How to teach a dog to fetch: Everything you need to know

One of the simplest and most fulfilling joys of dog ownership is being able to go to the park and play fetch. It's great for the dog and it's great for you, but it's not a given thing - here's how to teach a dog to fetch.

It's important to teach your dog to fetch, for both its physical and mental health.
It's important to teach your dog to fetch, for both its physical and mental health.  © Unsplash/Chris Andrawes

There's something innately wonderful about being able to play fetch with your dog. Out in nature, enjoying the grass between your toes and the dirt upon your fingers as you throw a stick out over a green pasture, watching your darling doggo romp at high speed. The problem, though, is that not every dog knows it should fetch, and not every dog will bring the stick back.

In this dog guide, TAG24 will take a look at how you can teach dogs to fetch. What is fetch, and how do you train a dog to fetch? Is there a difference between fetch in the park and in the yard?

What is dog "fetch"?

Fetch is possibly the most common, famous, and popular of all dog games. Simply put, a game of fetch is a game of catch, except your doggo is supposed to return the ball or stick that you are throwing. All-in-all, it involves you throwing projectiles, your dog chasing and "fetching" those projectiles, and returning them to you.

Of course, there are many twists that you can add to a good game of fetch. Often your dog will present you with a "grab the ball from my sweaty mouth" side quest which, as its name implies, involves the need to grab and pull the previously-thrown projectile from your dog's slobbering maw.

Ultimately, a good game of fetch will bring you and your darling doggo closer together. It's about getting your dog some exercise, it's about getting yourself outside and in nature, and it's about having a lotta fun with your four legged buddy. It is the greatest after-work activity you could ever ask for.

Feel free to experiment: Your doggo will love to fetch once you have taught it how to play the game. Once it is comfortable, feel free to add some complications to the mix. Use a frisbee, play tug-of-war with it, or use treats to award your doggo for bringing back items you throw.

How to train a dog to fetch

Teaching your dog to fetch can be a long but fruitful venture. Dogs love to play and will always try to make you happy where they can, but they don't automatically know what you want from them when you throw sticks and balls. While some will understand, others will take quite a while to start playing.

If your dog or puppy is just sitting there, staring at you quizzically, you need to put your teacher's shoes on. First, they need to learn how to chase, then they need to learn how to catch, then they need to learn to return. It's not hard, but it can be a bit of a difficult process.

Here's how to train your dog to play fetch, step-by-step

Step 1: Start at a standstill. Sit on the grass and hold an item you want your doggo to fetch. Make sure your dog is sitting beside you and offer it the item. If it picks the item up, offer it a treat.

Step 2: Once you have done this a bunch, over multiple days and weeks, your dog should start automatically picking up the item when you put it down. It's now time to start teaching it the word "fetch" by repeating it whenever you put the item down.

Step 3: Now it's time to add a bit of distance. Go outside and start throwing it a short distance and rewarding your dog whenever it goes and grabs it. Slowly increase your throwing distance. At this stage, it is best to walk up to your dog when it picks up the item and give it the reward.

Step 4: You want your dog to return the item to you. At this stage in the training process, you should have taught it a few commands. This is where you want to combine those lessons and start calling "come" when it picks up the ball or stick.

Step 5: Continue to repeat this process, throwing the ball further away and only rewarding your dog if it retrieves it and brings it back. Slowly start trying to take the projectile from your dog's mouth, rewarding it when it lets go.

Step 6: The final stage of the real training process is to also make your dog put it down at your feet. Once you have managed to get it doing that, start experimenting with other items.

You need to make things fun for your doggo and slowly remove the treats. Instead, give your dog a little pet every time it fetches successfully, and make it a game rather than a chore it completes for treats.

Playing fetch is a great activity to play when you go to the beach with your darling doggo.
Playing fetch is a great activity to play when you go to the beach with your darling doggo.  © Unsplash/Dominik Kempf

How to play fetch with your dog

Once your dog has learned to play fetch, it's time to remove the snacks and treats from the mix and simply start throwing the ball around for fun. Combine it with other games to keep things fresh, and make sure that your dog gets plenty of practice. It's an easy game to play and helps to burn that unwanted energy, tiring out and calming your doggo.

To play fetch with your dog, simply take a ball to the park and start throwing it. Keep your dog's attention by calling its name and giving it a pat every time it returns the ball. If you don't want it to hold onto whatever you're throwing, give it a light scolding and turn your back on it.

Fetch might seem remarkably simple when it's described, and that's because it is. What's important, though, is that you combine it with other forms of training. For example, have your dog agility trained, teach it plenty of words, and get it trained as a puppy when it's still young.

If you play plenty of fetch and have your dog well-trained, it will become increasingly strong and agile but also increasingly obedient. Of course, you also want it to be loving, friendly, and affectionate. By playing your cards right, though, you can have all of the above.

Fetch in the dog park

You don't always have to play fetch in the dog park, but it is obviously the best place to do so. While perfectly possible in your backyard or a normal park, you always run the risk of hitting someone with a ball or having a small child run over by a sprinting doggo. In your backyard, balls can easily go over fences and your dog will probably not have all that much space to run.

Ultimately, fetch is about bonding and exercise. You don't need to play it every day, but at least once a week, you should take your doggo to the park and chuck the ball around for an hour or two. After all, it'll be fun, so why not?

What is a dog fetch machine?

Fetch machines are great for exercise but not ideal for human-canine bonding.
Fetch machines are great for exercise but not ideal for human-canine bonding.  © Unsplash/Jacob Vizek

If your dog is a particularly enthusiastic fetch player, it may tire you out with all that throwing and retrieving it has been doing. Don't fear - the dog fetching machine is here - and it's perfect for tired humans. What on Earth is this strange contraption, though, and how does it work?

A dog fetch machine throws balls for your dog to catch and bring back to a small tray that'll automatically reload and launch each returned projectile. There are many different brands and versions that you can check out and try, and your local pet store owner should be able to provide you with some recommendations.

Be careful: Dog fetch machines are great once you have tired yourself out, but you should never replace normal human-canine interaction with a machine. Part of what makes fetch wonderful, fun, and important is the bonding experience it provides. Don't let modern machinery get in the way of that!

Teaching a dog to play fetch is a fun bonding experience

There are few things more rewarding than teaching a young dog to fetch. It helps to develop their physical skills and mental acuity, and it's a wonderful way to form close and loving relationships. Your puppy needs to play, and fetch is the perfect opportunity for it to drain that unwanted energy and feel more connected to its human.

Arguably more important is the fact that playing fetch is great for you too. It gives you time to spend with your darling doggo, provides a little bit of exercise, and gets you outside and away from the television. What's not to love?

Cover photo: Unsplash/Chris Andrawes

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