Every dog I've had seems to have some kind of quirk. The big shepherd mix who thought he was still a helpless pup, even at 120 pounds. The Lab mix who apparently could neither smell nor taste. The Pomeranian obsessed with tennis balls.
And now, the retriever who doesn't want to retrieve. I never thought I'd have to figure out how to teach a dog to fetch.
Nala's a Lab mix - as in, short for Labrador Retriever. They're supposed to love fetch! If it's her Kong Blue, she'll go chasing after it, no problem; it's bringing it back that's iffy. Weirder still is that she has had absolutely zero interest in tennis balls.
She's a pretty easy dog to train so we're working on breaking up "fetch" into a few smaller steps. She already knows "drop it;" now we just have to get her to "bring it." First step, though, is getting her interested in the tennis ball itself.
We started by playing with a toy she already likes, then introducing the tennis ball with it. We played keep-away to pique her interest. Once we threw it, she ran for it but didn't bring it back. We kept at it, telling her to "bring it" as soon as she picked it up and rewarding her when she brought it all the way back. (The challenge really was the all-the-way part; she kept dropping it halfway. Silly dog.) Over the last few weeks, she's been getting better about "bring it" both with the tennis ball and her other toys, but not very consistently.
Last Friday, we went to the dog park. They had a lot of fresh tennis balls out and one with several dogs' slobber on it. Nala claimed that as her own. All of a sudden, for the first time ever, she was running around with a tennis ball in her mouth! We called her to "come," which she knows well, and combined that command with "bring it."
Three times in a row she fetched a tennis ball and brought it back! At the dog park! With all the distractions it holds, she had attached to this one tennis ball enough that this ball was more important than the other dogs. In fact, she followed other dogs when they picked up her ball - ran after them until they dropped it and she could have "hers" back.
To sum up, here's how to teach a dog to fetch:
1) Get the dog interested in the tennis ball or whatever object you want him to fetch.
2) Break up "fetch" into pieces and work on each part one by one: chase, pick up, come, drop it.
3) Reward and enjoy!
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Photo credit: SuperFantastic