How to Play Fetch

Dogs are not born knowing how to Fetch no matter how smart they are. A well-trained Retriever may look like he was born doing this, but there was someone who put in the time training him. The fact is Fetch is actually a complicated command – at least in the beginning. But break it down, you and your dog can master this useful and fun game in a short time.

Dog Play FetchFetch actually has three commands built into it:
  1. “Go Get It” – following and grabbing object
  2. “Bring” – returning with object
  3. “Give” – releasing the object

You want your dog to master the each step before moving onto the next. You only need to spend a few minutes on your training session, but you will see results if you do the sessions once or twice a day, every day for consistency.

Let’s look at the first part.

GO GET IT

Here’s where you get your dog loving the game. Toss your dog’s favorite toy to get him to chase it. Basically, cheer on your dog after he’s gotten his toy. As you dog catches on, add the command “Go Get It” as he chases after the object to associate that command with the act.

This part tends to be really easy and natural for many dogs. However, if you dog doesn’t chase it, try to chase the toy yourself. Dogs do learn by example.

When your dog has a solid handle on this, move to “Bring”.

BRING

This part gets trickier because when a dog gets a prize in her mouth, that thing is special to her. So the goal is to get your dog excited about showing you her prize and simply come back to you with the prize.
Gently toss the toy, but not too far. Have your dog “Go Get It”. When your dog does get the toy, call her to you. When she does return to you, shower her with praise, but do NOT try to take the toy away.

If you need incentive, you can use a treat to call your dog, but don’t let it overshadow the toy. You don’t want your dog to drop the toy, then come to you. You want the dog to return to you with the toy. If your dog always leaves the toy for the treat, you may need to try using another toy as an incentive instead.

If your dog ignores you when she gets the toy, or worse, wants to play Keep Away, try practicing this command in a small room like a bathroom. This will prevent your dog from running and focus more on the command.

The second your dog picks what you want her to do, praise her a lot! As she really starts to get it, start saying the command “Bring” when she returns with the toy to associate the command with the act.

GIVE

When the “Bring” command is solid, you can work on “Give”.  This part can be difficult because your dog probably doesn’t want to actually give up the prize in his mouth and the attention he is getting from you. This part can be especially tricky if Keep Away or Chase has been in your repertoire of dog games in the past.

Dog FetchKeep with this in mind, so go slow, be patient, don’t lose your temper, and quit early if it just isn’t working. Try again another time.

When you start on the “Give”, do not use “Go Get It” or “Bring”. You first want to get your dog comfortable with releasing the object from his mouth.

  • Have a seat with his dog toy and a treat.
  • Call your dog over and show him the toy.
  • Praise him when he takes it.
  • Then, show him the treat. Say “Give” as he releases the toy to trade in for the treat.
  • Heap praise on your dog the second he releases the toy.

If your dog clenches and does not relax his jaws, he may feel threatened. Create a more cheerful association for “Give”. Carry treats in your pockets and reward him every time he chooses to release anything.

Do this exercise over a few days or until you know he is really getting it. Then, you can try to add on other parts of Fetch.

  • Go to a hallway or enclosed space and toss the toy a little distance.
  • Say “Go Get It”.
  • Praise your dog the moment he picks it up.
  • Kneel immediately and say “Give” and reward as you release the treat.

If your dog releases before she gets to you or drops it on the floor, that’s OK – for now. Eventually, you want her to bring it to you. When you’re ready for this stage, hold the treat longer, and make the delivery hand to mouth.

As you see your dog getting the hand of the “Go Get It” combined with “Give”, you can start to toss the toy further, put all three commands together: “Go Get It”, “Bring”, and “Give”.

After a while, you can apply this to toys and larger spaces and other toys like a ball or Frisbee, practical items like newspapers and keys, or even carrying items in their mouth for you like a sack from the store.

Teach each step separately, keep sessions upbeat and fun and soon you will your dog can have a real game of Catch (and not just Keep Away).

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