How to Train Your Older Dog to Play Fetch

Easy
1-7 Days
Fun

Introduction

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!

Defining Tasks

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!

Getting Started

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

Most Recommended
2 Votes
Step
1
Drop the ball
Put the ball or toy on the ground.
Step
2
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.
Step
3
Keep doing this
Repeat until your dog knows that interacting with the object = treats.
Step
4
Encourage contact
Delay the click + reward until the dog physically touches the object.
Step
5
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.
Step
6
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.
Step
7
Make it fun
Be excited, and play with the toy or ball yourself.
Step
8
Add some distance
Throw the toy a little way and click + reward if your dog approaches it.
Step
9
Train them to return
Call the dog back, and if the pooch obliges, click yet again.
Step
10
Repeat
Continue having these sessions until the canine is happily participating without the need for treats.
Recommend training method?

The Excited Dog Method

Effective
1 Vote
Step
1
Sit him down
Get your dog into a sit position.
Step
2
Show the ball
Raise the ball up so he can see it in your hand.
Step
3
Take it away
If he gets up or jumps, hide the ball behind your back.
Step
4
Wait for the sit
Do not bring it back out until your pooch drops his butt again.
Step
5
Reward obedience
When he finally agrees to stay in a sit when the ball is in sight, praise him like crazy and toss the ball.
Step
6
Repeat!
Keep going through the steps daily until your dog starts to cooperate on his own.
Recommend training method?

The Backwards Learning Method

Least Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Start at the end
Put your pup on leash but allow some slack. Hand over the ball.
Step
2
Wait for the ball
Place your hand under his mouth and wait. Don't say anything.
Step
3
Return the ball
When he finally gives in a drops the ball, immediately give it back.
Step
4
Reward the return
Offer a treat as well to make it extra fun.
Step
5
Try a toss
Throw the ball nearby on the ground and wait for your pooch to grab it.
Step
6
Keep things happy
When he does, call him over in a positive manner.
Step
7
Toss it again
As soon as it's brought over, throw the ball back to your dog. Increase the distance of your throw.
Step
8
Continue
Practice, making your dog sit in between throws.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Abby Clark

Published: 10/17/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Harley
Mutt
3 Years
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Harley
Mutt
3 Years

She’s a little shy of photos but she has the “oh honey” southern lady sympathetic paw placement down to a T! She’s genuinely sweet but we’re beginning to question her (and my own) intelligence when it comes to the fetching task. She loves the soccer ball and goes after it- she will come back to me when I call her- but as of yet, not with the ball.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
817 Dog owners recommended

Hello Addy, First, know that the majority of dogs don't naturally bring the ball back on their own - so that is normal at this point. I suggest working on the grabbing and holding portions of fetch. Check out the article I have linked below and focus on "Part 2. Teaching Take It" and "Part 3. Teaching Come" . Those parts of the article will discuss how to train your dog to pick something up with their mouth "Take It" and to come to you WHILE holding the object still - "Come". https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-to-fetch/ Also, check out the videos linked below for some visuals of how to get a dog interested in biting and holding a toy initially before beginning a formal fetch. It typically involves games of tug of war and lots of silly movement. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtpLvumSTzI https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-uUQE32FuU Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Flash
Greyhound
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Flash
Greyhound
4 Years

My Dog flash- a greyhound once raced, over lockdown I have been doing training to improve his recall. he is doing great as you can see in picture one but... I would love for him to play fetch- he plays fetch with treats and has the chase instinct- plays in the house and plays for 5 mins in the garden but doesn't even look or touch a ball at the park- done lots of research about environment but seems like a battle that will never work. he also has his moments where he choses to play- I can't seem to get him to play when I want him too. he has to be in the right mood- so how do I get my dog to confidently just pick the ball up when I ask and play at the park with the ball because its right enough watching all the videos on how to refine a fetch but flash doesn't even pick up the ball at the park so how am I supposed to refine it ! thanks for your time

Abi

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
817 Dog owners recommended

Hello Abi, First, know that some breeds simply aren't driven when it comes to fetch. You can teach it the way you would a trick - by breaking down the game into a series of commands to provide pup with exercise, and practicing those commands around distractions gradually until pup is reliable, but the overall enthusiasm is partially personality and instinct - for example, retrievers not only have a chase drive, but an actual desire to bring something back to you. Border Collies are instinctually driven to both chase and fetch (bring back animals). Many sight hounds have the chase instinct but not the herding/retrieving drive naturally. There are additional games like flirt poles and treat hiding games that can be played too when that's the case. With that said, check out the article linked below and the teaching the Take It command specifically. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-to-fetch/ I also recommend teaching Hold, since pup might be prone to dropping the ball on the way. https://wagwalking.com/training/hold-an-object Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Chase
Mini Australian Sheperd
6 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Chase
Mini Australian Sheperd
6 Years

He has no interest in toys or balls

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Question
bruin
Lab mix
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
bruin
Lab mix
5 Years

My dog has no interest in wanting to fetch toys. Sometimes if something’s she’s interested she’ll run over to it sniff and lose interest quickly. Wondering if there were any ways to get her more interested.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
219 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Your best bet is to teach her that if she picks up the toy, she gets treats. Below are some steps for introducing toys, and teaching fetch. Step 1: Introduce the Fetch Toy Once you’ve picked out a good toy, introduce it to your dog so they start to get excited about fetch. Place the toy near you. As your dog gets close to it, praise, and give a treat. If they touch their nose to the toy, click, praise heavily, and give treats. Continue this process until your dog reeeally likes the toy. Step 2: Move the Fetch Toy Around Now that your dog is starting to figure out that touching the fetch toy means treats, start moving it around so they have to move to get to it. Don’t throw the toy yet, or even move it very far. Simply hold the toy in slightly different positions — at arm’s length — and encourage your dog to touch it. Each time they touch the toy, treat, and praise. Continue this little dance until you’re sure the behavior has stuck. Step 3: Get Your Dog to Grab the Fetch Toy Now it’s time to start rewarding your dog when they actually grab the toy with their mouth. This can take a little patience on your part. The key is to watch your dog’s behavior and reward when it starts to look like the behavior you want. Place the toy on the ground at about arm's length. If your dog moves from touching their nose to the toy and begins using their mouth, praise, and treat. Each time they get a little closer to biting the toy, continue to reward. If and when they pick up the toy with their mouth, act like it’s the best thing you’ve ever seen (and don’t forget to click and give treats). Remember that your dog will be looking to you for reassurance that they’re on the right track Step 4: Play Little Games of Indoor Fetch At this point, your dog should know that placing the toy in their mouth means they get a treat. The next phase is perhaps the trickiest, but you only need to follow the same method of rewarding small steps toward success. Toss the toy a few feet away from you. When they pick it up, treat, and praise. Continue this until they understand what they’re supposed to do. Then toss the toy and encourage your dog to bring it back to you. When they do, click, treat, and praise. Step 5: Throw the Fetch Toy Farther Once your dog has realized that they get treats when they get their toy and bring it back, start "upping the ante" by throwing the toy farther. It might help to find a hallway (which will reduce distractions) and toss the fetch toy farther and farther away. With each successful fetch, offer treats and praise, then toss the toy a little farther. Repeat as many times as necessary for your dog to understand what this fetch game is all about. Step 6: Add Some Words This part is optional. If you would like to add a marker word like “fetch,” now is the time to do so (when your dog is successfully fetching their toy). Say the word before throwing the toy, then lay it on heavy with treats and praise when they successfully fetch for you and say something like “good fetch.” Of course, it’s not necessary to say “fetch” or another similar word. By this point, your dog has probably learned to enjoy the game itself — with or without a verbal cue. Step 7: Take the Game of Fetch Outside Up to this point, you’ve been playing fetch inside, where things are nice and quiet. But now it’s time to head out into the world where distractions are plentiful. Begin in a fenced space, such as a backyard or other enclosed spot. If you don’t have such a yard, try a quiet fenced-in park or other public place. Go during times when there aren’t other dogs or people; at least, when there aren’t too many other dogs and people. If your dog isn't yet good at going off-leash, learn how to train them and be safe when off-leash. Be sure to bring some treats with you, as you’re now asking your dog for a little more effort and they’ll need a reward for everything to sink in. Play fetch like you would at home, tossing the toy farther and farther away and rewarding your dog for successfully bringing it back to you.

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Question
Buddy
Lab+beagle
15 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Buddy
Lab+beagle
15 Years

My dog is pretty old but still very energetic. He wags his tail a lot, barks at people walking by, etc. We've never taught him to fetch, partly because he stopped playing with sticks and other things a few years ago.

Yesterday I spent a while trying to teach him to fetch, but he never showed any interest in the ball after about an hour or two of trying. I used all of your methods, but nothing worked.

Is he just too old for this?

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
219 Dog owners recommended

Hi there. Some dogs just won't do it. I am not certain if it's an age thing, but it could likely be the case. Games may not appeal to him, but that's ok! You can find alternatives, or simply run through training commands that he knows and make a game out of it with treats.

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Carmella
Mutt
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Carmella
Mutt
3 Years

I am having trouble getting my dog to bring the ball back. When I throw she will chase it but she won’t bring it back and when I go over and try to take it she takes the ball and runs with it.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
817 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jared, First, when she runs, don't chase her - that will encourage a dog's favorite game - Keep Away. Second, work on trading pup - like hiding a second ball behind your back that she has to place the first ball into your hand before you will throw. I recommend trying another toy first, but if that doesn't work, trade for a treat, then throw the ball she has given you after the treat is gone. Treats can sometimes distract from wanting to play fetch, so try a second ball first. Third, as soon as pup picks up the ball you have thrown, run AWAY from pup slowly. Act really excited while you do some, to encourage pup to chase after YOU. Once pup gets to you, present the second ball to get her to drop hers before she thinks about running again, then toss it to her and grab the ball she dropped. As she practices, run away a bit less and less, and require her to deliberately give you the first ball before you will throw the second one for her. Keep the second ball hidden behind your back until after she has put the first one into your hand. When you get to that point, you can put the first ball behind your back, switching it to your other hand and pretend to have two balls, when you are actually just throwing the first ball from a different hand. If pup still runs away, practice short distance fetching on a long training leash with pup wearing a padded back clip harness for safety. Reel In method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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