Dog Training: Why Won't My Dog Fetch?
Dogs Are Resource Guarders
You may have discovered when attempting to teach fetch to your new dog or puppy that they don't want to give up the toy or ball they've "caught" after you've thrown it.
That's because dogs are natural resource guarders and will instinctively hold on to or even hide something they value, lest the "competition" snatches it. It's a survival instinct that would serve them well if they were fending for themselves but is counterproductive when you want to teach them to fetch.
There is actually quite a simple solution for this: start out using two balls or two toys of equal value (meaning your dog or puppy likes both equally as much) so that you can entice them to give up the ball they have caught, in favor of the opportunity to "catch" the ball or toy you have.
Because dogs have a possessive nature, your dog or puppy will generally immediately want the "bait" in your hand and drop their ball. Once they do, reward them by giving them the bait ball.
Soon, your dog or puppy will willingly give up their ball in anticipation of getting another and you can start playing the game with just one ball. It's that simple! It's a fun way to teach your dog or puppy that when they give up their prize, they win another!
Here are the steps:
1. START IN A SMALL ENCLOSED SPACE: Don't give your pooch the chance to run off with their prize, so start somewhere they can't run away very far. This way, you can teach them to drop the ball or toy they have right in front of you, too.
2. REVEAL THE BAIT BALL OR TOY TO ENTICE YOUR DOG OR PUPPY TO DROP THEIRS: Keep the bait ball or toy hidden, either behind your back or covered by your hands, until you want to entice your pooch to drop the ball in their mouth. Bounce your ball or act really animated when you produce the second bait toy to make them want it.
3. GIVE YOUR DOG OR PUPPY THE BAIT BALL OR TOY ONCE THEY'VE DROPPED THEIRS: Wait until your pooch has dropped their ball or toy to give them the one in your hand. This positively reinforces their choice to drop their "prize" and encourages them to keep doing it.
4. SWITCH TO USING ONE BALL OR TOY: Once your dog or puppy is willingly giving up their ball or toy before you show them the bait, you're on your way to switching to using only one ball or toy. Make sure to keep rewarding your dog or puppy by giving them the bait over and over again to really impress upon them what a great choice it is to drop their ball!
5. MOVE TO A BIGGER SPACE ONCE YOUR DOG OR PUPPY WILLINGLY DROPS THEIR BALL OR TOY: Once you've established how fun it is for your pooch to give up their prized possession in close quarters, it's time to test what they've learned by tossing the bait ball or toy. If they grab it and return to you, you've done a great job of conditioning them to drop their ball or toy near you in order to win another! If not, don't stress it - just go back to working in a smaller space until you've established that dropping the ball near you is extremely rewarding, and try again.
Los Angeles dog trainer Alexandra Bassett is the owner and lead trainer at Dog Savvy Los Angeles, a dog training company that specializes in positive dog training and solving problem dog behavior like dog separation anxiety, leash reactivity, and aggression. She is certified as Knowledge Assessed by the Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT-KA) and is available for online dog training sessions via Skype.