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How To Teach Your Dog To Fetch In 5 Simple Steps

Whether it’s using a trusty tennis ball or a favourite Tug-E-Nuff toy, retrieve is a game that dogs of all breeds and backgrounds enjoy. 

For many domesticated dogs, the urge to retrieve harks back to the dog’s oldest relative: the wolf. Wolves had an instinctive urge to carry their successfully-hunted prey back to their families - and this instinctive canine urge has stayed with our four-legged friends ever since. 

However, it’s completely normal to have to teach dogs and puppies how to retrieve. Before we get into our step-by-step guide, let’s take a quick look at the reasons to train a retrieve...

Why play fetch? 
  • It’s highly rewarding. Retrieve stimulates the reward regions of a dog’s brain - so playing feels good!
  • It boosts bond. Playing retrieve is the perfect opportunity to enjoy some one-to-one time with your dog, which reinforces the bond you share. 
  • It helps with training. If your dog loves playing retrieve, it can play an important part in your recall training and act as an enriching reward when they do the right thing. 

Note: If you have a puppy or young dog, be sure to always play on a soft surface and don’t allow excessive jumping or twisting, as this can damage joints. Retrieve can be played with a ‘dead’ tuggy (that gets retrieved from the floor), rather than asking your pup to jump for a moving toy. 

How to Teach a Dog to Fetch in 5 Easy Steps...

STEP 1. Start playing tug 

Get stuck into a game of tug-of-war and after a few seconds, let go of the toy. While still supervising, let your dog have a few seconds to shake the toy! 

TOP TIP: If your dog is new to playing tug, follow the steps here to introduce it successfully. 

STEP 2. Call your dog

While your dog is still carrying the tug toy, call them back to you from a short distance. It can help to have a consistent command for this such as ‘NAME, bring it’. When your dog gets back to you, grab the handle of the toy and re-engage the game. Repeat a few times.

TOP TIP: If your dog doesn't willingly move towards you with the tug, try running away. Usually, a dog will give chase - then you can grab the handle and re-engage the game. Practice this a few times before trying again to call them from a short distance. 

STEP 3. Ask for a leave

Start playing tug and then ask your dog to ‘leave’. When they let go, toss the toy just a foot or two away (it’s really important not to throw it too far to begin with). Praise your dog when they pick it up - and when they turn back to you, instantly re-engage the game.  

STEP 4. Add distance

Once your dog can confidently carry out the previous steps, it’s time to add in some distance. After asking for a leave, start throwing the toy further away. Remember to do this little-by-little so that you’re always setting your dog up for success. When your dog gets to the toy you’ve thrown, ask them to ‘bring it’ - and re-engage the game the second they do!

STEP 5. Use different toys

A tug toy that’s weighted perfectly for throwing, such as those highlighted below, is the perfect way to teach a retrieve. But as your dog gets the hang of the steps above, you can introduce different tuggies, toys and balls.  

TOP TIP: If your dog doesn’t find tug on its own motivating enough, use a food-based toy like The Clam (see below for how). 

3 Best Toys for Teaching Your Dog to Retrieve:

Pocket Magnet

The Pocket Magnet features enticing real Sheepskin, which has a unique scent and texture that most dogs go wild for, and a short-but-stretchy handle.

Your dog will be happy to do almost anything to play tug with it, so it’s perfect for teaching a retrieve. Plus, its compact size makes it handy for taking on walks and easy to throw. 

Pocket Bungee - Sheepskin Ball Tug

Once your dog has the hang of playing tug with the Pocket Magnet, you’ll want to start adding in some distance - and for that you might like a tuggy with a bit more weight to it. 

The Pocket Bungee - Sheepskin Ball Tug features a super soft sheepskin bite area but it also has the added bonus of a built-in ball. It’s the ultimate intermediate toy for teaching your dog to retrieve!

The Clam

For some dogs, tug is fun but it’s food that they find most motivating. In this case, it might be quicker and easier to teach a retrieve with a food-based toy like the Clam.

How to play: Fill it with a couple of smelly treats (like dried sprats) and throw it a short distance. Your dog will be able to help themselves to the treats inside, thanks to the Clam’s clever design. But they’ll need to bring it back to get it re-filled! Then repeat - and once they’ve got the hang of it, try playing with one of the toys suggested above.

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