You know you need to exercise your dog but often don’t have enough time. A walk just doesn’t seem to do enough to burn his excess energy. What can you do?
It’s easy to fit into your busy schedule, and it requires nothing more than a ball or toy for your dog to retrieve. You don’t have to go anywhere other than your fenced back yard or to a close-by dog park, and it’s something you can even do inside on rainy days.
Playing fetch is a great form of exercise because it’s an aerobic activity and provides mental stimulation as well. And, once your dog has the game “down,” you can use it as a training tool, by working on reinforcing basic obedience cues.
This was certainly the case with my dog Rocky, a golden retriever. You would think that all retrievers like to retrieve, but whenever I threw a ball or toy for him, he would look at me like I was nuts! So if I wanted him to fetch, I knew I had to teach him.
Unlike Rocky, who couldn’t be bothered to chase anything, most dogs like to chase something, be it a ball, stick, small animal, and more.
The problem is that most dogs won’t bring the object back. They get a thrill into luring you into a game of keep-away, or they get bored with the object once they’ve caught it and go off to the next thing that catches their attention.
So when teaching your dog to fetch, you may not have to teach him to chase the ball, only how to return it.
If you do have to teach him to chase something (as was the case with my dog Rocky) you have to first find that ball or toy that your dog is willing to put in his mouth. Reward any interaction with the toy working up to him holding the toy in his mouth.
Once he is consistently holding the toy in his mouth, teach him to drop it in your hand.
From there, throw the toy a short distance and encourage him to chase it. Reward that behavior when he does it. Once he grabs the ball, give him the reward, then take the ball away. The reward can be a treat, affection and praise, or anything else that motivates him. Repeat this process until your dog reliably chases the ball.
The number 1 rule here is, once you throw the object, you can’t take even 1 step toward your dog. You don’t want to engage in the “keep away” game. Instead, try backing up and calling your dog toward you. Ideally, he will return to you with the ball in his mouth, but most often he won’t.
If he doesn’t, try working with 2 identical toys. Once he picks up the 1st toy, call him to you, and show him the 2nd toy. He’ll likely drop the 1st toy, and come running to chase the 2nd toy. Go pick up the 1st toy and repeat this sequence. This gets him used to picking up a toy and returning it to you. If he’s treat motivated, ask him to bring it to you and drop it, then reward that with a treat.
Eventually he’ll figure out that he should just drop the first ball when you ask him to. Once this happens you can eliminate the first ball and the treats, and now you’re playing fetch!