How To Teach Your Dog To Fetch

Many dog owners are somewhat perplexed by the idea of having to teach their dog to fetch something. Running after an object, whether that’s a stick or a ball or other toy, just seems to be something dogs would naturally do, right?


Some dogs will run after the thrown object but won’t bring it back. Others will just sit there and glare at you as if to ask, “Why did you throw that, because I was going to play with it?” Still other dogs will go after the object but then run around in circles because they have no intention of bringing it to you, as they would rather have you chase them instead.

So how do you teach your dog to fetch?

Phase One – The first step is to get him to chase the object, if he’s not a natural chaser. You should always choose an object in which your dog is already interested, whether that’s a stick, a ball, a Frisbee or other object. Let’s say it’s a ball.  Try to get him to go after the ball by waving it around or dropping in right in front of him. When he grabs the ball, immediately reward him, with the reward that he likes best.

For most dogs, this will be an edible treat, verbal praise and affection or playing with the object you are using for the fetch command. Repeat the “grab the object and reward” sequence a few times.

Next, throw the ball a short distance away. As soon as your dog goes after it, reward him, using the same reward as you did before. Repeat until he is consistently chasing the ball. If your dog hesitates to chase the ball, hold him back by the collar as you throw the ball, verbally encouraging him to go get it, while still holding the collar. Then release.

Phase Two – Now that your dog is reliably chasing the ball, the next step is to get him to return to you with it. For dogs that won’t bring the ball back, try using a second ball. Throw the first ball out and once your dog has chased the ball and picked it up, show him the second ball and toss it in the opposite direction.

He’ll likely come running back but probably won’t bring the first ball with him. Once he is doing this reliably, then call him to come back to you while he is holding the first ball in his mouth then ask him to drop the ball. If he doesn’t drop it, then show him the second ball, as he will likely then drop the first ball to chase the second one. 

Over time, he will learn that when he chases after the ball, then comes back to you and drops it, you will throw it again. 

Some dogs will go after the ball and then run away with it. In these cases, attaching a line to the ball or other object can solve this problem. Throw the object with the line attached and once your dog grabs it, pull the object toward you with the line or run away from your dog dragging the object.

He should follow you. If he doesn’t “reel” the line in and reward your dog by praising him as he gets close to you. Then repeat. Over time your dog will come to you with the thrown object.

And that’s it. You’ve taught your dog to fetch! Next up in our series is how to teach your dog to lie down. 

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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