4 Easy Steps to Teach a Dog to Fetch a Toy
Ask a dog parent what kinds of games they imagine playing with their canine bestie and you almost always hear "fetch." Dog parents envision playing in a big grassy field, throwing a ball or launching a frisbee, and their brilliant dog retrieving the toy like a pro. The reality is, not every dog is born with the skill set, or desire, to play fetch and it can take some practice to get the hang of this seemingly simple game.
If you just know in your heart that your dog buddy would love to learn to play a game of "go get it" (as we call it in our house) with a favorite toy but just hasn't mastered the skill yet you can easily teach them using positive reinforcement. Follow these simple steps to teach your dog how to fetch a toy.
Before You Get Started Teaching Your Dog to Fetch
Use Lots and Lots of Treats
No matter what skill, game, or trick you are teaching your dog your most essential and effective training tools are great reinforcers to ensure your dog enjoys the learning activity. A reinforcer is something your dog adores, is quite small, and is super easy to give. Pieces of human food, like cheese or low-sodium lunch meat work really well, as do many types of store-bought dog treats made with only dog-friendly ingredients. In the following steps, the word treat means we are using our dog's favorite food reinforcer.
Teach Your Dog a Marker
A marker (or bridging stimulus) is a signal that tells your dog, in that exact moment, they did something that earned them a reinforcer (the treat). A clicker (used in clicker training) is a great example of a marker. If you don't have a clicker you can use a word like "yes" but be sure to pick one word and use it consistently. In this guide, we will use a clicker and wherever we say "click" you will use your marker.
Click (or mark) the very second you see the behavior you want to reinforce. See the behavior, click, and immediately give a treat.
Teach Your Dog a Drop It Cue
When you want to teach your dog to play a fun game of fetch they need to understand that at some point, they have to not only get the toy and bring it back but drop it so that you can throw it again. Without this, the game of fetch you wanted becomes a game of tug or chase. Teaching your dog a drop it cue is a useful skill that keeps the game of fetch going.
How to Teach Your Dog to Play Fetch in 4 Easy Steps
Once your dog has mastered the basics of fetch, you can begin to play this game outside in your backyard or a securely fenced area. Make sure you keep the game fun and engaging for your dog by offering toys they seem most interested in versus just assuming they will like a ball or a frisbee.