HOW TO TEACH A DOG TO FETCH
Fetch is a great game! With fetch, your dog simultaneously gets exercise, gets to work for you, gets to play, and builds a stronger bond with you. Unfortunately, dogs don’t automatically know that they’re supposed to bring a toy back after they’ve retrieved it. They have to be taught. Here are some methods that I use to teach a dog to bring a toy back, and give it to me.
TIP 1: PUT A LEASH ON YOUR DOG
When I first start teaching a dog how to play fetch, I put the dog on a leash. That way, the dog can’t develop a habit of running off with the toy, and I can pull the dog to me, if need be. As the dog starts to understand the rules of the game, I start using longer and longer leashes (easily accomplished by attaching a rope to the leash). Once I see that the dog is consistently running back to me with the toy every time it is thrown, then I start playing with it off-leash. For some dogs, this process can go really quickly. However, best to expect that it will be a few weeks of consistent training before your dog can be trusted to bring that toy back with no leash on.
TIP 2: TEACH THE FETCH COMMAND BACKWARD
Fetch is a chained command. That is, it has several steps to it. First the dog has to go after the toy. Then, it has to pick up the toy. After that, the dog has to run back with the toy. And, finally, the dog has to give the dog to its human counterpart. The best way for an animal to learn a chained command is in reverse order. If you don’t believe me, next time you have to memorize something, memorize the last line first. Then learn the next to last line, and so on. The reason that learning a chained command backwards works better than learning it forward does, is that once the learner learns the last step, it is always working towards something that it already knows how to do. So, once it gets through the new stuff, it relaxes, because it is moving into familiar territory.
The last step in “fetch” is where the dog gives up the toy. This is often also the hardest thing for the dog to do, so if it is taught first the dog has the added advantage of getting the hard part out of the way at the beginning. Teach giving up the toy first. Then, teach giving the toy to you. Next teach picking up the toy. And, of course, teach running out to get the toy last.
TIP 3: USE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
It’s the rare dog that enjoys giving up a toy, once it has the toy in its mouth. Teach your dog that every time it lets go of a toy on command, it gets something that it likes (like a treat). Then, it will begin to like giving the toy away. If you follow tip #2, then as the dog moves through each step, it knows that at the end, it will get something good. Continuing the game is also positive reinforcement for the dog. So, let your dog know that when it gives the toy back, the game will usually continue. Instead of giving in to a game of tug-of-war if your dog won’t give a toy back, simply refuse to continue playing.
TIP 4: BE IN CHARGE OF PLAYTIME
Initially, when you are teaching your dog to play fetch, you should be in charge throughout the game. This begins with you making the decision to play. You start the game, and you pick the toy that’s going to be played with. Then, you decide when the game is over. That means that if your dog is only going to want to play for a couple of minutes, you need to be prepared to stop before your dog decides to.
Once your dog understands that you are ultimately in charge of the game, you can relax the above, and allow your dog to sometimes bring a toy to you unsolicited.
There you have it. Four simple tips for teaching your dog to play fetch your way. Done correctly, you can look forward to years of fetch games with your dog where you never have to chase your dog down to get a toy back. Now, go have fun with your dog!
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