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Teaching Your Dog to Fetch: A Quick Beginners Guide

Last Updated: December 12, 2023 by Lisa Melillo

Most dogs, regardless of breed, can be trained to do various tricks, or to play games with their owners. This is especially true if you start training them while they’re a puppy. Teaching your dog to fetch is a great way to bond with them throughout their lifetime, as well as helping keep both you and your dog active and healthy.

Some breeds of dog do like to fetch more than others, but nearly all dogs can be trained to do so. This is because fetching stems from a hunting instinct. After all, modern dogs of all varieties are ultimately descended from a wolf-like ancestor, although it was not the modern gray wolf that we know today.

dogs playing fetch

However, despite involving your dog’s deep-seated hunting instinct, fetching is also a learned response. It is something they have to be taught, and the best way to do that is to start training them at a young age.

Which Breeds Love Playing Fetch the Most?

As we’ve mentioned, there are some dog breeds that take to playing fetch more readily than others, generally because of the working or sporting purpose they were originally bred for. These are the breeds you’re most likely to see playing competitive frisbee, which is actually a formalized dog sport.

Here’s a quick list of some of the breeds that are great choices if you want to adopt a dog that likes to play fetch and frisbee.

  • Labrador Retrievers. As their name suggests, Labs absolutely love to play fetch. Bred in Newfoundland to fetch ropes, nets, and even fish for professional fishermen, these dogs are very enthusiastic about fetch. They’re also one of the breeds that’s the most naturally talented at frisbee and dog agility competitions. Their sweet, loving, and gentle temperament also makes this breed an excellent family pet, especially for families with young children.
  • Golden Retrievers. Like Labs, Golden Retrievers were bred to retrieve things for their owners, and they love playing fetch. They’re both very intelligent and incredibly friendly, making them a great family pet as well as a good working breed for a wide variety of applications.
  • Rat Terriers. These small yet energetic dogs were bred for digging and chasing small animals, but their strong jaws, quick movement, and agility make them quite adept at frisbee and fetch. This breed does require proper training and socialization, but they can make great family pets.
  • Australian Shepherds. Contrary to their confusing name, Aussies were actually bred in the Western United States as livestock herders. Like many working breeds, Aussies are happiest when they’ve been assigned a task or job to do. Dog sports and games, like frisbee and fetch, are great ways to direct their impressive intelligence and ample energy.
  • Australian Cattle Dogs. Unlike Australian Shepherds, Australian Cattle Dogs were actually bred in Australia. Their role was to help drive cattle over many miles of rough terrain. Like many other working breeds, they need enough mental and physical stimulation, or else they can become destructive out of boredom. This breed attaches themselves very strongly to one person, although they’ll also be quite protective of the owner’s family. They can sometimes be shy around strangers and outsiders.
  • German Shorthaired Pointers. Renowned for their agility and boundless energy, excel in fetch and frisbee activities. Originally developed as versatile hunting companions, these dogs exhibit a natural flair for retrieving and thrive in the dynamic challenges of frisbee, showcasing their athleticism and intelligence. To support their active endeavors, it’s crucial to provide German Shorthaired Pointers with a balanced and nutritious diet. Their friendly and adaptable nature further enhances their role as not only skilled sport partners but also cherished family members, particularly well-suited for households with active lifestyles.
  • Cavapoos. Known for their friendly disposition and love for play, adore games of fetch and romping around with their human companions. To ensure they have the energy and vitality for these activities, it’s important to nourish Cavapoos with high-quality nutritional dog food. These lovable mixed-breed dogs seamlessly blend into active households, becoming both playful playmates and cherished family members
  • Border Collies. Like Australian Shepherds, Border Collies are highly intelligent herding dogs. They have a lot of energy and stamina, and they naturally enjoy playing fetch. Physical exercise, mental stimulation, and adequate nutrition are very important for Border Collies to be at their best and happiest. They’re rather emotionally sensitive, due in part to their incredible intelligence. If you’re very active, however, they’re a great choice.


These breeds are especially good at fetch, and they love to play with their owners. However, many other breeds can also be trained to play fetch.

Training Your Puppy to Play Fetch

As with many tricks and behaviors, playing fetch is something that owners need to actively train their dog to do. Ideally, this should start while your dog is still a puppy. Training your dog to fetch is actually a little bit different than teaching them to sit or lay down. This is because it’s not one action, but a chain of behaviors that happen in sequence.

puppy fetch

First, your dog must follow the thrown item. Then, they need to pick it up in their mouth. And finally, they need to bring it back to you. One of the most effective ways to train a dog to fetch is an approach that’s known as “backchaining.” This is where you teach them the last part of the “fetching” behavior first, then work backward from there. Believe it or not, this is actually very effective.

Here’s a step by step breakdown of the backchaining method of teaching your puppy to play fetch.

  1. Start by teaching your dog to “take” an object. To get them to take it in their mouth, try moving it around and wiggling it. A tennis ball or stick-shaped rubber chew toy can work very well for this. Make sure you use something that your dog can pick up easily. When the dog picks up the item, reward them with praise and a treat.
  2. Repeat this several times until your dog has learned this behavior.
  3. Next, you’re going to want to add a second cue, “drop.” When you do this, hold your open hands underneath the toy. When the dog drops it into your hands, praise and treat them.
  4. Once they’ve learned to drop the item, wriggle it in your hands where they can see, then toss it and say, “fetch!”
  5. Entice your dog to come back to you. Then, use the “drop” command.
  6. Once they’ve learned to follow this sequence, you’ve taught your dog to play fetch. In many cases, you eventually might not need to say “drop” for them to drop the item for you.

This training process can take some time, so don’t get discouraged if you find it difficult at first to get your dog to comply. There are many benefits to teaching your dog to play fetch. Not only does it act as a form of obedience training and provide exercise, but it’s also good for your dog’s cognitive abilities. It helps refine their spatial cognitive abilities, such as object discrimination and visually ascertaining the location and distance of an object.

My Dog Just Doesn’t Want to Fetch. Why?

If you’ve adopted an adult dog and it won’t play fetch, there are a couple of possible reasons for this. In some cases, the dog was always discouraged from picking things up with its mouth as a puppy. This suppresses the dog’s naturally tendency to do so, and reversing this can be challenging. It’s also possible that in the past, the dog has been chased for picking something up, which can prompt them to play “keep-away” with an object instead of fetch. And finally, it’s also possible that the breed just isn’t predisposed toward playing fetch, and the dog wasn’t trained to do so as a puppy.

dog ball chase

If your dog is still a puppy, and you’ve had no luck teaching them to fetch, there are a separate set of factors that could be causing this. Sometimes, your dog will keep wanting to play “keep away” instead. You can help remediate this by showing them another appealing toy, which can get them to drop the original item. Then, you can toss the new toy and continue playing fetch, alternating between different toys.

In other cases, your puppy is simply eager to get their treat, so they drop the item prematurely and come running. You can help keep them from doing this by making sure the treats are hidden out of sight. However, if your dog comes to you but won’t drop the toy, you can show a treat to entice them to let go so they can take the treat.

Tired of Throwing Toys? Try an Automatic Ball Thrower

Training your dog to play fetch takes a lot of repetition, and this can get rather monotonous. Fortunately, there are actually automatic ball throwers designed for playing fetch with dogs. An example of this kind of product is the iFetch, a beautifully designed ball thrower that you can use indoors as well as outdoors.

You can check out our iFetch review or iFetch Too review for an in-depth look an these gadgets.

The iFetch comes in three sizes, designed for small, medium, and large dogs. This is also true of many similar competing products. It’s still best to train your dog to play fetch manually, but once they’ve learned, the iFetch can keep them entertained when you don’t have the time or energy to play.

Many dog breeds need a certain degree of mental and physical stimulation, or they get bored. This is especially true of high-intelligence working and sporting breeds. The iFetch can help keep them occupied and satisfied, keeping them from engaging in destructive behaviors out of boredom. If you have a breed that loves fetch and has a lot of energy, an automatic ball thrower could be a good investment.

Another top brand to look at is iDogmate. The iDogmate ball launcher is for medium to large breeds of dogs and is the farthest launching fetch machine on the market today.

Playing Fetch is a Great Way to Bond with Your Dog

Teaching your dog to play fetch is a great way to help them stay physically active, keep their mind challenged and stimulated, and train them to obey commands. But playing together is also a wonderful way to bond with your dog and spend time together. Using the backchain method, you can easily train your dog to play fetch, a skill that they’ll keep for a lifetime.

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