Fetch is defined as a dog that will go after an item, pick it up, bring it back and drop it to then be thrown and repeated.
Importance of Fetch
Fetch can be one of the most important things a person can train their dog on. These are some of the positive attributes:
Can All Dogs be Trained to Fetch?
Not all but a lot more than you would think. There are some very low energy dogs with zero prey drive. Ten rabbits could be running around them and they would have zero drive to chase them. If a dog has the slightest inkling to chase after something or paw at it, drive for fetch can often be built from there.
Where is Fetch Used?
Service dogs often have natural desires to fetch. It shows an eagerness to please. We find a very strong correlation between dogs that fetch and ease of training. This is one reason why many people find Retrievers are easier to train than many other breeds. However not all breeders that breed retrievers, breed for the trait of retrieving. We have worked with a lot of retrievers that displayed zero natural fetch characteristics. They can be trained to fetch with a fair bit of work however.
With dogs that develop any aggression problems or any other behavioural problems, if they enjoy fetch it often speeds up training immensely. For some dogs if they had aggression to certain people, playing fetch near those people helped them associate good things with others Core Rule: Premack Principle.
Use Food for Training Fetch?
Lots of dogs have been trained to fetch using food but we don’t recommend it. Here is the reason why:
If food is used, the desire for fetch comes from the desire to earn a food reward. For lots of dogs that gets the ball rolling and then they end up enjoying fetch enough that food isn’t required.
However for some dogs once food is removed as a reward the desire for fetch may fade away as well.
Typically we find the dogs that can be trained to fetch using food could have easily been trained to fetch without using food. It’s the dogs that waver that really need to be trained to fetch without food.
The drive for fetch has to come from a strong desire to want that toy.
Big Rules of Fetch
The goal is to build drive for fetch to be stronger than anything else. If the dog loves their fetch toy more than food, other dogs, rabbits, squirrels, etc., then you have a very focused dog. All other training becomes very easy when you possess a strong and powerful reward for your dog.
Example: Police dogs when finding narcotics, bombs or missing persons get to play with their favorite toy as a reward. In agility courses the dog often earns a tug toy as a reward.
The Easy Version
There are a lot of different tips and tricks to get a dog to fetch and some dogs can be months of work (longest we had was 6 months of training to finally enjoy fetch). Before we dive into a bunch of detail, here are the easy versions:
Lots of dogs just want to chase the dog that loves fetch or some will steal the ball from the dog fetching and run off with it. This is controlled through a long rope and harness or tying the dog off to the side. You are not allowing them to play their games, you will only allow them to play your game.
There are many different ways to train fetch and we will go over my most preferred method. This is a guideline to follow:
Now you have graduated to a dog that loves fetch and you have excellent control over your dog around this game. This ensures that you will minimize any dog fights over a prized fetch ball. You should make it all the way to Step 12 before you ever consider going to an Off-