You decide that your dog training program is going so well that it’s time for a reward. So you put on a t-shirt, tennis shoes and jeans and grab a Frisbee on your way out the back door. Your dog looks at you expectantly as you head to the far fence line of your backyard. You toss the Frisbee across the yard, expecting your dog to scamper after it pell-mell, but he just looks at you as though you’ve lost your mind. It sounds like your dog doesn’t know how to fetch, so you’ll have to teach it to him.
The first thing you will have to determine is the cue. A cue can be a physical aid or a word that tells the dog what you want. You can use the word “Fetch” as your cue, but make sure you choose a word or gesture that you will consistently use or it will become ineffective. The best cues are either abnormal gestures or words that have only one syllable. It should also not be a word or gesture that can be used in association with any other command.
To teach your dog to fetch, you’ll need to have an open area, preferably flat, and something you will ask your dog to fetch. A tennis ball, a brightly-colored Frisbee or a chew toy will work fine for this purpose. You might want to have multiple objects so that your dog knows “Fetch” doesn’t mean that one particular item, but anything you throw or want him to retrieve.
There are two basic approaches to teaching your dog to fetch. One is manual and the other is easier, but assumes your dog will immediately go after something you throw. If your dog doesn’t show any interest in retrieving objects, you will have to take the manual approach.
To train your dog to fetch manually, you will need to put your dog in a collar and on a leash. Take the object you want him to fetch to the park or into the yard and sit him down next to you. Toss the object a short distance across the yard (fifteen or twenty feet is plenty) and give the cue to fetch, whatever you have chosen. After you’ve given the cue, immediately walk forward toward the object you’ve tossed. Stop right in front of it and wait for him to pick it up. When he does, reward him generously and enforce the positive response. If he doesn’t pick it up, you might have to place it in his mouth to demonstrate.
Repeat the process until your dog seems to understand the game. Some dogs will catch on in ten or fifteen minutes while others might take several days’ worth of sessions. The most important thing is to not get frustrated with your dog if it takes him a while. All dogs learn at their own pace.
The other method of teaching your dog to fetch is the easier way, but as mentioned above, won’t work unless your dog already understands the concept of running after objects. Put your dog on his or her leash and toss the object a short distance. When you’re ready, unclip the leash and give the cue to fetch. When your dog runs after the object, wait until he or she has picked it up, and then give the “Come” command. The object here it to tell your dog not only to fetch, but also to return the object to you.
If your dog is just a companion animal, it isn’t usually necessary for your dog to wait for the fetch cue. However, if you are training your dog to retrieve for other purposes — such as hunting — you’ll need to instill in him the desire to wait for your command.