Fetch gene! All puppies have it, right? Well, no, not quite… The retrievers out there have it in bucket loads, but for other breed types, fetching often has to be taught. Teaching a puppy to fetch can be one of the most rewarding things you do. Who doesn’t love a game of fetch? It’s also great for burning off any excess puppy energy.

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s important that your puppy fetches or how they’ll learn to fetch if they’re not a natural retriever? Then we get it. Teaching a puppy to fetch can actually be more of a challenge than it sounds. Luckily, we’re here to help you ‘fetch’ the facts.

This article will help you learn:

  • Why it’s important to teach your puppy to fetch
  • How to teach your puppy to fetch
  • Some helpful extra tips in teaching your puppy to fetch
  • An essential Pro Tip on why fetch may or may not be ideal for your puppy, and what to do if it isn’t!

In the Zigzag puppy training app, we have a whole week by week programme on teaching your puppy to fetch and retrieve items. You’ll also learn how to train your puppy to be happy about giving up toys and other things to prevent resource guarding! It’s all done by breed type, too, so whether your puppy is a natural at retrieving or not, you’ll be able to teach them to fetch. We also have a team of fully qualified and experienced puppy training coaches. It’s a bit like having a dog trainer and puppy agony aunt in your pocket, really. 

Puppy playing in sand with ball
Photo by Andrew Pons on Unsplash

Why is it important to teach your puppy to fetch?

Playing fetch is a great way to play with your puppy and keeps everyone fit, healthy and active when out at the park, but for some dogs, it’s just not their thing.

The terrier types prefer to chase and grab and tear to bits. The herding breeds like to stop the ball moving at all costs! Of course, your gundog and retriever types are hardwired to retrieve and play fetch, so they usually find playing it very enjoyable. You might just struggle to get the game to stop!

But like any skill, it’s probably worth teaching it to your dog. Why? Because dogs love to learn! Why wouldn’t you want to teach them this fun game? Is it essential to do? Well, I’ll leave it up to you to decide if playing fetch and teaching your dog to retrieve is important. Still, you can also use it not just to play fetch in the park but as part of a fun puppy tricks repertoire, like tidying your toys away. Now, who doesn’t want a dog that does that?

How to teach your puppy to fetch in 5 easy steps

First, you’ll need to find out what your pup’s favourite toy is, then teach them that bringing that toy is going to bring about fabulous rewards and then lastly and very importantly that giving the toy up is a good idea too.

1. Show your puppy the toy and get them interested in it

For a retriever, the toy of choice might be a ball. For a terrier, they might be more into something furry. We’ve got some ideas of what toys your puppy might like below.

2. Throw the toy a little way away from you and your puppy

This doesn’t need to be too far. Otherwise, your puppy might lose sight of the toy they’re meant to be fetching or get tired very quickly. And that’s no fun.

3. As soon as your puppy picks it up and turns towards you, start cheerleading

What a clever puppy – get clapping and telling them how amazing they are! Lots of whooping and cheering.

4. When your puppy fetches, do the swap.

When your puppy returns to you with the toy, pop a really yummy puppy treat on their nose, and they should release the toy.

Yes, you’ve just taught your puppy to fetch. Good job!

5. Repeat the fetch exercise above.

Each time you repeat the exercise, throw the toy a little further away from you.

Cheerlead again and then swap the toy for food when they return.

dog fetching a frisbee
Photo by Andrew Wagner on Unsplash

Useful extra tips for teaching your puppy to fetch successfully

  • Find a toy your puppy will like.
    For retrievers and gundogs, a larger ball or rugby shaped retrieve toy is what they’ll find comfortable to hold in their mouths. It will also be MUCH safer than regular sized tennis balls.
    Terriers may prefer a furry tug toy they can shake and rag on the way back.
    Herdy types such as Collies and Shepherds love to stop a rolling Hol-ee ball, and it folds up nicely when they pick it up.
    The Hol-ee balls are good with flat-faced breeds like Bulldogs, Frenchies and Pugs, too, as they can still breathe, and you can get slightly tougher versions if your dog is a bit of a chewer.
  • Always swap the toy for a piece of food so that your puppy understands that giving things up willingly will bring fabulous rewards, and you still get to play.
  • Add the cue to ‘fetch’ when your puppy has started to get the hang of going and getting the toy.
  • If your puppy is more ‘foodie’ than ‘fetchie’ you sometimes get a dog who decides ‘no I’d rather have the food thank you very much’. In these instances, I swap from one toy to another so-called ’two toy drop’ so that they’re more interested in toys than food.

  • If your puppy is more toy motivated than food motivated and doesn’t fancy swapping the toy for the food, try having two identical toys and swapping between them instead. You can also try using super high value treats like cheese or chicken.
  • Start off easy. Don’t make fetching the toy a marathon. It should just be close by, to begin with. That way, you get lots of easy wins and your puppy won’t find it too hard and give up quickly.
  • Once your puppy has the hang of fetching in one room, change locations and try a different room in the house.
  • Build up the difficulty by teaching your puppy to fetch longer distances and by hiding the toy in different places.
  • Start to use fetching as a reward for other things if your puppy enjoys doing it. Can your puppy sit for a ball throw? Maybe they can even do a down on verbal cue a bit later on? These are all excellent ways to fade out food rewards for exercises and get your puppy involved in play rewards instead.
puppy on walk with ball in their mouth
Photo by Mia Anderson on Unsplash

PRO TIP: While playing fetch is often hugely rewarding for puppies and their owners, some dogs can get a little obsessive and manic about fetching. You know when they get that ‘wild’ look in their eyes when the ball comes out. If this sounds like it could be your puppy’s style, then think about constructive exercises you can do around retrieves. Blind retrieves are still fun but use your puppy’s brain more. We have this exercise in the Zigzag puppy training app under the ‘find a toy’ section.

We hope that answers some of your questions on how to teach your puppy to fetch. We’ve also got a great article on when to start training your puppy anything if you’re wondering when to start puppy training.

For a more structured puppy training journey, with expert support from fully trained puppy training coaches, why not download the Zigzag puppy training app and get started with having the best behaved and most well-adjusted puppy around.