Three Quick Tips for Better Fetch

Playing fetch with your companion can be one of the most rewarding experiences you can have with your dog. Very few things are more pleasing to see than your canine companion having a blast, working together with you, and getting all that cooped up energy out. Fetch is significantly more effective than a walk as a quick 10 minutes can leave your dog waving a white flag and looking for a nice place for nap-time. In a day and age where most people are crunched for time, it is an efficient way to ensure your dog is content throughout the day.

Although a good round of fetch can lead to a content pup with a lessened chance of behavioral issues, actually having a successful session is easier said than done. Just like any other skill you are working on with your dog, it is a process and takes much dedication, time, and effort. It heavily relies on your dog paying full attention to both you and the ball (or toy). Dog’s don’t always have the best attention span. “Squirrel!”

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Photo by Dave DiAngelo on

Our dog, Maddie, knows how to play fetch. She runs out, retrieves the ball, and even drops it right by our feet. The problem is, there’s times when she acts like she’s never seen a ball before in her life. Many of our play sessions end with us getting more exercise than her because we are the ones both throwing and retrieving the ball!

Over the last few months, we have really been honing in on our fetch sessions and trying to figure out what is going wrong and how we can get her to be more consistent. Although we have not perfected fetch, we have been able to make three key observations that have immensely changed how we play fetch with our beloved pup. Below are three tips that we formed through our observations:

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Photo by Christina on

1. Don’t play right away. When you get to the park, field, backyard, or where ever you are playing fetch, let your pup do his thing for a few minutes. All too often we want to jump right into playing fetch only to be disappointed by a distracted dog. Give your dog some time to get to know his surroundings and investigate all those new smells. Even if you are in your own backyard he might be excited that you are outside playing or he may have to use the facilities. Once the sniffing and tail wagging slows down a little bit, break out the ball and get playing!

2. Pay attention to when you are rewarding. Whether you are treating, saying good girl, giving affection, or all of the above, make sure it is at the right time. There will certainly be a progression and more advanced dogs can wait until the ball is at your feet. We let our excitement get in the way of the actual mission. When Maddie was finally paying attention to the ball and tracking it down, we would often say “good girl!” and get her treat ready. Big mistake. This triggered a reward response in her and she would ignore the ball and come back to us. Keep your primary objective in mind and make sure your reward process is addressing it appropriately.

3. Make your treat hand and throwing hand the same. If you are using treats for fetch training, pay attention to the hands you use to throw and treat. We happened to use our left hand to treat (so our dominant hand wasn’t all meaty) and right hand to throw (because throwing lefty is not pretty looking for us!). Maddie would spring after the ball but her focus would be on the left hand, as if at any moment there could be or would be a treat in that hand. When we started using our right hand to treat, she became more comfortable and realized (we speculate) that since that hand was throwing the ball there would not be a treat in it until she returned. She was, indeed, correct.

white dog running over green grass
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These may ideas may seem far-fetched (zing!), but they could be the difference between throwing and chasing the ball yourself, or watching your dog with pride as she sprints to the ball and brings it right back to your feet. They are simple and small observations, but they made all the difference for us. Try them out and, if they don’t work, don’t be discouraged! Pay attention to habits, distractions, triggers, and other minute details that prevent your dog from being the best retriever possible. With patience, experimentation, and a keen eye, you and your dog will look like professionals in no time!

What little observations and changes helped your dog get better with fetch? Leave a comment below and share what worked!

yellow dog labrador labrador retriever
Photo by Kyle Stehling on
Bonus Tip: Once you have the basis of playing fetch down, consider not using treats at all. We didn’t think Maddie would be able to handle playing fetch without a reward so we always came prepared. One day we forgot to load the pockets up but we still went ahead with the fetch session. It ended up being the best fetch she’d played in a while. Rather than being fixated on and rewarded with the treats, the ball became the reward and the focus. This lead to one exhausted pup!

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