“Are you sure you’re part lab?” you sigh as your dog runs off with the ball again. Or maybe your dog doesn’t have a drop of retriever blood in them, but you still would like to get the ball back once in awhile.
The truth is, every dog can learn to fetch. Even cats can be convinced that it’s fun to bring the ball back to their favorite human.
Step 1: Hyping Up the Ball
When you’re first teaching “fetch,” you’ll need to use a ball that your pet doesn’t mind holding in their mouth. It’s even better to find a toy that they love to chase.
Before every “fetch” session, get your pet excited about the ball. Swipe it back and forth across the floor. Toss it up in the air. Once your pet starts following the ball with their eyes and swatting it with their paws, they’re ready to learn.
Step 2: Start with the Last Step
The most effective way to teach fetch is through a method known as “back-chaining.” This is when you teach the last step in a sequence first and work your way back.
To perform “fetch,” your pet actually has to take four steps: chase the ball, pick up the ball, bring it back, and place it in your hand.
First, hold the ball out in front of your pet, allowing them to take it from you. Quickly place your hand under their mouth and offer them a treat.
Your pet should then drop the ball, coincidentally at first, right into your hand. If they don’t, you’ll need to make it a little easier. You can trade treats for toys to help your pet overcome the urge to run away with the ball.
You can also toss the ball in the air. As they catch it, they’ll be close to you so you will have a chance to put your hand under their chin. A treat will encourage your pet to drop the ball into your hand.
High-value treats can make it too difficult for your pet to stay focused on the ball. You might find it easier to use your pet’s regular food or a less exciting, cookie-type treat.
Step 3: Add Distance
Your few sessions should only be about teaching your pet to drop items in your hand. You can use a cue like “give,” or “drop it” if you’d like. Once your pet gets the hang of “give,” you can start to toss the ball for the beginning stages of a “fetch.”
Toss the ball just behind your pet. They should immediately bring it to your hand. If they don’t, you can shorten the distance to increase the chance that your pet will bring the ball to you.
Once your pet starts consistently bringing you the ball, you can add the cue, “fetch!” as you throw the ball. Then, gradually up the distance until your pet is successfully fetching.
When Your Pet Gets Greedy with the Ball
Your pet might still occasionally think it’s more fun to take the ball and run with it, rather than bringing it back. Don’t chase after them or call them back more than once.
Instead, make sure they realize they’re missing out. Start playing with a different toy. Squeak it, toss it up in the air, act like it’s way better than any ball.
If your pet comes back with the original ball, make the trade. If not, just try again, upping your rewards to make sure bringing the ball back is very exciting for your pet.
More Fun with Fetch
Once your pet knows how to “fetch,” you can adapt this trick for even more fun.
Throw the ball and say “fetch!” then run a few steps to the side so your pet has to chase you before getting the ball to your hand.
Only reward your pet when they place the ball in your hand, not when they drop it in front of you. That way, your hand becomes a target. This makes it easier to teach “put your toys away!”
Hold your hand out over your pet’s toy basket as they return with the ball. Reward them when the ball falls into the basket. After a few sessions, you’ll no longer need to place your hand near the basket as a target. This is also a great way to teach pets to throw away trash and play basketball.