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!
It’s been over twenty years since I’ve had to train a dog. This time I have a husband, a 3yr old, 10yr old and a 12yr old...... Fortunately I am a stay at home mom so I do get about 7 hours a day with Nash. Before Ebony my Mastif/Lab was a bear of a dog however I was in college and had scheduled classes around my schedule for my dog. She was so well behaved after her first three yrs. I understand it takes years but do you have any advice for me having a family involved this time? Thanks Michelle
Hello Michelle, I would include commands like Crate Training and Place for times when you simply need help managing pup and not undoing any training you have done. I would have the kids and your husband learn how to give pup commands too, with pup working for a treat or reward from them so that pup listens to everyone, everyone is consistent, and the family is more invested in pup's training to help it progress, even if you or your husband are the ones who teach pup the new commands. Have pup work for what they get throughout the day, like if pup wants to go outside for a walk tell pup to sit first, tell pup to Wait before feeding, Down before tossing a ball, Come before petting. You can practice training throughout the day without needing longer chunks of time. Train and exercise together to wear out pup in less time - doing things like having pup obey commands during a game of fetch, practice heeling, sit, down, and eye contact during a walk, or even giving pup simply jobs that actually help you - like bringing you something, can help pup learn without needing that extra chunk of time every day to always train. When I am very busy with my own dog, I will even give one walk in the morning, one training session in the evening, and keep the evening walk very short if needed, since the evening training session can often wear pup out too. Focus on commands that make it easier to bring pup places once pup is manageable at home, like sitting for pets, Quiet, Heel, and Down Stay, so that socialization and practicing obedience around distractions can happen more easily at regular family outings, allowing you to bring pup along to places outside that you would already be going, instead of having to schedule additional trips. Finally, don't wait to hire professional help if you run into issues. Having some guidance sooner rather than later can also save you time. A class will be cheapest but you will need to put in the training practice time between classes, a private in-home trainer more expensive but easier on your schedule since they come to you, can tailor it more to your specific needs but will still involve you practicing between sessions at home, and board and train the most expensive option but least work of all three for you. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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