How to Teach Your Puppy to Play Fetch

Playing fetch with dogs can open a world of fun for you and your pup. It is a game immortalised in all puppy guides—and for good reason! Fetch is both an excellent way for you to bond with your dog and for him to burn off all his excess energy. It also improves his motor skills and increases his ability to respond to commands. Playing fetch with dogs shows them how much fun listening can be!

Teaching your dog fetch is not difficult, but it does take time and patience. How quickly and easily he picks up the game depends on his personality. Some dogs are naturally curious and excitable, running around and exploring wherever they are directed. A new game will seem like a challenge for them and they will be eager to get started. Other dogs can be more sedate, listening to you several times before they finally act. They like to make sure they’ve got all the instructions! But whichever kind of dog you have, teaching them young is always best. Puppies have more energy and are more open to listening to commands. They are also eager to please.

Things to have on hand

Choose a toy your puppy is happy playing with. Some dogs like balls, others fluffier toys—don’t be constrained by what you think you should choose. It is best to pick something your pup is already in love with, as he will be more inclined to listen. His favourite toy will do nicely.

It is also wise to keep a bag of treats handy. Any Purina® treat will do—uncontainable excitement is just what we’re looking for. It’s important to have treats to reinforce good behaviour. Every time your dog listens to you and you reward him, he knows that this is what you want. He will be less confused and will pick up good behaviour faster. Rewards are an easy way to communicate without language.

The process of teaching fetch to dogs and puppies

Stage 1: Tug of war

  • Hold the toy out to your puppy and get him to take it in his mouth. Puppies are easily distracted and this can sometimes take a while. If he seems uninterested, play with the toy and look extremely excited. If you seem excited enough, your puppy will instantly want to join in the fun!

  • Once he’s taken hold of the toy, play tug of war with him. This involves pulling the object while he still has a hold on it. A dog’s first instinct will be to pull back, as he thinks this is the game.

  • Repeat ‘drop it’ several times until he lets go of the ball. When he does, reward him with a treat. Then begin the game of tug of war again.

  • Over time, your puppy will learn to connect the command ‘drop it’ with letting go of the ball. Each time he successfully drops it, remember to praise him lavishly and give him treats. Once you’ve established that your puppy can successfully drop the ball on command, it is time to move to the next stage.

Stage 2: Teach your puppy to fetch

  • While stage 1 can be done anywhere in the comfort of your home, stage two requires an outdoor area. This is safer for your puppy and for your household furniture. Try and pick somewhere that is relatively small and enclosed. That way, if your puppy gets overexcited and runs off with his toy, you don’t have to chase him down too far.

  • Throw the toy a little distance and ask your pup to go pick it up. Puppies are usually extremely excited to pick up anything and everything, especially their favourite toy, so this should be easy. If your dog is confused, however, you may have to move back to stage one and teach him how to pick up the toy as well as drop it.

  • Once your puppy has picked up the toy, he will be looking at you to see what to do next. Ask him to come back to you. If you move back and/or to the side, your puppy will see this as retreating and will want to chase you. He will then return. You may have to do this several times before they come, but be patient.

  • Once the puppy has come back to you, command him to ‘drop it’. If he has learned stage one well, he will place the toy at your feet, allowing you to throw it again. Now you can play fetch!

Pro tips

  • Gestures can be really important when communicating with your pets. When you teach your dog to drop his toy, point to the ground. This will help him understand what you mean. Similarly, you can pick up the toy and lower it to the ground. Do this repeatedly, so that he sees that you need the toy to touch the ground. When trying to get your dog to come back to you in stage two, slap your thighs as you move back. This will teach your puppy that you want him to come.

  • Make sure you are loud and clear when instructing your dog. Dogs cannot understand what you’re saying, but they can tell different tones and can associate certain sounds with the behaviour expected from them. A clear instruction can help them understand you.

  • If you wish to train your dog to be polite, train him to sit before he runs to fetch the toy and to sit after he comes and drops it at your feet. He must be able to connect this action with the command ‘sit’. If you achieve this, you will be able to calm him when he gets very excited.

Above all, remember that practice makes perfect. Do not be discouraged if it takes your puppy several tries to get the game. Learning to play fetch with puppies it is as much as fun as playing it, and it is time spent bonding.