A game of fetch is great exercise and good for owner/dog bonding but not every dog has a high fetch (prey) drive. Even if a dog doesn’t have a natural drive to fetch you can still teach them that fetch is fun and rewarding through the use of treats, praise and excitement/fun. A good game of fetch should be the highlight of their day, no matter what their prey drive level!
Note: If the dog ever does bring you something, even if you don’t ask him, capture that action with a lot of praise. Make sure he knows that bringing you something is good.
Starting from scratch, here are a few steps you can take, alter or improve based on your personal knowledge of your dog:
- Find an object/toy/ball that your dog likes to put in his mouth (I’m just going to say “ball” and you can fill in what he really likes). If you’ve been using a regular tennis ball, maybe try a Kong squeaker tennis ball or a Frisbee to increase drive.
- Practice allowing the dog to take the ball out of your hand or off the ground right in front of you. Reward when he takes the ball for a while, then reduce reward frequency till he’ll pick up the ball 2 – 3 feet away.
- Keep sessions short, 2 to 5 repetitions, multiple times during a day, so the intensity stays there, intensity is what you want. You always want to stop any activity before the dog wants to stop, stay the leader, say “all done” and walk away after lots of praise.
- Ok, so the dog is handling the ball well, out of hand or a short distance from you, time to introduce the fetch cue. The second the dog touches the ball, say “fetch.” Since the dog is still very close to you, if necessary, gently cup your hands under his chin to keep the ball in his mouth and walk backwards so he is kind of bringing you the ball.
- Lots of praise while he is holding the ball. Then say “drop it” and offer a trade using a treat. After a several times of this, remove the treats, because you want to reward the fetch with praise and don’t want the dog to start dropping the ball in anticipation of a treat. You can also say “drop it” and toss another ball. Whatever works for him.
- Once he gets this down, increase the distance of the toss. Go slowly here! Keep it fun and lots of praise!
Later, you can add a sit at the end of a retrieve or before a toss. Just have fun.