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How to Train a Dog to Fetch

Warm up your pitching arm and be patient—you might just be playing “Throw” for a while before your dog catches on.


  • Step 1: Pick something to throw Pick something for your dog to fetch. A favorite toy works great, but a tennis ball works well too.
  • TIP: Don’t use a stick as a throw toy. Besides being dangerous to throw near other people, a stick can hurt your dog’s mouth and may contain parasites.
  • Step 2: Carry treats Stash a handful of dog treats in your pocket, so you’ll have them handy.
  • TIP: A clean t-shirt or dishtowel makes a great throw toy if you tie a knot in the middle. It’s floppy, the knot makes it easy to pick up, and it’s machine-washable.
  • Step 3: Make sure you have room If you’re playing with your dog inside, make sure you have enough space to throw a toy or ball without breaking anything. A hallway works great.
  • Step 4: Avoid dangerous areas If you’re playing outside, make sure the dog can’t stray into traffic or other dangerous areas. A fenced backyard is best.
  • TIP: Many public outdoor spaces require dogs to be leashed, so don’t turn your pooch loose in a park without checking the rules.
  • Step 5: Get your dog’s attention Shake the toy or tennis ball in front of your dog. Make a big fuss over it and hold it just out of reach.
  • Step 6: Throw the toy When you’ve got the dog’s attention, throw the toy or ball a short distance. This will make it easier for the dog to keep her eye on it.
  • Step 7: Praise the dog When the dog runs after the toy, pile on the praise. If she picks it up, be even more positive.
  • Step 8: Bring your dog to the toy Most likely your dog will chase the toy. But if she dog doesn’t seem to understand about fetching after you’ve thrown the object a few times, clip a leash to her collar and walk her over to it. Praise her for arriving at the right spot.
  • TIP: If the dog doesn’t pick up the toy, it’s helpful to have a friend actually put it into her mouth. Of course, the instant the dog is carrying the toy, more praise is in order.
  • Step 9: Call her back When the dog has the fetch toy in her mouth, call her back to you. Yell 'Bring it here! Bring it here!' Praise her as soon as she starts to move toward you.
  • Step 10: Give her a treat As soon as the dog arrives with the toy, praise her and give her a treat. When she sees the treat, she should drop the toy automatically. Say 'Drop it!' immediately, as soon as you see her starting to drop the toy. That way, she’ll associate the command with what she’s already doing.
  • TIP: Never try to take the fetch toy away from the dog. You don’t want her to think tug-of-war is part of this game! And if she runs, don’t encourage her by chasing after—run the other way, and offer a treat when she follows you instead.
  • Step 11: Reduce treat levels As your dog gets to understand the rules of this game, you can gradually stop giving her treats for performing her part of the routine. Taper them off to once every other time she brings the toy back, then once every third time, and so on.
  • Step 12: Vary the routine Once your dog has learned the 'Fetch!' basics, feel free to vary the routine. Try tossing a flying disk for a change. Throw the toy for longer distances, or over different terrains—even into the water, if you’re at a beach. Before long, your dog will be bringing you her special toy and begging you to play!
  • FACT: Newfoundland dogs, which have webbed feet, are so good at fetching and swimming that in the past they were trained to rescue drowning swimmers.

You Will Need

  • A dog
  • Somewhere big enough to play in
  • A tennis ball or favorite dog toy to throw
  • And dog treats
  • A t-shirt or dishtowel with a knot tied in the middle
  • A leash
  • A helper

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