How to Teach Your Dog to Play Fetch
So you got a dog and took him out for his first game of fetch. But when you threw it, nothing happened. Maybe your dog zoomed over and picked it up, but didn’t bring it back. Maybe he just stared at you blankly. Either way, it’s totally normal for a dog not to instantly know what to do.
Some dogs are natural retrievers, but others need to learn the rules of the game. No big deal. It's one of the easiest dog tricks to master, so here’s how to teach your dog to play fetch.
Gather Your Supplies
To get started with this dog trick, you’ll need three things: something to play fetch with, small treats and, of course, a dog. A ball or squeaky toy should do the trick nicely.
Make sure that the fetch toy isn’t too big for your dog to comfortably pick up. Too small isn’t good either, as it can quickly become a choking hazard. This Kong size guide can help you estimate the right-sized toy for your dog.
Since an excess of treats isn’t healthy, select small, natural ones like these.
How to elevate your fetch game: Kong Air Dog Squeaker Ball for Dogs, $13.49
Teach Your Dog to 'Hold' the Ball
First, sit on the floor next to your dog. Offer him the toy and say the command "hold." If he takes the toy, even just for a second, praise him and offer him a treat.
Practice a few times until he consistently picks up the toy.
How to elevate your fetch game: Sugelary Squeaky Pineapple Dog Toy Non-Toxic Natural Rubber, $12.99
Gradually Increase the Distance
Try placing the toy a little farther away from you, then repeat the hold command and encourage him to pick up the toy. If he does, reward him with another treat.
Repeat for practice.
How to elevate your fetch game: ChuckIt! Dog Ball Thrower, $7.02
Change the Command
Once he’s got the hang of picking up the toy from a small distance, begin tossing it.
Then, switch the command to "fetch" and see if he can successfully retrieve the ball. See? He'll pick up this trick in no time.
How to elevate your fetch game: Amazon Brand – Wag Training Treats for Dogs, $5.65
Teach Him to Drop the Toy
If he retrieves the toy but doesn’t give it back, encourage him to drop the toy and give him a treat when he does.
Consistency is key with all dog tricks, so wait until he's mastered each step before moving on to the next one.
How to elevate your fetch game: Chuckit! Ultra Ball, Dog Toy, $5.95
Drop the Rewards
After he’s got it all down pat, start weaning him off the treats. Start by just offering a treat after a few successful rounds of fetch.
Then, just give him a treat at the end of a play session.
How to elevate your fetch game: Rachael Ray Nutrish Soup Bones Longer Lasting Dog Treat Chews, $9.99
Practice Makes Perfect
Congrats. You learned how to teach your dog to play fetch. Easy, right?
Now get off the internet, go outside with your pup and have fun. This round of fetch is on us. And remember, treats are helpful for teaching all dog tricks, so keep a few on hand on every excursion.
How to elevate your fetch game: Kong Durable Rubber Flying Disc Dog Toy, $10.99
When It Comes to Fetch, Bringing a Buddy Adds to the Fun
Once your dog has mastered the game of fetch, take the fun to the dog park.
It's good to start socializing your dog as soon as they have all their shots so that they learn how to play nice with other dogs early on.
Many dog parks have pet waste bag dispensers available, but bring some along just in case.
How to elevate your fetch game: Downtown Pet Supply Dog Pet Waste Poop Bags with Leash Clip, $7.99
Make Sure the Ball You Choose Is the Right Size
It might sound silly, but choosing the right-sized ball for your dog is nothing to joke about.
A ball that's too big will just make it harder for your pup to retrieve it. A ball that's too small, on the other hand, can be a choking hazard. If it can fit all the way inside a dog's mouth past their teeth, the ball is small enough to choke on.
That said, for puppies and petite breeds, these mini, squeaky tennis balls are awesome.
How to elevate your fetch game: Dog Squeaky Tennis Ball for Small Dogs and Puppies, $11.99
When You Forget to Bring a Ball, You Still Have Options
Dogs who love to run are usually down for a game of fetch with just about anything. Sticks are a favorite, but at home they can be a mess.
Try a faux stick that replicates the feeling of chewing on wood without having shredded bark all over the carpet.
How to elevate your fetch game: Petstages Dogwood Stick Large, $12.99
Tired of the Dog Park? Head to the Beach Instead
The beach is a great place to shake up your game of fetch. Just find one that allows dogs, and go nuts. Many sporting dog breeds love water, so don't hesitate to toss the ball in and see how they react.
For the car ride home, pick up an extra-absorbent towel to keep your car from perpetually smelling like wet dog.
How to elevate your fetch game: Tuff Pupper Large Dog Shammy Towel, $21.96
When Your Dog Becomes a Fetch Master, Buy a Frisbee
Not all dogs like frisbees, but many large dogs adore them. Instead of getting a hard plastic frisbee, try one meant for dogs that won't damage their teeth if they catch it mid-air.
Pro-tip: Don't throw the frisbee too high. While some dogs love jumping up to catch toys, it can cause undue wear and tear on their joints as they age.
How to elevate your fetch game: ChuckIt! Paraflight Flyer Dog Toy, $5
Tennis Balls Get Nasty Pretty Quickly, So Buy in Bulk
Tennis balls are cheap, so why buy just one at a time?
Stock up so your dog always has a fresh, clean tennis ball at the ready when their old one turns into a torn-up mess.
How to elevate your fetch game: Hyper Pet Tennis Balls For Dogs, 12 Pack, $17.95
If Your Dog Is Extra Slobbery, Try a Rubber Ball
As inexpensive and timeless as playing fetch with a tennis ball is, the soft, mesh-like ball can get a little, well, soggy. The more your dog slobbers, the grosser the ball is. While some amount of slime is just part of the game, a rubber ball won't soak up any of the slobber and is way easier to rinse off when it's time to call it a day.
How to elevate your fetch game: PetsLA Dog Ball Toys for Aggressive Chewers, $12.99
If You're Playing Fetch Out in Public, a Harness Is a Must
In an ideal world, all dogs would be expertly trained. They would all walk right by their owners' sides, obeying every command. Most of us, however, are not expert dog trainers.
Whether you're at the dog park or playing fetch on the beach, maintaining control of your pet is critical for their safety and the safety of others.
This harness is one of our favorites thanks to the handle on the back that makes it easy to control even the most hyped-up, fetch-crazed beasts.
How to elevate your fetch game: Barkbay No Pull Dog Harness Front Clip Heavy Duty Reflective Easy Control Handle for Large Dog, $14.95
And Don't Forget Your Favorite Leash, Either!
A leash is another dog owner essential. Even while playing fetch off-leash, it's important to have one with you anytime you're out with your dog.
You probably already have a leash, but think about a tangle-free upgrade when you need it.
How to elevate your fetch game: Tug 360° Tangle-Free, Heavy Duty Retractable Dog Leash with Anti-Slip Handle, $17.99
If You Don't Have Grass Around, Protect Your Dog's Paws
Grass is the ideal surface for playing fetch, but not everyone has a large, grassy area for dogs to run free on. If you're stuck with concrete, asphalt or even packed dirt, consider the health of your dog's paws.
In summer months, pavement can reach temperatures hot enough to burn paws. In winter, streets are often sprinkled with salt which can cause irritated, cracked paws.
Either way, dog shoes can keep your dog happily playing fetch all year round.
How to elevate your fetch game: XSY&G Dog Boots, Waterproof Dog Shoes, $26.98
Always Come Prepared for Muddy Paws
Dogs like to get dirty. It's all part of the fun, and if you can't stand a little mud now and again, you should probably consider getting a cat instead.
Muddy paws all over clean car seats or the just-mopped hallway, however, aren't anyone's idea of a good time. A portable paw cleaner removes dirt and debris from wet paws, and it's super easy to use.
How to elevate your fetch game: Dexas MudBuster Portable Dog Paw Washer/ Paw Cleaner, $14.95