how to teach dog play fetch

So your puppy is growing up and you want to teach him a few games, starting with ‘fetch’. “Fetch’ is one of the first and easiest games to teach your dog to play. From there, you can go onto more interesting games such as catching a Frisbee if he is energetic and agile enough.

*Disclaimer: The overall training process should be done by people who know what they are doing. If you want to train your puppy on your own, you should be well informed before you begin. The following online program will teach you a ton of useful methods, and we highly recommend it. It’s the training method we use for our own puppies as well.

If you like, you can get the cheat sheet of this post here. Thanks!

Many dogs are natural retrievers and have no problem running after a thrown ball, picking it up, and bringing it back. This applies to many dogs, as mentioned, but not all! Some dogs will watch you throw the ball and wonder what you are so excited about. These dogs, unfortunately, need teaching. You can make the teaching of the ‘fetch’ game a game in itself, however.

The most important things to remember in teaching him to play fetch are motivation and reward. If he gets a reward for playing the game, motivation soon follows.

golden fetch

The basics of playing ‘fetch’

If your dog is not a natural retriever, teach him the game using the following steps.

Step 1: Start while young

Start the game while he is still a puppy. Allow him to pick things up and carry them around. Throw his toys. Allow him to run after them.

Step 2: Give me the toy

The next step is getting him used to allowing you to take his toy. Better yet, that he gives it to you. This is where the reward comes in. Offer him something he wants more than his toy. A doggy treat usually does the trick. If a doggy trick does not work, offer him a different toy.

Whatever you do, do not be hasty. Time and patience do it. Harshness is a definite no.

Step 3: Go fetch the toy

So you have taught your dog to carry his toy around, to run after it, and to give it to you. The next step is teaching him to fetch it and bring it to you. It sounds easy, right? Well, it is, with a little motivation.

Start with a little play time practicing his moves. He is probably excited. Make sure he knows you have his toy (after giving it to you). Toss it a few feet from you and allow him to run after it and pick it up.  Now encourage him to return to you. If he does not want to at first, take out his trusty treats. Once by your side, he will drop the toy. Reward him for dropping the ball, and tell him how clever he is.

After more practice (quite a lot of it), the treats are no longer the reward but the game itself is. Remember, never scold your dog and never submit him to harsh treatment. The result is a dog that responds out of fear rather than love and enjoyment of the game.

Once you have the ‘fetch’ game going, you can elaborate from there. One great add-on to this game is teaching him to catch a Frisbee!

play fetch

How to teach your dog to catch a Frisbee

Have you ever been to the park and watched people throwing Frisbees and their dogs catching them? It seems like a fun thing to do, and many dogs love the game. Some dogs, however, not as much. Certain dogs tend to pick up the game easily once they have learned the basics of ‘fetch’, while others need a little more encouragement. There are, however, certain dogs that, no matter what you do, will never show any interest. They are not bad dogs, they are just extremely discerning! Do not judge these dogs too harshly!

Step 1: You have mastered the art of retrieving a ball

Once your dog understands the rudiments of retrieving a ball, teaching him to fetch a Frisbee is quite easy. Some dogs learn to do so easily, while others need a little persuasion. To start out, get a soft disc. These are chewy and fun to play with.

Use the disc as a toy at first, and then start throwing it as you would a ball, allowing him to retrieve it. Once he is comfortable with a soft disc, the next step is an actual Frisbee.

Step 2: Familiarization techniques

If your dog is not comfortable with a Frisbee, familiarize him with it. This is done in a number of ways. Let him play with it as one of his toys, for example, or use it as a feeding dish for a few days. Even consider a few games of tug of war! This accustoms him to the idea it is a desirable toy.

Step 3: Start over

Once the Frisbee is desirable, go through the same steps as with playing ‘fetch’. Remember those treats. After a while, he will run after the Frisbee, pick it up, and bring it back. Now move onto the next step.

jack russell frisbee

Step 4: Giving and receiving

The idea here is to give him the Frisbee and ask for it back. Then start tossing it towards him gently from a short distance until he finally gets the idea he should catch it.

If you make no headway, try the game with treats. Toss his treats into the air above him and tell him to ‘catch’. Hopefully, the idea of the delicious food sparks off his catching instinct. Praise him when he gets it right! This can take a while. Some dogs never learn this part. Don’t judge them, please. They might just not want to!

Once he has learned to catch his treats on the command ‘catch’, try it with the Frisbee again. If he still does not respond but catches his treats, alternate the game between the Frisbee and the treats. He will get to it…eventually.

Step 5: The ‘Aha!’ moment

The  ‘Aha!’ moment is that moment when your dog realizes you want him to catch and bring you the Frisbee! He knows to run and fetch it, and he knows that he should catch it in his teeth. He has mastered these two exercises.  Now it is a question of combining them.

Toss him the Frisbee as before but from a small distance. When he catches it, ask him to bring it to you. As time goes by, further the distance, until he starts running to catch it. This is a natural progression.

If you like, you can get the cheat sheet of this post here. Thanks!

Do not allow your dog to jump high into the air for the first two years of his life, however. This causes damage to his joints, as they are not fully developed at this stage. For more acrobatic tricks wait until his body has fully matured. Once fully matured, go for it! He will love the exercise and the praise he gets for catching the Frisbee and bringing it back to you.

In conclusion

Certain dogs are natural retrievers and learn to ‘fetch’ a ball and play a game of Frisbee easily. Not all dogs are naturals, unfortunately. Many need teaching. This is usually a process, so patience is required.

A few dogs, however, will never be great retrievers no matter what you do. If you have one of these, consider another dog sport such as obedience, for example. Nobody, after all, is perfect.

Before you go, have a glimpse on this funny “fetching” video: