How to Train a German Shepherd to Play Fetch

How to Train a German Shepherd to Play Fetch
Easy difficulty iconEasy
Time icon2-3 Days
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Introduction

As a general rule, most dogs require exercise in their day to day lives. Walking, running, swimming, or sports are all typical outlets for the energy that dogs have to expend, but there is nothing more simple than the game of fetch. Used by dog owners worldwide, fetch is a super simple way to bond and play with your dog while also providing stimulation, training, and exercise. For the working class of dog, fetch is a useful tool for channeling the excess energy that comes with a working breed.

One of the more common working breeds is the German shepherd, bred for herding and generally used for all types of work from military to police. The German shepherd is the perfect fetching companion, as they are quick to learn and eager to please. For a high energy breed, teaching fetch is probably the best way to ensure that you’ll always have a go-to game to play on any day.

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Defining Tasks

The game of fetch typically consists of a few commands that your dog should know in order to properly play. There is the actual act of fetching, holding the ball or toy in his mouth, and then the act of bringing the object back to you in order for you to throw it again. For a German shepherd, this process is typically fairly easy to pick up on and only requires some repetition. However, there are some dogs who may be a bit confused on how the game works. It may help to learn the game in steps in these cases.

You can start teaching fetch once a puppy is old enough to venture outdoors. Typically, this may have to wait until after his vaccinations, for health purposes. Fetch is perfect for any adult German shepherd to learn and should really only take two to three days to establish the way the game is played.

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Getting Started

The only real thing you need to get started playing fetch is your dog’s favorite toy and ample space to throw it. The toy should be large enough to keep your dog from swallowing it, but small enough that he can reasonably carry it back to you. Good places to play fetch are in a large backyard, in a fenced-in area at the park, or in any other safe outdoor space. Avoid playing fetch in a dog park, as it may invite other dogs to steal your dog’s toy or chase after and harass your dog. Playing fetch should be a time to bond between you and your German shepherd without any other distractions.

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The Fetching Method

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1

Get excited

Get your German shepherd excited about the object you’re throwing by making it exciting. Wave it around, make noise, and keep it in front of your dog’s face before tossing it.

2

Make it smell

Use smelly treats and rub them on the toy or ball to give it a distinct scent. A German shepherd’s nose is very good and he may use the sense of smell to drive him to chase after the toy.

3

Toss it close

Start by tossing it just a few feet away to encourage your dog to go after it without losing focus.

4

Toss it far

Gradually toss the object farther and farther when your dog starts to reliably go after it every time. Test him with increasing distances or alternate directions.

5

Repeat

Continue to throw it in order to increase reliability in your dog going after the toy.

The Holding Method

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Make it easy to hold

Use a ball or a tug rope which are made to fit nicely into your dog’s mouth.

2

Make it fun to hold

Use a new toy or something that squeaks, which can be interesting and exciting for your German shepherd to hold and chew. Test out a few different toys with her to see which may be more interesting.

3

Stay close

Make it easy her to hold onto it by keeping close by. Being too far away may cause your dog to get easily distracted and drop the toy in favor of something else.

4

Increase distance

Only increase the distance between you and your dog when she can reliably hold onto the object after fetching it.

5

Verbal praise

Whenever she holds onto the object for a few moments at a time, provide plenty of verbal praise for your German shepherd to ensure that she knows that holding onto after chasing it is a good thing.

The Return Method

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Keep the toss short

When training your dog to return the object to you after fetching it, stay in close for the first few tosses. This will make it easier for him to return to you without getting distracted.

2

Be exciting

Hop up and down or run back and forth to present an enticing reason for your German shepherd to run back to you. The more exciting you are, the more likely he will want to come back.

3

Call your dog

Use your German shepherd’s name in a high pitch to encourage him to run back to you.

4

Reward for return

Any time your dog returns to you with the object, reward with tons of affection, play, and excited sounds.

5

Challenge your dog

Start throwing the object farther and farther, repeating the steps to call your dog back to you each time. Make the game fun by moving around and changing direction. The more fun you have with fetch, the more fun your dog will have.

By TJ Trevino

Published: 02/26/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Bear

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german shepperd

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2 Years

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Bear will fetch the ball but refuses to give it to me.

Oct. 23, 2021

Bear's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sue, Check out the Come, Drop It, and trouble shooting sections of this article I have linked below. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-to-fetch/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Oct. 25, 2021

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Koda

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German Shepherd

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2 Years

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Question

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Koda gets a little excited when he sees other dogs, cats & squirrels. He’s strong and he will take off after them and when I pull back on his leash he will jump up as to get away. Now, this isn’t every dog or cat or squirrel. I never know which one will set him off. Sometimes we pass them and he’s fine. I want him to be fine all the time cause he can be over powering.

April 27, 2020

Koda's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lori, First, I suggest laying a good foundation of communication by practicing commands like Leave It, Watch Me, Out, and Heel. Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Heel - Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Come: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-to-come-when-called/ Work on teaching those commands first, since pup needs to know what you are asking of them before they can be expected to comply, have the skills to remain self-controlled, or understand why they are being rewarded or corrected. Work on the structure of your walk. You want pup to be working during the walk - having to stay behind you, focus on you, perform commands periodically, and not have his mind on scanning the area in search of other dogs. The walk should start with him having to exit your home very calmly, performing obedience commands at the door if he isn't calm. He should wait for permission ("Okay" or "Free" or "Let's Go") before going through the door instead of bolting through if that's an issue. When you walk he should be in the heel position - with his head behind your leg. That position decreases his arousal. It prevents him from scanning for other animals, and ignoring you behind him. It also requires him to be in a more submissive, structured, focused, calmer mindset - which has a direct effect on how aroused he is. Additionally, when you do pass other animals, as soon as he starts staring them down, interrupt him. Remind him with a fair correction that you are leading the walk and he is not allowed to break his heel or stare another animal. It is far easier to deal with reactivity when you interrupt a dog early in the process - before they are highly aroused and full of adrenaline and cortisol, and to keep the dog in a less aroused/calmer state to begin with. This also makes the walk more pleasant for him in the long-run. Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo The below videos are of dog reactive dogs - but they are good examples of keeping a dog calmer on the walk through structure and obedience exercises - to build focus on the handler and teach pup to ignore distractions. Reactive dog - example of interruptions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY8s_MlqDNE Example of interrupting an aroused dog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Once pup is focusing on you regularly and ignoring distractions - at that point, you can also begin rewarding pup with small treats, further increasing their attention on you. You will need pup to be in a calmer mindset first though - so that you are rewarding the focused, calm attitude and not the aroused, predatory state. Finally, since pup is nearly pulling you over, you may need to use a training device that prevents pup from pulling so hard when this does happen. This won't be in place of any of the training, but should make management while pup is still learning and at risk of doing the behavior, easier. A gentle leader and prong collar are to options. Avoid the use of choke chains because they can damage a dogs trachea. If you use a prong collar be sure to spend time learning how to properly fit and use it - they are often used and fitted incorrectly. How to Introduce the Prong collar – plus how to connect to buckle collar with carabiner for added safety: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23zEy-e6Khg Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

April 27, 2020


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