Here’s how to teach your dog to play fetch

Client: Animal PlanetAgency: Getty Images10_16_2018New York, NY
Client: Animal PlanetAgency: Getty Images10_16_2018New York, NY /

Throwing a ball around the yard is a great way to spend time with your favorite dog, and we’ve got an explanation for how to teach your dog to play fetch.

While it’s not as important as teaching your dog to sit, playing fetch is still one of the Very Important Skills that humans should know, and a great way to spend time with your doggo. Here’s how to teach your dog how to play fetch.

It doesn’t really matter what you play with, so long as it’s not valuable – lawn-mowing sneakers would be acceptable, I suppose, though tennis balls are the most common, or interestingly-shaped sticks. We’ll use a tennis ball as an example throughout.

Frisbees are another good option, though they likely include a slightly different process.

According to PetMD, there are three major hurdles to teaching your dog how to play: either they don’t understand the point at all, they chase the toy but don’t bring it back, or they chase and return it but won’t drop it.

To begin, shake the tennis ball so that it looks interesting, and then when Trusty chomps on it, tell him to drop it while offering a treat. Once he figures out that “drop” means that treats or praise are on the way, then it’s time to move to the next step.

Rolling the ball about a foot is a good way to introduce the chasing part of the game. Once he gets used to the idea of going after the ball and bringing it back, then you slowly increase the throw distance.

If you keep the training sessions short – five or ten minutes – once or twice a day for several weeks, this should work. (It did when teaching our Airedale/Labrador Shadow while growing up, though my Beagle mix Sunny never got the hang of it.)

Actual tennis balls used for playing work much better than the fuzzier kind especially made for dogs to chew on; they bounce better, which is more interesting for the dog, and their aerodynamics are much smoother, which makes it easier for you as the human to throw accurately.

You might use a fuzzy-coated toy like a Chuckit or a sock ball if you’re indoors or your dog has sensitive jaws. If your dog likes a more substantial toy, try using an old baseball or softball (if it’s a large breed). Sticks are always free when you’re outdoors and are good to chew on, though you might use a bumper instead, since  some dogs like them (they’re often used in water sports).

Next. Here's how to teach your dog to sit. dark

As Alice and Martin Provensen point out in their picture book The Animals of Maple Hill Farm, some dogs will have to see where the ball goes in order to chase it properly, while others have to smell where it went. Others, especially working breeds, will have no interest in playing fetch at all, which is fine too.

Good luck with your training, and have fun!