How to Make Fetch into a Dog Training Game

Behavior & training
Teaching Your Dog to Fetch

Fetch is a great game for people and dogs. It provides engagement, entertainment, and exercise. Fetch is also a great way to practice at least three dog-training cues:

  1. Fetch

  2. Come

  3. Drop It

You certainly could throw in additional cues to make the game harder, depending on your dog’s skill level:

  • Maybe you ask your dog to sit before throwing the ball again.

  • Maybe you require a full, formal come – like what is used in competitive obedience trials – where the dog must circle behind you and sit perfectly at your left side.

  • Maybe you ask her to shake or spin or rollover before you toss the ball again.

The Reluctant Fetcher

Even dogs who don’t seem to be natural fetchers can learn to fetch. Practice first with food. Yes, food. Use your dog’s normal meal or favorite treats (not too many), and toss the food instead of a ball or toy. Most dogs will chase the food.

Granted, your dog won’t bring the food back to you, but if you’ve already taught your dog to come , then use your recall cue to bring the dog back to you. Reward that effort with another piece of food, then toss a third piece of food. Pretty soon, your dog will learn the pattern - run to get the food, run back, get more food, etc.

Incorporating Drop It

Once that pattern is engrained, you can throw a ball or toy instead and trade the dog the toy for a piece of food, using whatever verbal cue you’d like for the dog giving the toy to you. For some dogs, this trade requires a higher value treat, like a small piece of cheese or a pinch of tuna. Eventually, you can fade the food rewards, only giving something in return in a random pattern, rather than every time.

I use the words “Drop it,” but I have friends who say, “Mine” or “Give.” You’ll need to decide on your criteria as well. I taught my dogs to drop toys at my feet or in my lap, if I’m sitting, but I know others who require the dog to place the ball gently in their hands.

“Drop it” is a great thing to teach your dog because you just never know when he might pick something up with his mouth that you do not want him to have – food he finds on the sidewalk, a yucky pile of wild animal scat, something that could be toxic, or a choking hazard.