Training your puppy to fetch a tennis ball is one of the
tricks that should definitely be on your priority training list for the first year
(or earlier!). It is a trick that will give you a way to wear your puppy out so
that you can count on them to take a nap or be a bit more relaxed in the evenings.
This will definitely come in handy from 12 weeks to year 3!
Fetch is a game that also stimulates your puppy to learn in a way that is structured around a fun game. It gives you both a chance to experience “training” as a playful experience where the goal is to enjoy each other while focusing on success and reward.
Puppies as young as 2-3 months are ready for their first fetch training. If you start this early – expect to have a ball obsessed dog later in life. Luckily, dogs that are enthusiastic about fetch can actually be trained using fetch as a motivator!
First things first, let’s get the basics down. This guide offers three different methods for teaching your puppy to fetch a tennis ball, all without using a single punishment!
Choose a size and texture-appropriate toy to start training with.
It is certainly possible that your puppy has no interest in tennis balls because they are too big for their mouths, or just not a texture they are very interested in at their age. You can use just about any non-food toy that is safe for puppies to train fetch.
Later, after your pup is a little older and has the hang of this game, you will be able to switch to tennis balls (or mini tennis balls for toy breeds) without any problems. Examples of good starter toys are soft plush toys, smaller foam balls, or denim strips tied into knots.
Keep training sessions age-appropriate in length.
At around 12 weeks your puppy is likely to be able to focus on training for no more than 5-10 minutes before getting distracted by something else in this big and exciting world. Keep sessions short, and plan on doing several training sessions throughout the day. The sooner you start training with your puppy, the longer his attention span will become, and the more trainable he will be for the rest of his life.
Always start training in a low-distraction, indoor environment.
Your puppy should always get the benefit of a familiar environment to learn new behaviors. Once she has mastered a trick, you can start to work on it outside as long as you have access to a safe place to play, such as a fenced yard.
Focus on rewarding success.
Teaching fetch is no time for punishment. Focus on rewarding what he is doing right. If he fails to meet your expectations repeatedly, then you are failing to set the bar low enough. Progress only at a pace that keeps your puppy excited to learn, with a rapid rate of reward.
Fade food rewards over time.
Using food rewards for training is a great idea because you can repeat the act of giving a treat over and over without disrupting the flow of training. However, playing fetch is a behavior that eventually becomes self-rewarding. That means you won’t need to reward your puppy for playing this game because it is fun all by itself!