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Dobermans are not retrievers naturally, but they love to play. Teaching them to fetch is usually not too difficult, as long as you take the time to help them understand how the game works. Your playful, high-energy Doberman may think chasing the toy or ball and grabbing it is great fun, but may not be quite as motivated to return it to you and release it!
Dobermans are active, muscular dogs that need physical activity to stay in shape and maintain good muscle tone. They also have active minds that benefit from learning games and being engaged with their “people”. Playing fetch is a great way to exercise your Doberman-- after all, you get to stand in one place while he does all the running!
Teaching 'fetch' to some dogs is just a matter of finding the right toy to motivate them. With others, you may need to teach them the entire sequence of chase, grab, return and release before they get the hang of the fetch game, but most dogs love to play fetch once you teach them, so it is well worth the time even if your pup is a bit slow to catch on.
A successful game of fetch involves your dog running after a thrown or tossed object, grabbing it in his mouth, returning it to you, and releasing the item so you can throw it again. Most dogs, including Dobermans, pick up on the chasing pretty easily. The returning and releasing do not always come quite as naturally, however. There are several methods to help your dog cooperate with the second half of the game. Having two of whatever you are fetching can be helpful so that your dog understands that he can release the first toy, as a second one is being thrown for him, alleviating his fear that you are going to end the game or take his treasured possession forever!
Your Doberman can learn to fetch a ball, a disc, a toy, or a stick, just make sure whatever toy you use does not have sharp edges (objects like human frisbees can hurt a dog's mouth), and that your fetch item is the right size (you don't want your Doberman to swallow a ball or toy). You also want to use a toy that will stand up to being thrown and carried around in your Doberman’s mouth--in other words, something that takes a licking and keeps on ticking! There are lots of options available at pet supply stores. Treats or peanut butter can be used to get your dog interested in fetching the item, or releasing it to you, if need be.
The Reluctant Fetcher Method
Reinforce a toy
Place a toy on the ground. Every time your Doberman goes near or investigates the toy, click and treat.
Shape picking up the toy
Hold the toy out and do not provide the treat when your dog looks for it. Wait until your Doberman nudges, paws, or mouths the toy, then click and treat. Continue shaping handling the toy, requiring more interaction before clicking and treating. Eventually, require your dog to pick up the toy from your hand in his mouth.
Once your Doberman is picking up the toy, place it on the ground. Wait for your dog to pick it up, then put your hand underneath it. When the dog touches your hand with the toy, click and treat.
Now toss the toy a few yards away from you. When your dog picks up the toy, hold out your hand. When your dog returns to you with the toy, click and treat.
Start tossing the toy farther and farther away and asking your dog to release the toy into your hand before clicking and treating. Once this behavior is well established you can reduce the use of the clicker, and eventually stop providing treats all the time for the fetching game.
The Release the Toy Method
Place multiple toys
Place four toys in a circle in an enclosed fenced area like a yard, or large indoor area. Pick up one of the toys and play with your Doberman, getting him very excited about the toy.
Move to next toy
Stop and run over to the next toy. Pick it up and start playing with it. Most dogs will follow you when you run away and get interested in the new toy and drop the first one.
Encourage release of first toy
If your dog does not drop the first toy, keep playing with the new toy ignoring your dog and the first toy until your dog releases the first toy and comes and joins you with the second toy.
Continue practicing releasing toys
Continue on to each successive toy during your play time with your Doberman. Repeat a few times a week. Your dog will come to associate you with fun, not the toy. Introduce the game fetch when your dog has learned that playing with you is more fun than playing with toys by himself. If he does not return the toy to you, run in the opposite direction so your dog chases you. Then ask him to drop the toy when he catches you so you can throw it again.
Use treats to reinforce
If your Doberman is still reluctant, offer him a treat and say “drop it” to get him to release the toy.
The Bait and Switch Method
Have two toys
Obtain two identical toys.
Throw the first toy for your dog to fetch.
When your dog picks up the first toy, call him and show him the second toy. When your dog comes back over to you with the first toy, throw the second toy in the opposite direction. Hopefully, your Doberman will drop the first toy and chase after the second toy. Go and grab the first toy. Repeat several times.
Encourage dropping the toy near you
Next, wait for your Doberman to return and do not produce the next toy. Call your Doberman over, say “drop it” and then produce the other toy. Your dog should drop the toy he is holding, now that he understands you are going to throw the next toy.
Stop using the second toy
When dropping one toy to chase another is well established, you can dispense with the second toy. Say “drop it” when your Doberman brings over the fetched toy. Pick up the toy and throw it without having to use the second toy anymore.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 02/13/2018, edited: 01/08/2021