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How to Train Your Small Dog to Fetch a Tennis Ball

Training

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2 min read

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How to Train Your Small Dog to Fetch a Tennis Ball
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon7-30 Days
Fun training category iconFun

Introduction

The image of a dog fetching a tennis ball is ubiquitous to the idea of dog ownership. It is one of the first things that most prospective dog owners imagine as they think of their life with their new companion. Some dogs fetch naturally, be it a stick, tennis ball, or game. Dogs like retrievers and spaniels bred for retrieval will often perform without prompting, training, or even encouragement. Retriever owners find they can’t throw anything away, for they find their dog brings it back. While some small dogs show the retrieval instinct, many were bred to hunt independently of humans for vermin, or bred to be a cute companion. Such dogs, while they may enjoy playing fetch with a tennis ball very much once they get going, may not show the initial instinct to fetch, even if they are happy to chase.

All dogs can learn to play fetch with a tennis ball. Even If your dog has seemed disinterested in the past, don’t worry. She can be motivated to enjoy a good game of tennis ball fetch.

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Defining Tasks

Fetch is a wonderful game, and one of the easiest useful things your dog can learn to do. Whether you are a tennis player hoping for some help getting your balls back, or just want a good game to tire out your active little companion, fetch with a tennis ball can be just the thing. If you don’t feel like a jog after a long day, a game of fetch can tire out your dog without requiring too much exertion from you. Devices designed to help throw a tennis ball further with less effort can make it even easier for you to give your dog a fun challenge to stretch out and run after, without tiring your arm.

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Getting Started

The most obviously important thing to consider when playing fetch with a tennis ball with your little dog, is the ball. A standard tennis ball is generally too big for most little mouths, but a ball that is too small could be accidentally swallowed and choked on. Your dog should be able to easily catch the ball in her mouth, but compare the size of the ball to your dog’s throat to einsure it won’t fit in. Have some good food rewards, or a favorite toy, to reward your dog with when she returns the ball. Also, make sure you have several balls available, so you can throw the next one as soon as your dog drops the first one.

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The Tug to Success Method

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Throw a treat

Encourage your dog to pursue what you throw by first throwing treats. Your dog will quickly learn to look where you throw.

2

Throw a toy

Throw a tug type toy a short distance, close enough to reach. When your dog runs to it and picks it up, take the other end and reward with a tug game, praising her.

3

A little farther

Throw the toy a little farther from you, and make a show of reaching for it as your dog goes to it. She should drag it to you so you can grasp it for a game of tug

4

Fetch

Throw the tug toy farther and tell your dog to 'fetch' as she brings it back. Practice and reward with games of tug and also treats.

5

Fetch a tennis ball

Throw a tennis ball instead of the tug, encouraging your dog to fetch. When she brings it back, reward her with a game of tug or treats and throw it again. Eventually you won’t need to reward except to throw it again.

The Treats in the Toy Method

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Fillable toy

Choose a toy that you can put treats in, that you can open but your dog can’t, at least not easily. The toy should be convenient for your dog to carry in her mouth. For small dogs, cat toys meant to hold catnip work well, as you can fill the pouch with treats instead of catnip.

2

Show your dog

Show your dog that you can open the toy and give her a treat, then seal the toy up again.

3

Toss the toy

Toss the toy a short distance away and encourage your dog to fetch. When she picks the toy up, encourage your dog to come to you. When she brings it to you, open it and give her a treat.

4

Practice

Practice tossing the toy and having your dog retrieve it on command. Practice until your dog is getting it and immediately bringing it to you, without investigating it herself first.

5

Replace with tennis ball

Throw a tennis ball instead of the treat toy, encouraging your dog to fetch. When she does, reward her with a treat. Practice until she is reliably bringing the ball back, then reward only intermittently.

The Watch and Learn Method

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Enlist an accomplice

Enlist a willing fetch player, either person or dog. They should be energetic and ready to run after tennis balls with great enthusiasm.

2

Play fetch

Play with your accomplice, making sure to say your command word to fetch, and rewarding with great enthusiasm when she brings back the ball.

3

Show how its done

Have your accomplice hold back from getting the ball, and encourage your dog to get it. Your dog will probably pick it up and drop it. Let your accomplice get it and bring it to you for the reward when your dog drops it.

4

Practice

Soon your dog will be competing with your accomplice for the ball and bringing it all the way back to you for the reward.

5

Remove the accomplice

Practice without an accomplice. Probably your dog will have internalized the concept of retrieval.

By Coral Drake

Published: 01/05/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

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