I was at a new Home Dog Training session last Thursday in Snellville working with a new client and his fourteen-month-old Harrier Hound named Jackson. Jackson was a great dog, but he just didn’t want to listen and do what my client instructed.  What Jackson needed to understand was that my client was his leader, friend, caregiver, and boss. 

Many dogs need to be taught how to fetch.

With that said, my client needed to understand how he could consistently convey this message to Jackson. It took several hours of training, but the end result was that Jackson now would listen and obey my client and my client knew what he had to do obtain Jackson’s focus and respect. My client was extremely happy with Jackson’s obedience and was also excited to place everything he had learned today into their daily routine going forward.

As I was finishing up, I asked if there was anything else my client could recall that we needed to practice or discuss today. He thought for a moment and said that we had covered all the behavior things like not jumping, not barking all the time, staying off the furniture, being calm at the front door, no counter surfing, etc.  We also practiced all the obedience exercises like come, sit, stay, recall, walking, etc.

He pondered for another moment or two and then thought of “one more thing”.  He and Jackson love to go into the back yard, hang out, and just have fun.  The one thing that Jackson never does is to bring the ball back to him when they are playing fetch.  He always sees his neighbors playing fetch with their dogs.  Jackson doesn’t seem to have a clue.  What can he do about that? Is he dumb or something?

I quickly responded to his question by saying “No, Jackson is not dumb”.  I continued to explain that the game of “Fetch” is a learned behavior that must be taught in much the same way that we started Jackson to learn how to Come, Sit, Stay, etc.  Although many dogs “seem to naturally fetch”, it is not an “out of the box” trait for all dogs.  Some dogs, like Jackson”, need to be shown how to “Fetch”.

So, we need to address Jackson’s need to “Fetch” in the same manner as we would teach him to Sit or Stay.  It is a simple training lesson. As with all lessons, we need to break the process into its core components.  When it comes to “Fetch”, there are three distinct actions to the process.

The first action takes place when you throw the ball and Jackson runs to the ball.  The second action takes place when Jackson retrieves the ball and returns to you with the ball. The third, and final action takes place when Jackson is at your side with the ball and drops the ball.  Each step builds on the prior step.  So, like any other teaching process, it is critical to teach “one step at a time”.  The process is as follows:

Get the Object:
I had my client place a collar and long training lead on Jackson. (I always like to use a thirty-foot training lead, but you can use one as short as twenty feet, if you are in a small area). Although the use of these items does not directly come into use during this part of the training, they will become critical training tools when we get to the “Bring it Back” portion of the training.

Since Jackson loves his rubber ball, I told my client to get the ball.  Next, I told him to get very animated and excited.  He should have the ball in his hand and wave it around in plain sight of Jackson.  I told him to excitedly exclaim “Where’s the toy?  Get it, Get it Get it!!! Oh boy!  Oh Boy!  Fetch! Fetch!” in a somewhat crazy and highly animated way while continuing to wave the toy.

Once Jackson starts to respond by becoming excited and animated himself, I directed my client to toss the ball about ten feet away.  If Jackson does not run to the ball, I told my client to actively and quickly run to where he threw the ball.  He should then lean over the ball and energetically point at it.  While doing this, he should also be exclaiming phrases such as “Get the toy!  Where’s the toy!” in an excited manner.

Just for the moment, let’s say that Jackson still isn’t “super excited” about going over to the ball.  At that point, my client should get down on the ground and start to play with the ball.  He is now showing Jackson “Hey, this is a fun thing, and I am playing with it”.  As soon as Jackson comes over, he should shake it in front of Jackson’s face until he grabs it.  The moment Jackson grabs the ball in his mouth, my client should release it and exclaim “Good Boy” in a high-pitched tone.

Now, if Jackson is really obstinate and just doesn’t want to run over and get the ball, I suggested that he increase “the value of the object”.  Even though he said that Jackson loved to play with his ball, he would go ecstatic over toys that “smelled really good”. I suggested taking a toy and putting some low sodium gravy or chicken broth (you can buy small boxes of this at Publics) on the toy.  Once Jackson continually goes for this, start to decrease the amount of low sodium gravy or chicken broth you place on the toy.

Once Jackson is constantly running to the object that my client has tossed, I instructed him to start throwing the object slightly farther. As he constantly runs to the object, increase the distance until Jackson is running to the object at a location you ultimately desire.

Bring it Back:
Now that you have thrown the ball into the middle of the yard and Jackson has it in his mouth, it is time to have him bring the ball back to you.  Jackson’s next appropriate activity is to move where he currently is standing with the ball to your side.  This is the exact “instruction set” that is used in the “Come” command.  The only nuance is that he must come to you while he has the ball in his mouth.

To review where we are in this process; you have tossed the ball into the middle of the yard, Jackson has run after the ball, and Jackson is now in the middle of the yard with the ball in his mouth.

Next, give Jackson the “Fetch” command. This command requires Jackson to return to my client with the ball in his mouth. If Jackson does not immediately execute this command, my client needs to “instruct him”.  He will get down low and give the training lead one or multiple tugs until Jackson returns to his side.

I told my client that he needs to practice these two steps until Jackson will always get the ball, hear the “Fetch” command, and return to his side without the need to give the leash a tug.  Once Jackson can accomplish these steps, my client can proceed to the “Drop it” step of the exercise.

Drop It:
It is important that, once Jackson returns to my client’s side, my client should remain tall, calm, and still.  He should then give the command “Drop It”.  If he wants to hold his hand out for Jackson to place it in his hand, that is fine.  If he just wants Jackson to drop it on the ground, that is fine too.

If Jackson drops the ball, my client should now let him know that he did the right thing by saying “Good Boy” using a high-pitched tone.  If Jackson does not drop the ball, my client should give the leash a quick tug and issue the “Drop It” command again.  The “surprise” of the tug will startle Jackson, his grip on the ball will loosen, and it will fall from his mouth.  Once this occurs, my client should let Jackson know he did the right thing by saying “Good Boy” using a high-pitched tone.

Jackson now knows how to play “Fetch”.

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