How to Teach A Dog to Fetch: An Exercise In Loyalty And Playfulness

German Shepherd running to fetch
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Fetch is one of the oldest commands that we, as humans, have taught our canine companions, but before we find out how to teach a dog to fetch we must first understand what this playful activity actually is.Before moving on, we must understand and accept the fact that the canine mind, much like the human one, is unique to the individual. There are certain similarities shared amongst the members of particular breeds however these similarities are few in number.

That being said, the level of success, dedication and the end results will vary from dog to dog.

What is “fetch”?

Fetch is a command. By pointing at something or throwing something over a distance and issuing the “Fetch” command, you are ordering your dog to acquire said something and bring it back to you. Fetch is most effective when taught to the dog while the dog is very young. The older the dog gets, the less interested he or she becomes in this activity.

Puppy training to fetch

This stems from ancient times when man first tamed wolves and wild dogs and realized that they can help ease hunting. We even discovered cave paintings that documented the fact that ancient man knew how to train a dog to fetch rather efficiently, subsequently making hunting a lot easier.

Over time, as man evolved, the need for hunting gradually decreased, however dogs were still trained to fetch, this time though it was for fun.

Today, in the modern world, dogs are still being trained to fetch, despite the fact that there is virtually no need for it. The argument surrounding this choice is the fact that it helps strengthening the bond between the dog and the master, as well as providing the dog with a nice fun exercise that can be enjoyed by both the dog and the master.

Fetch and how different breeds respond to it

Different breeds have more or less different personalities, and different personalities respond to activities and elements differently. Fetch is no exception. That being said, before learning how to train a dog to fetch, researching your dog’s breed is of paramount importance.

Dog fetch frisbee

This helps you more or less anticipate certain problems, formulate certain scenarios and prepare yourself for things to come.

For example:

  • The German Shepherd is a highly intelligent and curious dog. It is very confident in its abilities and it is naturally the leader of the pack. That being said, it is safe to assume that the German Shepherd will, quite often, mislead you by fetching the toy, bringing it back to you, but running away as you are about to grab it just for the dog’s entertainment. If you’d like to learn what other activities this breed is good at, you shouldn’t definitely read up on the German Shepherd.
  • Another example would be the Pit Bull Terrier, also known as “Bully Pit Bull”. The Bully Pit Bull is very strong, muscular, agile and aggressive. It is also strong willed, stubborn, intelligent and from time to time, clownish. That being said, the bully pit bull will not give up the toy easily. Even though the dog knows that the objective of the game is to give you, his master, the designated toy upon retrieving it, the bully pit bull will make sure you have a battle of wits on your hands as you try and liberate the toy from his vice-like jaws.
  • One last example would be the Alaskan Husky. The Husky is a rather clever, willful, stubborn and above all mischievous individual. The husky will, more or less, “prank” you with every opportunity he or she gets, simply for the fun of it. Huskies are not intended for hunting, they are sled dogs, so playing fetch with them might turn out to be a bit of a challenge as it does not come naturally to them, however when you get the wheels on the track and teach your husky how to fetch, expect to be pranked.

One scenario to take into account is the dog grabbing the toy, hiding it, then coming back to you waggling his or her tail urging you to find it and bring it back to him or her.

After you research your dog’s breed in great detail and are able to anticipate any mishaps or silly scenarios, you can move on to the next phase, teaching the dog how to fetch.

Step 1: the toy

The toy can be anything. It can be a ball, a rubber bone, a squeaky toy, a plastic bottle, anything that is not toxic or harmful to the dog but at the same time inedible and nowhere near the point of being considered food. IF you’re looking to save a bit of money, you could always consider learning how to make your own dog toys.

Husky wants to play fetch

It is advised to start off with something generic, like a simple stick that you can pick up off the ground. If you start with something flashy or specific, like a toy that your dog will see constantly and play with constantly, there is the chance that your dog will attribute the activity of playing fetch to that toy and only that toy.

Picking and choosing a toy is not exactly the most important part of figuring out how to train a dog to fetch, however it is advised that you make sure the dog is comfortable with your selection. Make sure the toy can be easily grabbed by your dog, make sure it is not too small or too big, and make sure that it is not a burden to carry around.

Step 2: enticing the dog

This one is by far the simplest of the steps. All you have to do is entice the dog, make it interested and excited about the toy. You can do that by being excited about it yourself, playing with it and attracting your dog’s attention with it.

Needless to say, when figuring out how to train a dog to fetch, the dog needs to be really young, more or less a puppy, so the dog can get easily excited and enticed by virtually anything.

Step 3: grab, drop, reward

This is where things get a bit tricky, because you have to let the dog make contact with the toy, but at the same time teach the dog that he or she has to drop the toy when in your vicinity in order for you to pick it up again.

A key factor when figuring out how to train a dog to fetch, or do anything for that manner, is keeping in mind that rewarding good behavior and scolding / punishing bad behavior is key. So you will have to open your reward pouch for a bit.

After you see that the dog is enticed, drop the toy near the dog and let him or her pick it up. It might take a bit of time and a few tries in order for your dog to get the hint, but if you keep enticing the dog, then he or she will get it and pick it up. After the toy is successfully picked up, you have to grab it from the dog. This will take a while because the dog might not be willing to give up the toy.

After grabbing the toy from the dog, reward the dog with a small treat, and simply repeat this small exercise a few times. You can choose his favorite treat, or you could consider a homemade treat which you can learn to make thin this article on homemade dog treats.

Step 4: increase the distance

The previous step implied dropping the toy next to the dog, or simply giving the dog the toy so that you can retrieve it from him or her. This time, however, things start getting a bit more demanding.

By this time, the dog should be accustomed to the idea and purpose of the toy.

Dog fetch

So now, in order to further your dog’s training, you will have to increase the distance between the dog and the toy. Simply toss it slightly further from the dog every single time you get the toy from him or her.

By this point, working out how to train a dog to fetch is not rocket science, you can simply wing it, but in the vast majority of cases, the moment you start building some distance between the dog and the toy, the dog shoots towards the toy, attempting to catch it or simply find it after it lands.

This is when the dog will be reluctant to give the toy back, so make sure you are prepared for a playful struggle, and after you get the toy from the dog, make sure to reward the effort with a treat.

Step 5: The throw

Ok, it’s time for your dog to graduate from backhanded tosses to fully fledged throws. By this time, your dog has grown to appreciate the effort and exercise behind “fetch”. If you are indeed trying to figure out how to train a dog to fetch, this step simply cannot be overlooked.

Your dog is excited and enticed and you can bet your entire bag of treats that he or she is looking forward to graduating from tossing to throwing. So with toy in hand, and an overzealous dog circling you excitedly, take a few steps back, bring your hand above the ear and throw the toy into the distance. The further your dog ha to run to get it the better.

Do keep in mind that you are not aiming for a home run, nor are you trying to exhaust your dog by making him or her run 5 blocks and back. Throw it, provide the thrust but still make sure that the dog does not go too far away.

Needless to say, it is recommended that you do this in the great outdoors or in a rather large park. The same rules apply, expect a bit of struggling before you get the toy, reward the dog upon receiving the toy, repeat.

Extra things that you can teach your dog in regards to “fetch”

This is the basic form of fetching. The dog sees the toy, runs after the toy, gets the toy, comes back with the toy, hands the toy over to you. Pretty simple so far, however if you feel that your dog is a fast learner, or if you feel that your dog can do much more than just the basics, learning how to train a dog to fetch might not be enough. You should consider integrating some tricks into the game, like having the dog come in front of you, sit, drop the toy at your feet and patiently wait for you to pick it up and throw it.

Another interesting trick is to make your dog sit beside you while you throw the toy, and have your dog commence the chase after you give him or her a specific command. There are a lot more possibilities however by far the most important thing here is the basic concept and notion of “fetch”.

The importance of “fetch”

Granted, we as humans have evolved far beyond the need to hunt, so from that point of view the game of fetch is useless.

What the game of fetch is useful for is strengthening the bond between the dog and the master. Simply put, the dog will want to play with you, and you will want to play with your dog, and as fate will have it you will have a common activity that you enjoy doing together.

Keep your dog happy

Fetch is also beneficial to the dog’s health. It’s more or less the same as a basketball player training and dashing back and forth across a ball court. It will build up your dog’s stamina, endurance, muscular definition and at the same time help him or her unwind.

Black Labrador fetch through the water

It might seem a bit silly, but fetch is fun, beneficial and at the same time engaging for the dog. The walks in the park will be a lot more entertaining, the dog will build a more solid relationship with you, and most importantly the dog gets that much needed exercise.

That being said, it is well worth finding out how to train a dog to fetch and putting that knowledge into practice.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.