Jump to section
Fun isn't just for youngsters! If you have the pleasure of adopting a mature canine, you'll soon learn that old dogs can certainly learn new tricks. And those tricks don't have to be all business; some of the best bonding time you can have with your pooch is during play!
Everyone's go-to game with their dog is "fetch". But what may surprise you is that not all puppers are born knowing the concept of this simple pastime. Some need to be taught the rules, and that's okay too!
Fetch is the classic game between owner and dog where the human throws an object (usually a ball, toy or stick) and the pooch runs, retrieves the item and brings it back. The beauty of fetch is that it tires your dog out physically and mentally while you don't even have to break a sweat. When dogs get the hang of it, it's an activity that they love! Some pups even become fetch-obsessed, trying to keep the game going long after you're over it.
Thankfully, fetch isn't a difficult game to teach your four-legged friend. Generally, after a few sessions of fun, most dogs pick up the idea just fine. The sooner that you help the old boy or gal learn to fetch, the sooner you both can be having fun together!
If you want good results, make sure you come to the table with all the right things. Good things to have when training an older dog to fetch are:
- Treats: Most methods involve at least a few treats here and there. Food makes for an easy positive reinforcement tool, so bring on the goodies.
- A Clicker: These handy little training devices make getting your pooch's attention a cinch. You can find one at most pet shops.
- A Toy or Ball: Make it one your doggo already loves, if possible. The more excited he is about the object being thrown, the more likely he is to react to the game.
- A Backyard or Outdoor Area: Fetch requires some wide open space. If you don't have your own, seek out a local dog park where your pup can run his heart out.
If, at any point during the game, your dog simply stops interacting, don't punish him! Losing interest just means that session is over. There is no need to associate negative things with an activity that is supposed to be fun. It's also important that you make sure your dog is able to run before participating in fetch. Some older dogs are just not mobile enough to retrieve.
Below are some of the most popular methods to teach your fur buddy to fetch. See which one sounds the most doable for you, or try out a few ways and see what one suits your canine companion best.
The Uninterested Dog Method
Drop the ball
Put the ball or toy on the ground.
Reward any interaction
As soon as your doggo touches or looks at the toy, use a clicker to get their attention and toss over a treat.
Keep doing this
Repeat until your dog knows that interacting with the object = treats.
Delay the click + reward until the dog physically touches the object.
Get them to hold it
Pick up the toy, offer it to your dog and click only when the pupper grabs it with their mouth.
Have them pick it up
If this goes well, put the toy back on the ground, wait for the dog to grab it and click + reward.
Make it fun
Be excited, and play with the toy or ball yourself.
Add some distance
Throw the toy a little way and click + reward if your dog approaches it.
Train them to return
Call the dog back, and if the pooch obliges, click yet again.
Continue having these sessions until the canine is happily participating without the need for treats.
The Excited Dog Method
Sit him down
Get your dog into a sit position.
Show the ball
Raise the ball up so he can see it in your hand.
Take it away
If he gets up or jumps, hide the ball behind your back.
Wait for the sit
Do not bring it back out until your pooch drops his butt again.
When he finally agrees to stay in a sit when the ball is in sight, praise him like crazy and toss the ball.
Keep going through the steps daily until your dog starts to cooperate on his own.
The Backwards Learning Method
Start at the end
Put your pup on leash but allow some slack. Hand over the ball.
Wait for the ball
Place your hand under his mouth and wait. Don't say anything.
Return the ball
When he finally gives in a drops the ball, immediately give it back.
Reward the return
Offer a treat as well to make it extra fun.
Try a toss
Throw the ball nearby on the ground and wait for your pooch to grab it.
Keep things happy
When he does, call him over in a positive manner.
Toss it again
As soon as it's brought over, throw the ball back to your dog. Increase the distance of your throw.
Practice, making your dog sit in between throws.
By Abby Clark
Published: 10/17/2017, edited: 01/08/2021