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Best Way to Teach a Dog to Retrieve a Ball

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Fetch is one of the best games you can learn to play with your pet. Many dogs love playing fetch, and it comes naturally to them. For example, if you have a Golden Retriever or a Labrador Retriever, their fetch instinct comes naturally. But for some other dog breeds, you might have to go through some dog training fetch process.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have dogs that have a natural prey drive and love to chase, but they do not retrieve. For example, a Jack Russell, who will chase, but then run away with the prize.

If you do not want to end up throwing a ball or a toy, and your dog sits watching you, then here are some ways to teach fetch.

Why Should You Teach Fetch?

You might be wondering, why do I need the fetch command in my arsenal of dog training. Well, playing fetch is one of the best ways to provide exercise for your puppy.

Why? Well, it doesn’t take a lot of space. You do not need to go on a long walk or hike to tire out your dog. It is mentally stimulating and rewarding for your puppy. And you do not need any other dog to play with or pet owners. It is just you and your dog.

Most importantly, after a good fetch play session, your dog will be happy and exhausted. Isn’t that something we all love?

Before You Start

Before you begin the dog training fetch process, you have to teach your dog the concept of hold. Because if your dog doesn’t hold the fetch toy, the whole concept of the fun game disappears. You cannot fetch it if you drop it before you bring it, right? With that in mind, here is how to teach the hold command.

  1. Sit on the floor, have your dog right to you, and hold a dog toy showing it to your puppy
  2. Let your dog come and investigate, and sniff the toy. Praise that comment with a verbal praise, clicker, and then follow it up with a treat. Wait until your dog begins putting her mouth on the dog toy
  3. It is time to increase the criteria. If your dog is now regularly putting his/her mouth on the toy, start building duration. Do not immediately click/praise. Wait for a moment with your dog’s mouth on the toy before praising and rewarding
  4. Slowly build time with fractions of a second. You can now begin moving your hands off of the plush toy or tug toy, and then quickly put the hand back on the toy before your dog drops it. Praise, take the object, and give your puppy a treat
  5. Slowly increase the time your dog is supposed to hold the toy in her mouth


Teaching Fetch

The best technique for teaching fetch is lure reward training. You might find it as positive reinforcement training as well. The concept is quite simple. We saw it with the hold it command. You reward your dog for positive/good behavior. The more you reward good behavior, the more likely is your dog to repeat it.

Now let’s talk about fetch training with positive reinforcement.

  1. Start by putting something on a leash, it can be any toy, be it a plush toy, a tug toy, or anything else. Throw it away
  2. As your dog runs to catch it, and catches it, pull it toward you and give a treat
  3. Throw it again, and repeat. This teaches your dog that if he/she gives back the object, you will throw it again
  4. What you do here is you do not need to reward your dog for giving the object back. The object, the toy, in this case, becomes the reward
  5. Repeat as many times as you need until your dog understands he gets a reward for retrieving the object

Another technique you can use is with two toys. The challenge with this dog training fetch method is your puppy might love the first toy more than the second toy. Here is how it works.

  1. You throw a toy and wait for your dog to retrieve it
  2. As your dog brings the first toy, reveal a second toy that he loves more than the first one
  3. Wait for your dog to drop the toy, and you trade. You throw the new toy as he brings the old one to you
  4. Repeat several times


Bonus Tips

Because I want you to be successful in your fetch training, I would love to give you some bonus tips. Fetch is one of the basic commands for playing with your puppy. The more you play, the better bond you have with your puppy. And you can always use playtime to do some manner training. For example, I use it for impulse control, reinforcing sit and calm behavior, and more. Here are some tips:

  • Add extra motivation to encourage your dog to chase the toy by holding him/her back after throwing the toy. Dogs will naturally tug against you, and once you finally let them go, they will go after the object like a rocket
  • If your dog loves to run away with the toy, you can do the same. Once your dog catches the object, run away from your puppy to encourage him to follow you. If your dog doesn’t do it, use a rope leash to reel it in and praise when your dog gets close. Then toss the object again
  • In the beginning, use your dog’s favorite toy. No dog will run after something he doesn’t like in the beginning. Experiment with different toys until you find one that motivates your furry friend
  • Start by throwing the object at a short distance. Gradually work your way up to a longer distance

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