Playing a rousing game of fetch with your dog not only burns off excess energy while improving the pup’s motor skills and co-ordination, it is also an excellent way to bond with your dog because they learn how much fun paying attention to you can be.
But not all dogs take to a game of fetch easily. Dogs either have a strong desire to chase after a thrown object or they don’t. In theory, it is the level of prey drive that determines whether a dog chases after something, but that prey drive is not created equal. A dog may have a strong prey drive when it comes to chasing squirrels, yet it may be completely indifferent to a ball that is tossed and follows the same path as the squirrel.
So is it possible to teach a non-fetching dog to play fetch?
Yes it is, but like all training it takes time and patience and completely depends on your dog’s personality.
To train a non-fetching dog to fetch, you have to start by training two separate behaviours. Once the dog has mastered the two separate behaviours, you then shape them into one.
In the first stage of training, the goal is to visually stimulate a dog to follow something that you have tossed for it and be excited about it. Food is the best option and I often suggest that a dog owner use something irresistible to a dog. It could be cooked chicken or bacon or a prepared treat from a pet store that the dog adores. Whatever it is, make sure it is drool worthy.
Start with the dog sitting in front of you and give it a treat. Once your dog knows you have a delicious treat for it, wave the treat in front if its nose until you see their eyes following the treat and then drop it at your dog’s feet. Do this about three more times. Remember you are just training your dog to be visually stimulated.
Next, take the treat and wave it in front of your dogs nose and then toss the treat about a foot or so away from your dog. Make sure your dog sees you tossing the treat away. Your dog should enthusiastically pursue the treat in the direction of the toss. Once it eats the treat, quickly pull out another and encourage your dog to return to you to receive it. You can verbally praise your dog while this is going on but don’t add any specific commands yet as the goal of this exercise is to build a dogs’ visual enthusiasm.
As you continue to do this exercise, toss the treat a bit further each time. If your dog loses sight of where it fell, simply go and help him find it.
Once your dog is racing after a treat tossed up to 10 or so feet away and returning to you, change the game a bit and begin to add a command such as “Fetch it up.”
Toss the treat away from you as you have been and now say your chosen word. Now, when your dog returns to you after finding the tossed treat and is still in motion, take that second treat and toss it in another direction and say the fetch command. You are now ramping up the enthusiasm part of the training so that the dog excitedly returns with the expectation of a treat being tossed again. Remember this is just a training sequence to build a dog’s enthusiasm and it is not the entire fetch training routine.
The progression of this exercise should take you a week. So, practice and have fun with it and I will share the next step of the training in my next column. In the meantime, find a toy that your dog likes because the second step of the training involves using a toy. Find a toy that you think your dog might like, not one that you like. I like the idea of my dogs chasing a ball but neither of them like it. But they love chasing retrieving dummies. So go shopping with your pup and we will continue the lesson in my next column.
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 20 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at email@example.com.