog to drop the first.  This allows you to keep a constant rotation going between the two balls.  

Option 2:  Utilize training treats in order to teach your dog to drop the ball.  Put the treat up to the dog’s nose.  Just as the dog is about to open his mouth for the treat, I will say “Drop It” and give him the treat when he drops the ball.  Once you pattern this with enough repetitions, your dog will learn that “Drop It” means to open his mouth and relinquish whatever he has.

So to recap:

  1. Only play fetch in a fenced in area.
  2. Have your dog on a safe and appropriate long line.
  3. Throw the ball and tell your dog to “Come” once he has picked it up.  If they do not properly recall, use the long line to reinforce the command.
  4. Instruct your dog to “Drop” the ball.  If they do not, follow option 1 or 2 outlined above in order to teach the “Drop” command.

Fetch is a terrific game that provides a dog proper mental and physical stimulation, as well as developing the bond and relationship between dog and owner. It is essential to properly teach our dogs the rules to the games we have created. Once we do, it will make things easier and more enjoyable for dog and owner.

Steve Reid is a professional Dog Trainer and owner of S.R. Dog Training in Westchester, NY.  For more information on S. R. Dog Training, visit www.srdogtraining.com. You can also become a fan of Steve on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/SRDogTraining

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Of Jean



    When using two balls to teach the "re" part of retrieve try throwing them opposite directions. Throw the first one north, the next one south. Don't worry about getting the north ball back at first. The dog has to run right past you to get the second ball. This might help the dog understand a bit faster that going to you means the ball gets thrown again.

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