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Play Your Way to a Well-Trained Dog: Fetch!

If there were a People’s Choice Award for games to play with dogs, “Fetch” would win in a landslide.  Even non-dog people seem unable to resist tossing a ball when propositioned by a retrieving fiend.

The shared joy of play, along with the proclivity to play with thingamajigs, is one of the reasons we humans have bonded so thoroughly with dogs.  A visit to any dog park or beach will confirm: people and dogs have a mutual appreciation for balls, discs, sticks, and squishy, squeaky toys. While many dogs are natural chase-and-getters, almost all will benefit from a little coaching to ensure that you are the retrieving Trainer not the Trainee.

To Teach or be Taught

Note: You and your dog may have drastically different interpretations of “Fetch.”  Humans love to watch dogs chase the ball and bring it back.  Dogs love to chase the ball.  And once Buddy has the item in his hot little jaws, he’d love nothing more than to prolong the thrill of the chase by luring you into a robust game of keep-away.

The cardinal rule of fetch is, once you’ve thrown the object, promise yourself that no matter what, you will not take even one step toward the dog.  Your best move is backward, tapping into that love of chase and working it to your advantage.  Clap your hands, walk or run away and make smooching noises to “pull” your dog toward you.  Imagine an invisible bubble between you and the dog – if you step forward, the bubble will push him away.

Armchair Dog Training

Some of the most effective fetch trainers are the least mobile.  My Boston terrier, Butch, was one of the best retrievers I’ve ever seen, having lived his first 11 months of life with an elderly gentleman who didn’t move much.  The man played fetch from the comfort of a favorite chair and Butch learned that the toy would only be thrown if he delivered it to the man’s hand.  The reward for bringing the toy back was the opportunity to chase it again.  Butch, the scrappy little obsessive that he was, never even considered playing keep-away during fetch.

All Brawn, No Brain

Playing fetch with your dog is a wonderful way to exercise her body, but don’t forget about her brain.  Once she’s reliably retrieving and relinquishing the toy, you can introduce basic obedience cues to make the game more interesting.  If you’re playing fetch as a way to expend some of your dog’s excess energy, you might be surprised to find that a diet of straight, adrenalized exercise actually pumps the dog up, causing her to act more “hyper.”  For a mellow and content dog, toss a little cerebral activity into your game of fetch.  To a retrieving fanatic, the best reward in the world is the opportunity to chase a favorite toy.  Capitalize on this enthusiasm and turn training practice into fun.

Fetch as a Training Reward