How to Teach a Dog to Fetch in 3 Easy Steps

How to Teach a Dog to Fetch in 3 Easy Steps

Author WDF Staff


Most future dog owners imagine playing fetch with their new dogs. It is a popular game where dogs bring back toys owners threw for them to catch. OK, that might be oversimplified, and there are some nuances in the game of fetch, but the truth is, most dogs can be taught; you just need to know how to teach a dog to fetch. If you follow these 3 easy steps, you will have your dog fetching things before you know it.

Some dogs love fetching things. Breeds like Labrador and Golden Retrievers are dogs that were bred to fetch prey for hunters. Other breeds might not be so enthusiastic about toys or playing a game of fetch, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be taught. If you have a rescue dog, they might not have plenty of experience with toys, so they will have some trouble learning to fetch. With time and patience, you will know how to teach a dog to fetch, and we are sure you will be successful. First things first - here are the supplies you’ll need.

Supplies needed for teaching a dog to fetch

The first thing you will need is toys. Toys will be the main object your dog has to fetch. A good idea is to get different toys and see which ones your dog will prefer. Some are ball-dogs, and others are plush-toy-dogs. Each dog will have their favorite toys, and using their favorite toys will have the best chance of success.

cocker fetching stick

The second thing you’ll need is great dog treats. Dogs are highly motivated by food. Getting them tasty treats you will reward their behavior with is a great training tool. You can choose great treats here - Best dog treats.

The third thing we love to use for dog training is a clicker. Clicker training is precise, and your dog will know exactly what they are doing to deserve a treat. The clicker makes sure your dog understands the exact second of wanted behavior. If you are unfamiliar with clicker training, check out this article for more information - Clicker training basics

How to teach a dog to fetch - getting started

If your dog is a natural and loves holding toys in their mouths, the training will be slightly easier. If they are reluctant, you will have to take it a bit slower and maybe get toys that can hold treats in them. That will add extra motivation to their training. Here are the steps to follow when teaching your dog to fetch;

Step 1

The first thing you should teach your dog is to hold. Start by getting a toy and showing it to your dog. Sit in front of the dog and spark their interest in the toy. When the dog starts investigating it, push the clicker and reward them with a treat. Make sure you include tasty treats that will motivate your dog.

dalmatian fetching ball

After a while, you can put some treats in the toy and wait for your dog to put their mouth on the toy. The first time that happens, you click the clicker and reward your dog with another treat.

The second part of the first step is to slowly increase the time your dog holds the toy in their mouth to get a reward. Make sure you gradually increase it; add only half a second to a second to the time required for a treat. Take it slow, and it will pay dividends in later training. After you click, make sure you take the toy from the dog’s mouth before they drop it on the floor. Start adding the verbal cue “hold,” so your dog learns the verbal command as well.

Professional training tip: It is better to do many short repetitions than asking dogs to do one longer hold. Make sure you understand your dog’s training pace and adapt to it. That is the best way to achieve great results.

Step 2

After your dog successfully learned to hold the toy, you can start working on the “fetch” part of fetch training. Start by holding the toy in an open palm. Tell the dog the verbal cue “hold.” If they reach for the toy and start holding it, you click the clicker and give your dog a tasty reward. After this part is done, you can start by placing a toy on the floor and telling the dog to hold the toy.

golden-retriever chasing ball

The second part of step 2 is to include the new verbal command. The most popular commands are “fetch” or “get it.”

Place the toy on the floor next to you and tell your dog the new verbal command. If you took it slow in step 1 and slowly increased the duration of the hold command, your dog should have no problem grabbing the toy from the floor. The moment they do that, you click and reward. Remember - small steps are essential. Slowly increase the distance and difficulty.

Step 3

Step 3 is when the behavior is taking proper fetching shape. Your dog should be successful in picking the toy from the floor almost every time. You start building the difficulty and distance over time and reward their behavior.

In this step, your dog should start fetching the toy at a lot bigger distances. Every time they are successful in retrieving the toy, you should reward them. It is time to slowly start throwing the toy and telling your dog to fetch. Start by throwing the toy just a few feet from you. Make sure the toy never leaves your dog’s sight. After a few successful fetches, you can start throwing the toy further and further. Make sure you reward your dog every time they have successfully retrieved the toy.

labrador fetching stick

Keep in mind that some dogs are natural retrievers. Retrieving things is in their blood, and they will have no problems learning the behavior. Other dogs will think of this as learned behavior, and they will expect rewards every time they complete the task of fetching.

The last step is to see if fetching will work with different toys. You can make a switch from plush toys to balls, and if you notice your dog reacting well, you can be pretty sure they have mastered the command of fetch. The critical thing to remember is to repeat the behavior. Don’t let too much time pass between playing fetch with your dog, or the learned behavior can get forgotten.

Now you can enjoy playing a nice game of fetch with your dog. If you follow these three steps, you will know how to teach a dog to fetch.

World Dog Finder team

World Dog Finder Logo