Have you ever seen the commercials where the dog is happily bounding through a field after a ball his handler has just thrown? Have you ever thrown a ball for your dog and he’s just looked at you? If so, this article is for you! Before I was a dog owner, I just assumed that retrieving balls or sticks or whatever object was thrown, was an inherent dog trait. I never realized some dogs have to be trained to chase and retrieve. The good news is, it is a fairly easy behavior to teach.
You will need the following equipment:
- A bait bag in which to place the dog’s food/treats.
- A clicker
- High value food reward
- A ball, stick or other toy (the toy you will toss and the dog should retrieve).
* It is necessary to have done the work of clicker training or at least conditioning the clicker prior to beginning training this behavior.*
Find a secure area where you feel safe allowing your dog to go off leash. If this isn’t possible, use a long lead on a flat collar. Before you begin, remember this should be a fun training session where you are teaching your dog to enjoy exercise and play. While you will be using the clicker to train this behavior, the exercise itself is nearly void of obedience.
Begin by having your dog’s attention so that he can watch you throw a treat just a few feet away. The dog should be allowed to freely pursue and eat the treat. As the dog turns around and/or takes his first steps toward you, “click” and begin to praise the dog. When he returns to you, take a few steps backward while handing your dog several treats one at a time. Repeat this exercise several times throwing the treat a little bit further each time.
You may find that training this behavior is easier on an interior (flat/smooth) surfaced floor. You want to avoid having the dog spend time looking for the treat as may be necessary on a grassy field. It is your aim to have the dog run to the treat, consume it, turn, and run back to you. If the area you are using causes the dog to have to search for the treat, the focus of this exercise may be lost.
Once the dog consistently performs the behavior replace the thrown treat with a toy. As you did with the treat, toss the toy. Allow the dog to pursue the toy. As he picks up the toy and turns toward you, “Click” and praise the dog. When he returns to you, offer several treats (one at a time) as you back away. If the dog does not show interest in the food and only wants you to throw the toy – you have succeeded in teaching your (toy driven) dog to fetch!
If your dog continues to want the treat, continue to train the behavior. If your dog is food driven, it is likely he will continue to want the treat as his reward. Consider phasing out the treats by giving fewer and fewer as a reward. With some dogs, you may need to continue providing treats to encourage the fetch behavior.
Congratulations on teaching your dog a wonderful way to exercise and interact with you. If your dog is anything like mine, I hope your arm is ready to throw until it falls off! Happy fetching!
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