How to Teach Your Dog to Fetch

Fetch is a game all dogs and their people can enjoy together, even if your dog doesn’t take to it naturally. We show you how to teach a dog to play fetch in five easy steps.

Happy and cheerful dog playing fetch with toy bone at backyard lawn
Most dogs can be taught to fetch, even if the skill doesn’t come naturally to them. ©alexei_tm/Getty Images

Fetch is a fun game for dogs and people to play together. What is fetch? Fetch is an activity where the human throws an object, such as a dog ball or toy (read here on how to find the best toy for your dog’s personality), and the dog retrieves it. Some dogs seem to be born to fetch, and often seek out playing fetch with their owners. But fetch doesn’t come naturally to all dogs. However, all dogs can learn to fetch and enjoy the game.

Supplies needed to teach your dog to fetch: 

How to teach your dog to fetch:

Senior man playing fetch with his golden retriever
For dogs that love to fetch over and over again, there are fetch dog products to help make the game more enjoyable for the dog and human. ©Fly View Productions/Getty Images

Start by teaching your dog to fetch at home at a quiet time without a lot of distractions, so your dog will be able to focus on learning this new skill.

Step 1: Reward your dog for holding a toy or other object. Start with a toy or ball that your dog likes and hold it out to your dog. Click/praise and reward with a treat after any engagement with the toy, such as sniffing or nudging at the toy. Then show the toy to your dog and click/praise and reward your dog for putting his mouth on the toy. When your dog is consistently putting his mouth on the toy, add your verbal cue of your choice like “take” or “hold.” Once your dog is putting his mouth on the toy and showing engagement, you’re ready to work on fetch.

Step 2: Extend a toy out to your dog and ask your dog to hold it using the verbal cue. When your dog takes the toy, praise/click and give a treat.

Step 3: Put the toy down in front of you on the floor and ask your dog to pick up the toy. When he does, praise/click and treat. When your dog is consistently picking up the toy and bringing it to you, introduce a verbal cue of choice like “fetch” or “bring.”

Step 4: Start to move the toy further away, and then ask your dog to “bring it.” Go slowly with the distance you’re asking your dog to fetch; the goal is to make sure your dog is having fun and is successful instead of trying to see how far your dog can fetch. Keep the game interesting by alternating between having the toy a close distance and having it further away. Always reward your dog for bringing the toy back.

Step 5: Once your dog is consistently fetching a toy placed at various distances, start to throw the toy and use the verbal cue to ask your dog to “bring it back.” Practice the skill with other balls and toys, too. Build up the difficulty gradually by first tossing a toy a short distance in the house, before starting to ask your dog to fetch while outside or in other distracting situations.

Keep rewarding your dog for fetching:

Although fetch is a highly rewarding game for some dogs, it isn’t naturally rewarding for all dogs. Some dogs will develop a love of the game, while others will fetch on cue when asked, but don’t find personal enjoyment in the game. For these dogs, keep reinforcing by using a treat to reward the fetch behavior.

Teaching fetch to dogs who don’t like toys:

Teaching fetch to dogs who don’t naturally enjoy playing with toys can be more challenging, but it’s not impossible! Start teaching with a soft plush toy that has a pouch to put treats inside. The scent of the hidden treats will inspire most dogs to show interest in the toy and be willing to put the toy in his mouth. Build on that behavior to teach your dog to hold and then fetch the toy. Once your dog understands the skill you can ask your dog to fetch other balls or toys.

Products for playing fetch with your dog

Although fetch can be as simple as throwing a ball to your dog, who then chases it and brings it back to you, there are ways to make it more exciting for dog who love to fetch. These dog products can make fetch more easy for the human and fun for the dog who loves to fetch over and over again.

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