How to Play Fetch
Connect a leash to your dog's collar and sit down on the floor with your dog. Toss your dog's favorite toy a small distance (within your reach) and let him get it. Encourage him if needed. When he grabs the toy, say "good boy". Use the leash to prevent him from playing "keep away". Say "come" or "bring it" to get your dog to bring the toy to you. Do not use the leash to pull or drag your dog to you. If you need to, give a few gentle tugs on the leash to motivate your dog to willingly return to you.
Reach out and grab the toy while in his mouth, holding the toy as still as possible, and say "drop it". Make sure your voice is calm and kind, not harsh. Don't pry the toy from your dog's mouth, and don't let your dog attempt to play tug. Be patient, hold the toy still so the activity becomes boring and wait for your dog to release it. As soon as your dog releases the toy, praise "good boy!" and immediately, without any hesitation, toss it again so the dog understands the game will continue if he gives the toy to you. Toss the toy in differenct directions, and once in awhile allow your dog to keep the toy and celebrate for a couple minutes before asking your dog to give it to you.
If your dog won't let go of the toy, you can try holding another toy just in front of his nose and wait for him to release the toy. If this doesn't work, don't try to bribe with treats, just continue to be patient and wait for the dog to release the toy. As soon as your dog releases the toy, praise "good boy!" and then immediately, without any hesitation, toss the toy to continue the game.
End the game by giving your dog a few of his favorite treats after you have removed the toy. Practice this for only 5-10 minutes, several times a day. Do not rush this process and do not get frustrated with your dog. Some dogs can take several weeks before getting good at this. Keep the activity lighthearted and fun. Laugh at your dog's mistakes and encourage your dog to keep trying. This is the crucial first step towards developing a reliable fetch in your dog. After plenty of practice, you will not have to grab the toy from your dog's mouth, he will give it to you upon hearing your cue "drop it". Do not continue to Step 2 until you are successful with this step.
Now we can slowly increase the distance. Say "fetch" just before you toss the toy, tossing the toy a few feet farther each time. Call your dog back to you, "Fido, come" or "Fido, bring it". Remember to continue just as you have been, saying "drop it", giving praise, and continuing the game for every successful fetch.
If at any time your dog does not bring the toy back to you, do not chase him or make a fuss, allow your dog to celebrate and then use a long line to gently guide your dog back to you. This makes it clear that the fun and games will continue only if he brings the toy back to you. If your dog stops bringing the toy back to you, go back to a shorter distance and easier fetch game. Again, do not continue to the next step until you are successful with this step.
Continue practicing this game of fetch over and over. When you introduce a new object such as a ball, or change to a different location, you will need to start out again at a short distance and increase the distance slowly. Remember to only praise your dog when the fetched object gets delivered directly to you.
If your dog does not show any interest in a ball, you can cut a small slit into it. Then put a few smelly treats into the hole. Show it to your dog. If he sniffs it, praise him and reward with a treat. Repeat until he shows interest in the ball, then start asking him to fetch it.
Once your dog is motivated to fetch and has a good understanding of the rules, it will be time to teach your dog impulse control. The goal is for your dog to learn to wait for the "fetch" command before running after the ball. This is a way to build in the prevention of your dog just running out into the street after a ball and waiting for you to say its safe to go get it.
Start by having your dog "place", "sit", or "down". Stay is implied. Bounce the ball and catch it. If your dog breaks command, say "no" and put your dog back. Do this until your dog stays put while bouncing the ball, reward by tossing the ball while saying "fetch". Once your dog understands to wait, increase the difficulty by having your dog stay put while you toss the ball away. If you need to, hold your dog by his collar or harness and wait until your dog is calm and giving you eye contact before releasing your dog to "fetch". Stop holding your dog when you see your dog understands to wait for your permission, "fetch". When your dog returns, ask for the ball and repeat the exercise. Once your dog knows to wait for the "fetch" command, increase the rules by adding duration (5 sec, 10 sec, 15 sec) before releasing your dog. You can also ask for a few obedience commands, "place", "sit", "down" before releasing your dog.
Lastly, do not rush this. Take your time and keep it fun. If your dog is making lots of mistakes, you are moving too fast, too soon. Go back a step in your training until your dog gets it before moving forward.
Are Tennis Balls Safe?
- The fuzzy coating on the tennis ball can be abrasive, much like a scouring pad. Dogs who obsessively chew on them can end up wearing down their tooth enamel. Tooth enamel erosion can lead to tooth sensitivity, increased decay, and fracturing. This can lead to aggressive behaviors. Ever have a toothache?
- Some dogs can have allergic reactions to the rubber latex they are made with. Reactions can be mild to severe, causing skin rashes, hives, swelling and closing of the eyes, or closing of the airways. Most reactions can be relieved with Benadryl. However in severe cases you will need to get your dog to a vet.
- Instead of tennis balls, use rubber balls that manufactured to be safe for dogs.