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Every morning like clockwork, I head outdoors to check on the hens and give Leroy and Janice a morning bathroom break. Leroy likes to follow me to the henhousebecause try as I might, I can’t get him to get over his curiosity about the birds.
It was a pretty normal day, so I was gathering up some twigs and other bits of nesting material, tossing it off to the side as I hunted for eggs, and one of the twigs I had caught some air. The breeze carried it over into the main yard, and Leroy was off after it like his life depended on it. It’s actually pretty funny watching him nearly trip himself as he tries to catch anything and everything that is thrown.
That dog has always been a fetch master. Even as a pup, if I tossed a jacket onto a chair or kicked off my shoe a little too hard, he’d be chasing after it. Janice, on the other hand, took a bit of training before she became interested in playing fetch. I like teaching this game because it’s an easy way to wear them out – but not every dog loves fetch naturally. It could be that you just need to teach them to love it, as in the case of Janice – but it may also be that they just don’t give a fig about sticks. So today I rounded up nine really cool fetch toys, and also a few pointers on teaching your dog how to play fetch.
Why does it matter? Well, in the long run, it really doesn’t. Your dog could live a long and happy life without fetch. But it is a very good form of exercise, and it’s lots of fun for the both of you, so why not give it a go?
The Chuckit Launcher is basically like an extension of your arm that comes with a dog-safe tennis ball. You load the ball into the scoop at the end of the launcher, and then you can just easily swing the launcher, and it takes care of the work. This is great if you don’t have the best arm, but your dog really loves to run far.
The West Paw Tizzi is a very interesting fetch toy with a strange shape, kind of like a wiggly boomerang. What that does is add some excitement to a game of fetch, because it’s harder for your dog to guess where the toy will end up. The shape makes this toy fly all over in wonky patterns, so it involves a lot more mental stimulation. It’s also safe to play with in water and good for dogs who chew a bit.
The Kong Air Dog Fetch Stick is a pretty popular fetch toy on all the holiday lists lately, for a few reasons. It allows you a couple of options for throwing (hold it by the rope for a wind-up toss, hold it by the toy for a quick chuck), and also gives you something to grab when it’s time to tug the toy away for another toss. Made by Kong, it’s also durable and safe for chewers.
The Pro Ball Go-Frrr Slingshot is another fetch toy that is great if you don’t have the best arm, or if you want to wear your dog out while you relax in an easy chair. It’s just a dog-safe ball attached to a slingshot cord, so you can just hold the ball out in front of you, pull the cord back kind of like a rubber band, and let go – the slingshot action does the work. It’s all safe, though I would watch that heavy chewers don’t rip the slingshot cord out and try to swallow it.
If you have to be gone during the day but want to keep an energetic dog busy and out of mischief, this is a great tool. The iFetch is an interactive toy that, when turned on, will lightly toss a few dog-safe tennis balls around your house or yard. Your dog just has to return them to the back of the machine, and it automatically tosses it out again. It’ll keep going as long as your dog, so that’s great for dogs that wear you out.
It was tough to choose which disc flyer I would recommend. Kong makes a great one, and so does Chuckit. But Planet Dog’s Orbee Tough Zoom Flyer is a great disc for chewers, and it is really easy to get good lift on, better than the Kong disc in my opinion. This is a classic dog Frisbee, so if your dog loves that, but you don’t want them chewing on harmful plastic, here’s a good option.
This is a donut-shaped fetch toy that works similarly to a disc, but it’s not got quite the same lift that a Frisbee would have. The great thing about the Eco Fly and Tug is that it’s made with eco-friendly and dog-safe materials that are good for chewing, and it’s also surprisingly tough. I have had one of these for a while and even Leroy hasn’t managed to tear it up with multiple games of tug of war. They can be used in water as well, which is always a bonus.
If your dog only likes to play fetch in the water, you’ll want something specifically made for the water. The Kurgo Skipping Stones are just what they sound like – jumbo skipping stones made of a dog-safe material that floats. Toss them the same way you would a stone over the water, and they’ll skip and bounce along the surface – great for enticing a dog to go out there after them. They are pretty tough for medium chewers and are made with completely non-toxic materials.
Regular old tennis balls are a favorite for fetch, but they are not at all safe for a dog! They aren’t made to withstand chewing, so your dog can swallow pieces of the ball, and the “hair” on the outside of a tennis ball contains dangerous dyes that your dog will often eat when they chew on a tennis ball. However, if they are already trained to chase a tennis ball, you can get the same look and feel with something like The Dog’s Balls – dog-safe tennis balls that are better for them and don’t force you to teach your dog any new tricks.
So now that you have nine cool toys to choose from when it comes to fetch, let’s talk about how I taught Janice to love this game. It’s not exactly rocket science, but if you’ve never trained a dog to do anything complicated before, it could be a new experience. And make no mistake – when it comes to dog training, teaching them to follow through on multiple steps for a game is way more complex than teaching them to sit on command. Here are the things the dog needs to know to play fetch:
They need to know that the fetch toy is something desirable.
They need to understand that when you throw the toy, you want them to go after it.
They need to know that you want them to return it to you, not just go get it.
These three steps seem simple to us, but to a dog, that’s a whole chain of behaviors that have to be learned. So here’s how you do it:
Start by getting your dog to show interest in the toy. Set the toy on the ground, and if they look at it, sniff it, or inspect it in any way, reward them with praise or dog treats, however you train. If you are a clicker training, click every time they acknowledge the toy.
Keep doing this for a few minutes every day until your dog automatically looks at or inspects the toy, expecting that reward.
Now it’s time to up your expectations. Instead of rewarding them to acknowledge the toy, hold out until they get frustrated at the wait and interact with the toy. They’ll usually nudge it or pick it up, anything to show you “Hey, I did the thing, where’s my reward?”
Continue doing this till they are regularly interacting with the toy to get a reward.
Now it’s time to work on the concept of distance from you. Put the toy on the ground away from you just a bit, and wait for them to either nudge or bring the toy back to you. Reward them every time they do this, and continue to increase the distance between you and the toy. It may take some time for the dog to understand that they need to actually bring it back to you – they may just pick it up, look at you, and drop it where they are standing. Keep encouraging them to come when the toy is in their mouth, and they’ll start to get the picture.
Now you can start adding in an immediate toss after they bring you the toy. Reward, then toss the toy away. Encourage them to go get it again. As soon as they do, reward, and toss it farther. Do this for as long as your dog seems to “get it” and show interest in the toy. You want the toy itself to be the cue for the reward, not spending time with you.
Eventually, you won’t have to do a reward every single time. Your dog will associate fetch with a good feeling and will do it because they enjoy it, not because they want that treat. But it’s a good idea to have a treat on hand for the end of the fetch session, just to drive home the idea every time. Be sure that you are acting very excited during all of these sessions. Fetch is an active, exciting game, full of high energy. If you want your dog to realize that this is a big play time, you need to signal that to them. In fact, if your dog is only getting the fetch part of this game half the time, try running after the toy with them – your involvement will excite them, and they’ll want to get into it more.
With Janice, it took me just a few short weeks to get her to play fetch. But having Leroy around, who was always a natural fetcher, helped a lot. If you are struggling to get your dog to get into fetch, consider setting up a play date with a dog that already plays this game. It’ll do your dog a world of good to see another dog getting into the game because dogs can’t help but get excited when other dogs are playing with something. Their instinct is to go check it out.
If you don’t know any other dogs who fetch, head to the dog park and watch. You’ll see one sooner or later. Try out a few different fetch toys if your dog doesn’t seem to be interested. It could be that they don’t really get anything out of a ball but will run after a disc all day. You can also try just tossing their favorite chew toy – after all, they already want that.
I think fetchis an essential game to teach a dog, honestly. It’s good exercise, it’s easy, it doesn’t take much training, and it changes up your regular routine. It’s also an easy way to get in some quality bonding time, and you can do it from a chair or the porch steps. You can also easily let kids and other people play with your dog if he loves to fetch. So grab a few of these toys and head out!