Trick With a Purpose: Fetch

Kate Naito
by Kate Naito
Does your dog play the can’t-catch-me game? Steal your shoes? Plow you over as soon as you come home? These bad behaviors actually have a fun solution… Fetch!

Teaching your dog to chase after an item and bring it back to you may look like just fun and games, but fetching instills good behavior in your dog and helps eliminate naughty behaviors. Fetch teaches your dog a number of valuable skills. First, he learns a solid Recall. For the game to continue, Fido must come right up to you. Second, he learns how fun it is to Drop It. Fido realizes that giving up an item is much more rewarding than hoarding it. Finally, it teaches productive ways for your dog to channel his energy. If there are times when you know Fido will get overly excited, such as when you come home from work, you can immediately start a game of Fetch to direct his enthusiasm onto a toy, not onto your body.

Fetch Primer

Your games of Fetch will go much more smoothly if you have already taught your dog that is it super fun to chase you. I recommend playing the “chase game” with your dog often, where you say “come!” and excitedly run away from him, then reward him with treats, a toy, or play for following you. Conversely, he should never learn how fun it is to be chased by you (or any human, including kids). Once Fido has learned that snatching your shoe and racing off initiates a fun can’t-catch-me game, you’re in trouble. If this has already become an issue in your household, go back to Recall basics before expecting a flawless Fetch.

While Fetch comes naturally to some dogs, there are many others who need your help to learn it. Here are the steps to get you started.

The Recall Part

  1. Get a ball or toy that your dog is crazy about, and wave it around to make him excited. Toss the ball just a few feet away.
  2. As soon as your dog grabs the ball, run away from him, making lots of noise and using inviting body language to encourage him to chase you.
  3. When your dog runs after you and spits out the ball, immediately pick it up and throw it again. Don’t ask for a Sit or any other behavior. His reward for bringing back the ball is the continuation of the game without delay.
  4. Once your dog thoroughly learns the game, and if he tends to jump on you, ask for a Sit before throwing the ball.

The Drop-It Part

Many dogs will do the recall and then hesitate to drop the ball. Fear not, it just requires teaching him how boring it is when he keeps the ball. He’ll learn that spitting it out is much cooler.

  1. If your dog comes to you but doesn’t release the ball, simply stand there for a few seconds and wait for him to drop it. Don’t say “drop it” because, let’s face it, he probably won’t.
  2. If he doesn’t release the ball after a few seconds, turn your back to him. “Nope,” your body is saying, “I don’t play with ball hogs.”
  3. If he spits out the ball, pick it up and immediately toss it. But if he still hasn’t dropped it after several seconds of your back turned, walk away in a huff. His rudeness has just lost him the chance for more playtime. Bummer!
  4. Repeat this sequence every time. He will soon learn that dropping the ball is the only way to continue playing the game.
  5. You can add the cue “drop it” right before you anticipate he will spit out the ball.

Mind Your Manners

The skills from Fetch can be applied to various real-life situations. When it comes to Recall, you’ll have an easier time getting your dog to respond, even when there’s no ball. This is because your dog will have learned how fun it is to come to you. Likewise, Drop-its will have become a game rather than a drag.

For dogs who jump on you or your guests, Fetch can teach them to redirect their excitement onto something appropriate. Keep a toy or ball by your front entrance. As soon as you come home, start a game of Fetch and enforce the rules of politeness. Ensure your dog sits before you throw the ball, as in the instructions above. This breaks the cycle of jumping. A dog that politely fetches can also have access to outdoor activities like barbecues or picnics, as adults and kids alike can play with Fido without the fear of being knocked over. Win-win!

Kate Naito
Kate Naito

Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer at Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY, and author of the training book, "BKLN Manners." She draws upon her experience as an educator and dog trainer to apply positive training techniques to a challenging urban environment. Kate is a rescue advocate drawn to special-needs dogs and currently has two Chihuahua mixes, Batman and Beans.

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