If you happen to have a Labrador, then you have a natural “fetcher” on your hands. Training your Labrador Retriever to fetch is usually quite simple as these enthusiastic dogs were bred for retrieving. In fact, once you give your Lab the basic understandings of fetch, it is likely that the game will quickly become self-rewarding. You could quickly have a ball obsessed dog on your hands!
Not only is fetch a fun game to help your Labrador burn off some extra calories, it also provides some mental stimulation. It is a game that travels very well since all you need are a few tennis balls that you have stashed in the car. In addition, fetch is something everyone can play, giving new folks an “in” to bond with your Lab.
In most cases, it will only take a few 10-20 minute sessions to fully train this trick. We offer three different methods in this guide, all of which will quickly produce results.
If you are starting from scratch with training your Labrador to fetch, it is best to start indoors where there are fewer distractions, moving the game outdoors to a secured area only after she has the hang of it and seems to be fairly interested in it.
Quit Before She Does
One of the tricks to getting a dog to be very enthusiastic about any game, including fetch, is to make sure to quit the game before she does. This will leave her wanting more so she will be excited the next time you play.
Fading Food Rewards
In 98% of cases with Labrador Retrievers, training how to play fetch is mostly showing them the mechanics of the game. Using food rewards to do initial training works best because you can repeat them quickly, making lots of training progress fast. However, it will not be long before the game of fetch becomes its own reward. Once you see your Lab enjoying the intrinsic value of fetch, start to decrease the rate of reward until the next toss becomes the reward for each retrieve.
Choose the Right Ball
Most Labs take nicely to tennis balls. If you find that your pooch turns his nose up at a ball, try teaching fetch with a favorite plush toy, or squeaky ball instead. Once you get the basics of the game down, chances are good that you will easily be able to switch to a tennis ball later without much fuss.
Reward Success, Ignore Failure
There is no reason to punish your dog if he fails to retrieve. All you will do is make him associate the game with bad stuff, decreasing his ability to enjoy it. The best way to handle failure to retrieve? End the game, walk away, ignore your Lab for a minute or two, then start over. If it continues to happen, your dog is bored. Start over a few hours later and bring more enthusiasm to the table.
Clicker and Treats
For the 'Clicker' method, be sure you have your clicker and treats ready. Labradors are usually so food motivated that you can train them with their regular kibble rations. If you have a clicker, then you know that you will click to mark the behavior you want, followed always by a reward. If you do not, then just make a sound like “YEEESSS!!” that you reserve for training sessions, always followed by a food reward.