How to Train a Puppy or Dog to Fetch

Interested in learning how to train a puppy to fetch? The fetch command goes far and beyond being just a fun trick to show family and friends.

Training a dog to fetch in fact can be a great way to build a bond with your puppy or dog and a great opportunity to release pent-up energy.

If your dog is a sporting dog, purposely bred to hunt and retrieve, then by teaching fetch you are also fulfilling your dog's inherit desire to perform certain tasks.

Learning how to train a puppy to fetch is not a difficult task. If you own a Labrador retriever or Golden retriever puppy, chances are, he or she may be genetically inclined to fetch, making the task much easier. However, mostly any breed can be taught to fetch using a reward-based training program.

Positive reinforcement in particular, is a training method based on the scientific principles of learning theory. Let's see how to train a puppy or dog to fetch using rewards.

How to Train a Puppy to Fetch

How to Train a Puppy to Fetch

Training a dog to fetch varies a bit from other commands for the simple fact that it entails a chain of behaviors. In order to fetch, a dog must learn to follow a thrown item, pick it up with its mouth, carry it to the owner and release it. One of the best ways to train a dog to fetch is by using a method known as "back chaining".

In back chaining, the last behavior of a chain is learned first, therefore training takes place in reverse order. In training a dog to fetch, consequently, the first step would entail teaching a dog to first pick up and drop an item on request and the last one would entail teaching him to follow a thrown item.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to train a puppy or dog to fetch. Disclaimer: the game may get addicting!

  1. Teach your dog to "take" by offering a fetch toy, ball or dummy
  2. Entice your dog to take it by wriggling it around
  3. Praise and treat the moment the puppy picks up the fetching item
  4. Repeat several times
  5. Add the cue "drop" after your dog picks up the fetching item and hold your open hands under the toy
  6. Praise and reward with a treat when your puppy drops the item in your hands
  7. Entice your dog to pick up the item again
  8. Take a few steps back and encourage your dog to drop the item in your hands
  9. Wriggle the item, and next, toss it saying "fetch!"
  10. Entice your dog to come back to you
  11. Say "drop"
  12. Toss the toy again requesting "fetch" and then "drop" and continue playing the game

Troubleshooting Common Puppy Fetch Problems

How to train my puppy to fetch if he is disinterested in the fetching toy or does not want to give it up? These are common questions.

Encompassing a complex chain of behaviors, several problems can be encountered when you learn how to train a puppy or dog to fetch. Some dogs can be quite picky on the items to fetch. Try to work with a variety of fetching toys of different shapes, materials and sizes such as: tennis balls, Frisbee, dumbbell, dummies, Kongs icon and more.

A common problem encountered when you teach your dog to fetch is a tendency to want to play "keep away". In such scenario the dog picks up the item and tries to convince you to "come and get it". In such case, you may try to call your dog to you and show him another toy and make it extra appealing. Very likely your dog will come running and drop the toy to have your other one. Toss it and continue switching toys.

How to train a puppy or dog to fetch if he is dropping the toy too early?

Often, these are dogs eager to come and get their reward. They may be thinking "better off drop the toy so my mouth is empty and ready to get my treat". In this case, try to get his mind off the treats icon by keeping them out of sight and walk in the opposite direction enticing him to follow you. This should cause him to come towards you with the toy in his mouth. Praise and reward for bringing the toy to you.

Finally, how to train your puppy to fetch if he is reluctant to drop the fetching toy on command?

It does not hurt to show a treat so your dog will have to drop the toy to have access to it. Once he understands that it is convenient to give up the toy in exchange for a treat, he will be much more compliant to play fetch.

Benefits of Training Fetch

There are several benefits derived from learning how to train a puppy or dog to fetch. If your dog is a fetch-dog machine and shows a vivid interest in the game you may also be interested in enrolling him in Flyball, a canine sport that is steadily gaining popularity. Competition aside, imagine how the following scenarios may benefit your dog and yourself after training fetch:

  1. Your dog can get plenty of exercise
  2. You can play fetch with your dog while comfortably sitting on the couch
  3. You can train your dog to go get an item for you
  4. You can impress family and friends with this cute trick

And of course, fetching can be a great outlet for pent-up energy, a good way to form a stronger bond, and ultimately, a structured obedience exercise that gives a dog a purpose. Learning how to train a puppy or dog to fetch is therefore advantageous in many ways, not to mention a great way to spend quality time with your pampered pooch.

Here is a brief video that talks about some of the things we just covered in this article...

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Puppy Training

If you need help with teaching your dog obedience commands or just trying to understand dog behavior, I recommend this dog behavior and obedience training guide.


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