How to Train Your Dog to Bring Back a Toy

How to Train Your Dog to Bring Back a Toy
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon2-6 Weeks
Fun training category iconFun

Introduction

Playing fetch with your dog can be rewarding for you both. You get to interact and play with your pup, and he gets to introduce you to his favorite toys as you toss them out into the world for him to go find. 

Playing fetch with the dog doesn't always mean you get to do it more than once. Sometimes you toss the ball or a rope out across some expansive space, expecting your dog to bring it back to you, only your dog runs very excitedly to retrieve it and stands on the other side as if mocking you, refusing to let you have it again. This, of course, puts an end to your game of fetch. Teaching your dog to bring a toy back to you is the second phase of training your dog to play fetch. If you want to toss a ball more than once, your dog is going to have to know how to bring it back to you so you can throw it again.

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Defining Tasks

Dogs who understand the second half of this fun game are eager to bring their toys back to their owners so they can, of course, play again. Dogs who just want their toys to be tossed out for a wild chase and then to hold on to them don't quite get that this game is one of enticing intrigue. You will need to teach your dog that he gets to play the game over and over again by bringing back the toy. This might mean you need to trick your dog into believing he only has one toy, and you happen to have it even when it's in his mouth. This also might mean you need to get your dog to chase you, making yourself an intriguing part of your game together.

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Getting Started

Training your dog to bring a toy back to you is going to involve encouraging and enticing your dog. To do these things, you will need to have some high-value treats and identical toys on hand to make trades. You may also want to look into getting two of the exact type of toy. So two tennis balls that look exactly the same will work, or two ropes that are exactly the same will also work. Put your running shoes on and be prepared to run around with your dog, including running away from him to encourage him to come find you with his special toy. Turn this into playtime and bonding time with your dog and have fun with it.

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The Two of the Same Method

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1

Two toys

Bring two of the same toys to playtime with your dog. Only let your dog see one at a time.

2

Fetch

Get your dog excited to play by showing him one of his two identical toys and then toss it out and ask him to fetch. If your dog does not know the command 'fetch,' you can teach this first or you can get him excited by playing a bit of tug-of-war with him before tossing it.

3

Wait

As your dog runs towards the toy, wait patiently for him to grab it and begin to return it to you. If your dog does not immediately turn to return the toy to you, show him excitement and enthusiasm with words and by calling his name.

4

Get his attention

If your dog is not returning the toy to you, grab his attention by squatting in place so you are down low at his level and asking him to bring the toy back to you. Do this with lots of excitement in your voice.

5

Second toy

If your dog is not bringing the toy back to you. show him the second toy and offer it almost as a trade. This should get your dog's attention, causing him to think about either dropping the first toy or bringing the first toy to you to explore the second toy.

6

Offer trade

Once your dog comes to you to inspect the second toy, with your opposite hand, take the first toy from your dog. As your dog goes to take the second toy, hold back and don't let him have it. Instead, toss it and repeat the steps above to get him to return it to you.

The Hide and Return Method

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1

Two balls

Using two of the same toy, preferably balls, get your dog interested in one and toss it out, asking him to chase it or go get it.

2

Out of sight

Keep the second ball out of sight of your dog and only use it if he doesn't return the first ball.

3

Ask for return

Ask your dog to return the ball to you by sitting on the ground and encouraging your dog to come back to you once he has the ball. Be sure to use an enthusiastic tone in your voice and be excited to have this ball come back to you.

4

Dog's return

If you're calling your dog by name, he may return to you just because you've called him. He may not give you the ball back, however. Once your dog has returned to you, hold your hand out and ask him to drop the ball.

5

Hidden ball

Bring the hidden ball out and show it to your dog.

6

Entice

Play with the second ball on your own as if enticing or teasing your dog. He's going to be interested in the ball that you have and will drop the ball he has.

7

Repeat

Once your dog drops his first ball, ask him to sit to pause the game. Once your dog is in a sitting position, toss one ball out, hiding the second one. Ask him to go fetch and repeat the steps above if he does not bring it back to you.

The Run Away Method

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1

Fetch

Teach your dog to play fetch and go after a toy. You may want to use a high-value toy or a puzzle toy with treats hidden inside for your initial games of fetch.

2

Toss

Once you have played fetch a few times with your dog, toss the toy out and have your dog run after it.

3

Call back

Once your dog has the toy you tossed, ask him to fetch or retrieve. Call him back using his name or by patting your leg. Of course, your expectation is that your dog bring the toy back to you. If you're having a problem getting your dog to bring the toy back, move on to the next step.

4

Run away

When you have your dog's attention but you know he has chosen not to come back to you with the toy, run away from him. The idea here is that your dog will want to follow you if you're running away from him.

5

Slow

You dog should begin to chase you. Let him catch up to you. When he catches up to you, ask for the toy back or use a 'drop it' command.

6

No toy

If, when your dog gets to you after you have run away from him, he has no toy because he's dropped it on his chase, walk over to the toy and act as if you plan to pick it up. Chances are, if your dog thinks you're going to pick up his toy, he will pick it up before you.

7

Repeat

Ask your dog to give the toy back and repeat the steps above if he does not return the toy. Remember, while he is learning to fetch and bring it back to you to play more, you can trade for a treat.

By Stephanie Plummer

Published: 11/30/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Peanut

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Jack Russell

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4 Years

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my dog does not know how to play fetch properly, he will drop the ball if asked to but no where near me. He always only meets me halfway.

July 10, 2022

Peanut's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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Hello Eleanor, Check out this article on teaching fetch, especially the Come section and trouble shooting section. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-to-fetch/ Also, you may find this video helpful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-uUQE32FuU Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

July 11, 2022

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Blue

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Australian Cattle Dog Mix

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1 Year

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My boy is super smart and I know he can learn a lot of things, but I'm having trouble getting him to figure out what I want him to do in this and many situations. He loves to run for his ball in the yard, grab it, and then continue right on running to the back of the house (not even looking back in my direction). He knows the command "Come" so I've tried that, but when I do that he drops the ball, runs to me, and goes into an automatic down. We've taught him this command as a recall and safety measure (not as a play time activity) so I understand why he drops everything and comes over. He knows "Drop it" so I've tried to yell drop it as soon as he picks the b all up, but then he'll just drop it and stand and look at me like, "What mom?". I can either get him to run back (without the ball) or he'll wait a second and run off without the ball to do another activity. I've tried teaching "Toy" for him to grab his toy and bring it to me, but every time I do he does his "Come" routine instead, which makes me think he's either not listening or not understanding that I'm asking him to do different things, so he defaults to what he already knows. He does the same thing with just "Down", if I say "Blue, [insert command here]" and it isn't a command we've worked over and over and over, he'll default to a down. If I repeat the command or say "No" and then repeat he'll just reposition himself in his down like "Look! I'm doing it!" I feel bad because I don't want to confuse him or say "No" when he's being obedient and trying to do what I'm asking. But I don't know how to make it more obvious or clear to him that I'm saying different commands which mean different things. And he needs to LISTEN to what I'm asking and not just do what is more familiar or more frequently asked. Sincerely, A Conflicted Dog Mom

March 13, 2022

Blue's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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Hello Brianna, First, know that the guessing and defaulting to his most familiar command is common while learning something new. Depending on what you are teaching and telling pup to do, you will either help pup do what's asked, then repeat that a couple times in a row until pup obeys without the extra help, or wait pup out - withholding whatever pup wants until they slow down enough to think about what you asked - repeating that command only every three minutes, so pup has time to focus and actually listen. For example, if you want pup to Sit and you say Sit but pup lays down, clip pup's leash on so they can't just leave, then step toward pup a little until they hop up. For some dogs they will automatically sit and not get up completely when you do this, for others have pup stand all the way up again, then gently pull up on the leash while pressing two fingers with your other hand on the area at the base of pup's tail. Don't push pup's bottom to the ground, but most dogs will move their bottom away from that pressure and sit. If you are keeping their head higher with the leash at the same time, only the bottom goes down. At soon as they are sitting, praise and reward. Practice this in a lot of different situations and environments to help pup get good at your newer command. You can also cup pup's chin with one hand and do the base of the tail pressure with the other when a leash isn't on pup, to also guide pup into sit. Most commands have ways you can give hints or help pup get into that position. Generally a dog needs hints while practicing a newer command in a variety of environments and around different types of distractions, until they are proficient. This is the difference in basic obedience and moving into intermediate obedience. This process is called proofing commands. To wait pup out, do something like attach pup's leash, give the command, then stand still and wait until pup does the correct command. When pup guesses wrong, calmly tell pup "Ah Ah" or "No" or "Wrong" but sound non-cholent and boring when you tell pup not angry. You are just giving information, not disciplining. Sometimes it can help to have a different word other than no, like "wrong" or "Ah Ah" for this. Repeat that command every three minutes but not over and over again, then wait. For example, if you're confident pup knows sit but seems to default to down instead of thinking about what's asked, when you go to the door to take pup for a walk, tell pup "Sit" once pup's leash is on. If pup does it, great, continue to your walk as a reward. If pup lies down or does nothing, tell pup "wrong" then wait, repeating sit after three minutes if needed. You will watch pup guess a little, maybe bark in frustration when down doesn't work, then try to leave the area because they are bored (that's why the leash is on to stop the leaving), then start actually working to figure it out and pay more attention often. Once you get that attention and better listening, often pup will finally sit with that additional Sit, if not before. This might take a good 10-15 minutes at first. Once pup learns they have to pay attention and not guess, pup should start being able to sit sooner and sooner the more you practice though. For the toy fetching, check out the article I have linked below. I recommend practicing this on a padded back clip harness and long training leash. I would start reeling pup in as soon as they grab that toy, so the leash isn't a long slack line once pup starts to run past you, and you and pup don't get jerked when the leash gets tense, but you reeled in enough that you can slow pup down to come into you with the toy. Teach Drop It with that toy before practicing fetching, then once pup is reeled into you, command Drop It, and reward by pulling a second ball from behind your back (hidden out of sight before, not using it as a bribe), then toss the new toy while commanding "Okay" or "fetch" so pup knows they can run after the new one. Keep these tosses short at first due to the long leash and be ready to let go of the leash if pup gets too far accidently to avoid a jerk on the leash. I recommend doing this in a fenced area still. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-to-fetch/ If you are still struggling after practicing the above, you may need to teach a hold command first. The article I have linked above has steps on teaching that command. Hold: https://wagwalking.com/training/hold-an-object If pup drops the toy on the way back even while being reeled in, run over to the toy and kick it around of toss it just a foot away. The movement of the toy and you running after it will often cause pup to grab it again. As soon as pup grabs it, start running back to the spot you called pup to, so pup will run after you with the toy to that spot. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

March 14, 2022


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