Why you should teach your dog to fetch

why you should teach fetchWhilst many dogs are happy to chase a stick or ball, not all dogs are natural retrievers.

Some won’t chase a ball at all.

Whilst others will chase but lose interest once the ball stops moving.

Some dogs love to pick up and carry the ball, but have no interest in sharing it with their owners.

A polished retrieve, where the dog runs after his ball and delivers stylishly right into your hand, is a pleasure both to watch and to teach.

But the usefulness of the retrieve goes much further.

Alleviating boredom

Many dogs are bored.  Really, really bored.  And bored dogs get into mischief.

Bored dogs chew more, they whine more, they seek attention more.  Bored dogs are are less happy and more annoying than dogs that are mentally stimulated.

Not only will your dog enjoy retrieving once you have shown him how,  he’ll also enjoy his lessons – each and every one.  Life will be less boring!

Controlled exercise

Many dog owners struggle with control issues.  Especially in the countryside, and especially with hunting breeds such as hounds and gun dogs.

Control issues arise outdoors in the countryside when dogs are being exercised.

But dogs need exercise on a regular basis which causes a dilemma for those in difficulties with a lively and independent dog.

Training a good recall is one part of the solution.

But managing the dog’s free time rather than letting him entertain himself is equally important.  And that is where fetch comes in.

Keeping your dog interested in you

Fetch occupies your dog in a controlled and constructive way outdoors.   And it puts you slap bang in the middle of the game.

Your dog can chase butterflies without you.  He can eat rubbish without you, splash in streams without you, and bark at squirrels without you.  But your dog cannot play fetch without you.

Your chances of success in building a relationship with an independent dog rest largely in your ability to become interesting. And playing fetch makes you very interesting indeed

Taking control

Your control over your dog diminishes with distance and keeping your dog relatively close to you is crucial.  Country walks are intrinsically interesting to many dogs and there are many distractions competing for your dogs attention.

Unless you are more attractive than your dog’s surroundings, you are going to have a tough time keeping him close to you.

Getting a dog fascinated with retrieving is a great way to keep him involved with you, and to get back in control, because he needs your participation in order to enjoy this game.

Training techniques

Many dogs have varying degrees of natural retrieving instinct, and it is often possible, especially with natural retrievers, to mould a good enough retrieve using a variety of gundog training strategies.However, these do take a certain amount of skill and practice.

So the best option for most novice dog owners is usually to teach a retrieve in stages – starting at the end with the hold and delivery.

This may seem a backwards way around but it is the most consistent and reliable way of getting a dog to fetch something and actually place it in the palm of your hand.

It has the advantage of being a completely standard  system that can be worked through by anyone, with any breed of dog.  It requires no special skill or training.

Retrieving equipment

You’ll need some equipment to teach a trained retrieve.  There are no hard and fast rules, but ideally the item will be something you can easily grasp.  So you’ll use a retrieving dummy or dumbbell, rather than a ball

You’ll need an event marker, a clicker is best for this job, some high value treats for each training session, and a quiet restricted area to train in.

Once you have taught the basic method, you can apply it to other items such as frisbees or balls.

A dumbbell has the advantage that the dog has to hold it in the middle and can’t easily pick it up by one end.  Obviously the size needs to suit your dog.

Your dog can do it with your help

Any healthy dog can be taught to retrieve.  Any dog, large or small.  He doesn’t need to be a retrieving breed, he doesn’t need to like chasing a ball, he doesn’t need any previous experience.  He just needs you to help him with dog training.

Coming soon

Today we have looked at why you should teach your dog to retrieve, and at the equipment you’ll need to get started.  In our next retrieve article, we’ll look at how to teach fetch to any dog in easy steps.

Join us again soon, and don’t forget to join our email updates list so that you don’t miss out on any of our articles.


This website is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson

Pippa's book Total Recall is a complete recall training programme for puppies and adult dogs, and her Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to puppy care and early training

by Pippa Mattinson on August 31, 2014

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Janey October 20, 2014 at 3:49 pm

I have a 10 week old springer pup and would like to teach a retrieve (not for working, she is a pet so I am talking about retrieving a ball on our walks) Is the rest of this article on-line anywhere ( I have both of your books but they don’t go into this in much detail) I am following your methods and love your approach. Many thanks.


Pippa Mattinson October 20, 2014 at 4:30 pm

Hi Janey, you can either try and mould a good retrieve and delivery the traditional way, and apply the clicker retrieve if you get stuck, or you can apply the clicker retrieve from the start – this is the most reliable approach 🙂
Here is some information
The Clicker Trained Retrieve
The retrieving process explained


Amanda November 12, 2014 at 10:10 am

We taught our lab to retrieve when he was young very successfully. But somehow we have made him ball obsessed so I only play retrieve with him occasionally and mostly to distract him from chasing other dogs balls – when he is also temporarily deaf and totally ignores me. I’ve started to use treats again for recall which is working well but nothing will bring him away from another owner with a ball, I have to go over and get him. He is otherwise a lovely dog, over friendly but calm for a chocolate lab. Should we stop playing retrieve with him altogether? And put him back in the leash until his recall improves? Thanks for any suggestions!


Pippa Mattinson November 12, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Hi Amanda, if your dog is ball obsessed you should be able to use this to make his opportunities to play ball contingent on behaviours you like, such as a good recall. Calling a dog away from things he values highly is a skill that needs to be trained for and you’ll need to ‘set him up’ to succeed. i.e. to make sure he doesn’t ‘get’ the ball unless you want him to have it. For a more detailed explanation, drop into the forum or my Facebook group 🙂


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