„Drop it!… droooop it!!“
Snore! The best way to create a neurotic dog with zero impulse control? Play fetch. No thinking involved. So many dog owners see it as a game. They say their dogs are having fun… are they? It never looks like it. Sure, they are running. Sure, they are constantly bringing back the ball for more, but the dogs are actually just reliant to the repetition. It is no longer a game and has, instead, turned into a genuine addiction.
What is play? A controversial question. What we can answer for sure without getting too complicated, is that you can see physical tips – playful/happy facial expressions, sounds and/or movements that indicate a playful and exuberant energy. When I see people play fetch with their dogs, I see none of those things.
How can we make fetch a) more interesting for our dogs and b) turn it into an actual training exercise?
- Teach your dog to stay. Start slowly (your dog should know „stay“ very well) by telling them to stay and calmly tossing the ball in front of your feet. Once they can stay when you do that, throw the ball further and further until they are able to stay when you throw it normally. This is called impulse control! Your dog has successfully learned to control their impulse to run after the ball. Now you can reward them by saying „fetch“ or whatever you wish your command to be and they can chase after it.
- Play fetch with a fillable Dummy. This is something you can throw (usually made from durable cloth with a plastic lining) that has their daily meal/s in it. I am a huge fan of this. Not only are you feeding your dog while you are taking him on a walk, but he has the experience of „hunting“ something! He saw and smelled it, ran after it, grabbed it and brought it back to you to get his reward. It allows your dog to experience something primal while working together with you and not chasing something he shouldn’t be (like a rabbit)!
- You can also play fetch without actually throwing anything. Carry your Dummy, stick, ball or toy with you on your walks. As you are walking along wait for your dog to get distracted by a scent or look away from you. When he isn’t looking, drop the object along the path and keep walking. A little farther along the path, get your dogs‘ attention and say, „fetch!“ If your dog knows this command, he might be a bit confused at first or expect you to throw something. For this very reason, build this exercise in increments. At first you might just walk a few steps before asking him to fetch. At some point you might walk for an entire 5 minutes and allow a huge distance to build. This is when it gets fun! Your dog will run along the path looking for the toy and then run all the way back. It is also a great way to keep your dogs‘ focus on you as he waits for you to drop something…
- My final tip! This will seem simple, but surprisingly doesn’t occur to many people. Where are you throwing something? More often than not, I see dog owners throwing the ball on a nice field with short grass or somewhere flat where you can see the ball when it has landed. Boring! Is there a lake in your area where your dog will have to swim to the ball? What about in the woods where he has to jump over logs and in between branches? Best of all… tall grass! In the summer when the grass is tall, my dogs can search for a good 10 minutes before they find it and they are given a chance to use their nose!
Do you play fetch with your dog? If so, what are some fun things you have discovered to keep things interesting? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!