How Can I Teach My Dog to Play Fetch?

Understanding the Rules of the Game

It is also possible that your dog may not return the ball because she doesn't know how to play this game. Instinctively most dogs will chase after a moving object and grab it in their teeth, but your dog may not understand that she should bring it back to you or give it up when she gets there. If you think this is the problem, take your pooch back to puppy kindergarten and reteach her the different parts of fetch.

Retrieving is actually a series of steps that should be taught separately: running after the ball, grabbing the ball, turning toward you with the ball, carrying the ball and dropping the ball. If there is a portion of the retrieve that’s going wrong — in this case, returning the ball to you — it can help to teach your dog the game in a way that allows you to focus on each action individually. Keep training sessions short, only a couple of minutes on average, to keep your dog excited and interested the entire time.

Teach Your Dog to "Drop It"

Start by teaching your dog to drop an object. Choose an object your dog already puts in her mouth — for example, a stuffed toy. Give her a cue, such as “take it,” and shake the toy around to get your dog excited, then offer it to her. Once she has the toy in her mouth, tell her to “drop it” and put a treat out in front of her nose. As soon as she drops the toy, reward her with the treat and offer your cue to “take it” again. Once she understands the "drop it" command, phase out the treat; give the cue and hold your empty hand, shaped like you are holding a treat, in front of her nose. Reward with praise or the occasional treat.

Gradually increase the amount of time your dog holds the toy in her mouth before you ask her to drop it. If she drops the toy before you ask her to, do not reward her. Ask her to take it again and give the command to “drop it” a bit sooner the next time. You can also make the object you’re using more enticing for your dog. Try using a flavored Nylabone or plain rawhide, but be on the lookout for warning signals of food guarding.

Once your dog has the hang of “drop it,” teach her to pick the toy up off the ground, rather than taking it from your hand; this is the retrieving part of the game. Hold the toy close to the ground and say "take it." Lower the toy to the floor gradually, so that the movement is barely noticeable to your dog. Eventually the toy should be on the floor with your hand still on it when you ask her to take it. Once your dog is successfully putting the item in her mouth and holding it until she is asked to drop it, place the toy on the floor, move your hand away and give the command to “take it.”Repeat the previous steps: Ask your dog to pick the toy up and hold it for progressively longer periods of time before asking her to drop it.

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