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Teaching Your Dog to Play Fetch

ASPCA logoPlaying fetch is a great way to have fun with your dog and exercise him at the same time. If you’re lucky, your dog plays fetch naturally, but few dogs intrinsically understand the concept of retrieving. Some dogs will chase after the toy but then won’t bring it back, while others simply look at you with a confused expression, wondering why you repeatedly throw the toy away! Helping your dog learn to love retrieving can be as simple as finding a toy he really likes or as complex as training the entire sequence of chasing, picking up and bringing back the toy.

Choosing the Right Toy

Dogs can be very particular about the toys they’ll play fetch with. Some prefer a tennis ball, others a Frisbee®. Still others are happiest with a plain old stick. Experiment with different toys and see which ones excite your dog the most. Avoid small or smooth balls that he could swallow, and don't pick something edible, like rawhide. If the Frisbee is your dog’s favorite fetch toy, buy one specially made for dogs. Frisbees made for humans are hard enough to chip a dog’s teeth. There are a host of good fetch toys on the market. Here are a few popular choices to try:

  • Tennis ball
  • Retriever plastic or rubber bumper
  • Air KONG® squeaker tennis ball
  • Soft Bite Floppy Disc® or the BOODA® Flyer™
  • KONG Flyer (made of soft, flexible rubber)
  • Hyperflite® Jawz™ Disc (semi-flexible plastic Frisbee made specifically for disc dog competitions), SoFlite™ Disc (extra-soft for sensitive mouths) or FrostBite™ Disc (stays soft and flexible in cold weather)
  • KONG Toy (comes with or without a rope attached)
  • Chuckit!® Flying Squirrel fetch toy (also comes in a plush form)
  • Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff® Orbee Ball

If your dog doesn’t like to put toys in his mouth, try soaking a plush toy or a tennis ball in chicken stock or stuffing an old sock with treats. This will entice him to taste the toy, and you can reward him for this by giving him a treat. He’ll soon figure out that putting the toy in his mouth pleases you to no end, and then you can start teaching him to fetch it.

The Reluctant Retriever

For dogs who really don’t grasp the concept of chasing after toys at all, you need to start with the basics. If your dog likes to play tug-of-war, teach him to go get a fetch toy so that you can play tug with it. Start by playing a short game of tug with a soft toy that your dog likes to tug on. Then take the toy from his mouth, tease him a bit by wiggling it on the ground, and toss it just a few inches away. If your dog runs to the toy, immediately snatch it up and start another fun game of tug. If he just stands there and looks at the toy you’ve thrown, reach out and wiggle it around on the floor again until he finds it irresistible. As soon as he goes for it, toss it another few inches away. Continue doing this until your dog chases after the toy. When he does, you can reward him with another quick tug game. Soon he’ll reliably chase the toy when you toss it, and you can start throwing it greater distances. Encourage your dog to come back to you by reaching for the toy in his mouth and tugging on it. When he gets the idea that bringing the toy back to you leads to a tugging battle, he’ll be eager to run and fetch the toy. Once you start throwing it a few feet, it’s helpful to turn and run away as your dog comes toward you with the toy. This will encourage him to run faster and chase you. When he catches up to you, play tug with the toy. Eventually, you won’t have to play tug every single time your dog fetches the toy, but be sure to do so intermittently to keep him eager to play.

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