Fetch is all about drive, your dog must be driven to perform a number of smaller skills which make up fetch. The basic skills that makeup fetch are, chase, hold, bring and give. In order for fetch to be successful your dog needs to be driven to perform all of these skills one after the other.
Chasing is a forward-moving action, you need to have your dog going forward towards the toy. The best way to increase your dogs’ drive to chase a toy is to attach it to a length of strong elastic or fabric and drag the toy along the ground. You will need fabric long enough to protect your hands from being bitten but not too long that you have little control over the toy. Dragging the toy along the ground is the quickest way to elicit a drive to chase from your dog.
Play many games of ‘chase the toy’ with your dog, have your dog so excited every time you bring their chase toy out to play. Make the toy on the end of the elastic come alive, make it wriggle, make it change direction, make it run along the ground in a straight line. Allow your dog to sometimes catch the toy and tug at it, wait for your dog to let it go and the chase begins again.
This chase toy (and ultimately your fetch toy) should be yours, and should always be packed up and put away after playtime where your dog does not have free access to it.
The key to a strong drive to hold a toy is to play tug with your dog. When your dog has caught the toy after the chase gently tug at it if your dog starts to tug you can tug more vigorously. If he lets go the chase game starts again. Make tug as much fun as the chase game, laugh, growl and get on the floor with your dog to make it more interesting if you like.
If your dog redirects their enthusiasm on to you or your clothes leave him in his play area for a minute then return and start again. Eventually, he will get the message that play must be through the toy, plus it is a great lesson in appropriate mouthing and impulse control.
Playing tug helps your dog recognise that without you tugging on the other end the game cannot exist thus creates a drive to bring the toy back to you.
Start by playing chase and tug, and when your dog lets go of the toy drop the toy right at your feet, as soon as he picks the toy up start another game of tug. Dropping the toy this close to you helps your dog understand that when he picks the toy up another fun game of tug starts. As your dog gets better at this you can start tossing the toy further and further away from you. When your dog brings the toy to you always play a game of tug to reward him. Have patience and do not start throwing it too far too soon.
Start in a boring very small space so that your dog cannot get away from you then move to more distracting larger spaces. Always finish this game before your dog gets bored of it.
Many dogs will not hold or bring a toy because all they have been told to do is ‘give’. It is much, much easier to teach a dog to give than it is to hold.
While you are playing tug with your dog carefully, without your dog knowing, take a dry piece of food from your pocket and offer it right up to his nose, as soon as he opens his mouth to take the food say ‘give’, give the treat and play tug again. Eventually, he will associate give with the behaviour of opening his mouth.
You should have noticed that each of these skills is about creating drive through play. How well your dog learns to fetch is dependent on how much time you take to play fetch games with him.
So how do you put all of this general knowledge into practice to mend your fetch problems? Stay tuned for my next post, troubleshooting fetch.