Fetch is a great way to have fun with your dog and exercise them at the same time. While some dogs fetch naturally, there are some who will chase the ball but won’t retrieve, and others who just stare at the ball as it rolls by. If your dog already chases the ball you are already past step one!
The first step towards getting a dog to retrieve an object is motivating the dog to actually want to chase after it. Use a motivating object that your dog really enjoys such as a ball or frisbee. Start by tossing the toy or ball a few feet away from your dog. If your dog looks at the object, reward with a high value treat. After doing this a few times you will begin to up your expectations of your dog. Do this by holding onto the reward until your dog actually moves towards the object, then by holding onto the reward until your dog puts their teeth on it. Once your dog put their teeth on the object, take it away immediately and repeat the process until your dog chases the object each time it is thrown.
After you have motivated your dog to chase an object, you will next work on teaching your dog they get rewarded for bringing it back to you. There are a couple of ways that you may do this.
The first way involves attaching your dog to a leash more than 10 feet long (30 feet is ideal). Throw the object within the distance of the leash. Once your dog has the object, start verbally encouraging your dog to bring it back to you and start reeling in the dog gently with the long leash. Reward your dog with a high value treat then throw the object again and repeat this process. In the beginning, toss the object out fairly quickly once your dog brings it back to you. As your dog starts to understand the concept, you may adjust the time between throws.
Another way you can teach your dog to bring an object to you is by using two identical toys. Start by throwing the first ball/toy. Once your dog has caught the first ball, show your dog the second ball and throw it in the opposite direction. They will likely drop first ball when you show them the second (if they do, you may start naming this as “drop” or “give” if you’d like). This exercise gets your dog used to the idea of running back in your direction after they have caught the object. Acknowledge your dog when they return to you. This will teach your dog returning an object to you means you will throw it for them again. It is a good idea to practice this in a long hallway if possible. This limits the dog’s options and sets them up for success.
When practicing fetch, work in small increments and gradually require more from your dog. Break the process into small steps rather than expecting your dog to understand the end goal. In the beginning, consider limiting your dog’s access to whatever object you are using for fetch so they can learn this “special toy” only comes from you.