Fetching is what Labradors do, right? After all, “Retriever” is in the name! Fetching should be a no-brainer.
The problem with Labradors fetching is not usually that they won’t go get the item tossed, or even return to you with it, it’s that they might not want to release it to you now that they've gone to all that work to get it! Also, believe it or not, some Labradors don’t fetch naturally. A Black Lab named Bella who was acquired by her family as a two-year-old never did get the hang of fetching. Her owners think she may have been punished in her previous home for taking things in her mouth and this soured her on playing fetch. Nobody could believe her family had a Lab that did not fetch--while their little poodle-terrier cross fetched great, Bella would just stand and watch. A bit strange, really!
You can teach your playful Lab to fetch properly and release the fetched item or even teach a Lab that does not fetch how to play the game. As strange as that may seem, they do exist!
Most Labs are more than happy to chase a tossed item anywhere, any time. A stick in a lake, a ball in a field, a frisbee, or a toy, anything you can throw, really. The issue will be teaching your Lab to bring the item back to you and drop it, or release it to your hand so you can throw it again. Although it is rare in, in some instances you may even have to teach a reluctant Lab to chase the item thrown. Although most Labs are naturally motivated to play fetch, shaping the behavior to ensure that your Lab plays with you and does not just take off with his prize is usually the main challenge when teaching your buddy to fetch.
It is very helpful to have two identical items when teaching your Labrador to play fetch, to encourage your dog to release fetched items. Using multiple toys can also help teach your dog to release fetched items so the game can continue. Treats may help teach your Labrador to fetch if he is having trouble understanding the game or is reluctant, due to negative experiences or punishment with previous mouthing of items. If your dog is reluctant to play fetch you may need to show patience and understanding to counteract previous negative experiences. Reassure your dog that playing fetch is OK and he won't get in trouble for picking up the fetch item in his mouth.