The fetch or retrieve is a great behavior to teach from scratch or refine in your dog. A quick game of fetch is a fantastic outlet for a dog's natural prey drive and knocks the edge off even the most energetic of dogs. Plus it's one of the few interactive games you and your dog can play together - it's a brilliant way to strengthen your human-dog bond.
Most dogs love to chase a ball and return it to you, but many dogs need a little guidance to get the behavior up to a satisfactory level. You'll find your dog to be a natural or reluctant retriever at first, but after a while most dogs love playing a game of fetch. Why wouldn't they? It's great fun!
Teaching a rock solid and reliable retrieve takes a few separate steps to get just right. The following steps will teach your dog to be interested in an object, charge after it when it is thrown, pick it up, return it straight back to you and drop it at your feet. All without any skylarking, sniffing, hesitation or detours!
Ok lets get started, we'll build the retrieve behavior step-by-step. Start out simple and slowly build upon your dog's successes - this is the best way to shape any new behavior.
When your puppy grabs the toy you should reach out and take it from his/her mouth while saying "good puppy". As soon as you have hold of the toy you need to replace it by feeding a treat to your dog.
If your puppy won't let go of the toy, simply use the treat as a bribe. Hold the treat just in front of his nose and wait for him to drop the toy - praise your dog and give him the treat as soon as the toy drops from his mouth. Practice this simple game in 5 minute blocks, at least a couple of times a day. This is the crucial first step towards developing a solid and reliable fetch or retrieve in your dog.
After plenty of practice and continual reinforcement (the treats) you will not have to grab the toy from your dog's mouth, he will give it to you upon hearing your cue word. Now we have got the basic fetch behavior we are trying to shape - we just need to build on it a little more.
Important: If at any time your dog does not bring the toy back to you do not chase him or make a fuss. Simply sit and wait patiently until he brings it back to you - then treat as normal. Your aim is to make it clear to your dog that in order for the fun and games to continue he must bring the toy back to you. If your dog doesn't bring the toy back to you, finish up and try again later on - next time go back to the shorter and easier retrieve game as in Step 1.
You can also gradually fade the treats now. The game itself will be reward enough for your dog. Instead of a tasty treat being your dog's motivation, the next throw of the ball will be enough of an incentive for him to bring the ball straight back to you.
The retrieve is a great exercise to teach most dogs and it will only take you a couple of days to work through the 5 steps outlined above. Pretty soon you will have an eager dog who drops the ball at your feet at any opportunity!
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Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.