Did you know that your dog is capable of learning hundreds of words as long as you apply patience and consistent training?
Training your dog to learn new tricks stimulates their mind, increases their ability to analyse information, all the while giving you more knowledge of how your dog's brain works. In addition, fun activities like how to teach your dog to fetch their lead, for example, is a fun way to spend quality time bonding with your dog.
Teaching retrieving is easy and fun, but don't expect a perfect performance for the first few times because that adds too much pressure, both to you and your dog. Instead, remind yourself that fetching and retrieving will not come naturally to all pups at first, especially the very independent and the very shy. You just have to keep at it because the rewards are great. And the younger you begin teaching your dog to fetch, the easier it will be.
How to teach the word 'fetch'
Let's start with the basics, if your dog doesn't know the word "Fetch", here's what you need to know before we move onto teaching them how to fetch anything.
All you need is a ball and a wall. Bounce the ball against the wall (use a softer ball inside the house) and say "Fetch" as your dog chases after it. The purpose of saying "Fetch" is to get your dog to identify the word with their action. After a certain number of repetitions, they will associate "Fetch" with the act of chasing after the ball. This is an easy way to start creating a pattern in your dog's mind.
Other commands you can use during this game are "Take it," "Drop it," and "Leave it." At the moment they put the ball inside their mouth, say "Take it." When they bring and drop the ball for you, say "Drop it." If they don't drop the ball, then make them drop the ball by substituting another motivator, such as a treat, so that they will drop the ball to get at the treat - I call this a fair exchange. Say "Drop it".
Of course, in the beginning, they won't connect his actions with the words; they are too busy just having fun. But by playing this game for five minutes a day for a week or two, your dog will start associating the words with the action.
What I like about the fetch game, or any game for that matter, is that dogs will never run away from you when they are playing. They will always bring the toy back to you because they know the game will continue. And through this, you are building trust.
If your dog gets distracted by another toy and picks that up, don't stop them. Just say "Take it" when they put another toy in their mouth, and use that toy to play fetch. You are allowing the fun to continue.
Never force a dog, young or old, to play a game when they have lost interest. Losing interest does not show a lack of intelligence, rather, your dog is just naturally being an inquisitive canine.
How to teach your dog to fetch (anything)
Now your dog understands what the word "fetch" means, let's explore how you can teach your dog to fetch anything.
First, tie a sock or small cloth (white or light colour) in a knot and then dangle it excitingly in front of your dog's mouth. Encourage them if they start to lick it or opens their mouth.
Then, toss the sock a couple of feet in front of your dog. If they go to it and sniff, praise like crazy! If they pick it up, attract their attention to come back to you by calling, clapping your hands, patting the floor, whatever will entice them to return.
Do not overdo this exercise. Repeating it two or three times is plenty to begin with. If he is not too excited about it, once is enough.
Gradually increase the length of your throw. If your dog reaches the point where they pick it up and run away, put a cord or string on their collar and gently guide your dog back to you. Some people prefer using a small ball. The movement is a good attention-getter. Just be sure that you do not throw the ball too far to get your dog's attention.
Experts suggest using a brightly coloured ball and rolling it off his nose from the top of his head. If the movement of the ball does not interest your dog, face him close to a wall so that the ball will roll back out towards your dog again.
To begin, select a toy that your puppy has shown a particular liking for, then seat yourself upon the floor. This puts you down closer to your dog's level and, among other things, will help to convey the game atmosphere.
Make sure that your dog's lead is attached and that you are holding the other end. Toss the toy up and down for a few seconds, just enough to attract your dog's attention, then, toss it out a few feet away from you encouraging your dog to retrieve it. You can encourage him saying things like “Come on boy... pick it up! You can do it! C'moooon boy! Good doggie!”
There's enough verbiage there to make sure not a single word sticks on that chalkboard. Your tone of voice, together with your enthusiasm, are the prime considerations here.
If your dog goes to the object and shows any interest in it at all, that's grounds for praise and further encouragement. If he picks up the toy and brings it back to you, really pour on the praise and toss it out again.
Try to get four such retrievals into your first ten-minute play session. Then, remove the lead and end the game with a tidbit, such as their favourite treat.
Why the tidbit? Why not just praise?
Remember, for some dogs - especially very young ones - praise may not have had time to become that big of a thing in their life. Sure, it's nice, but treats are tastier and may be considered the bigger reward at their stage in life.
How to teach your dog to 'find the object'
This trick is called “Find the object” and with its help, your dog will learn how to identify a toy or a particular item by its name from a group of items. It's a very entertaining game that will widen their vocabulary and activate their thinking process.
To start, line up several objects on the floor or a low table and ask your dog to find a specific one.
Start with an item that they are already familiar with, such as a food dish or favourite toy. Place the object in an obvious area right next to two other unfamiliar, non-fascinating objects, such as books or something they wouldn't usually consider picking up.
K9 Magazine's motley collection of objects to teach Christopher to fetch his toy
Then, point to all the items on the floor or the table and command your dog to “Find the dish” or "Find the toy", if you put a toy instead of a dish in the group of objects.
As soon as your dog picks up the right object, praise him by petting his head and perhaps giving him a treat. If he knows how to fetch, use the command and have him bring the object and lay it down next to you.
K9 Magazine's Christopher learning to fetch his favourite toy
If you put a dish and a toy in the line up, two items your dog is familiar with, do not put the treat on the dish that he brought you because that will encourage him to only pick the dish from the group of objects that you laid out.
Next, place another item on the pile, one whose name is also familiar to your dog. Tell him to find that item and then go back and forth between the second object and the first.
Don't scold him if he picks the wrong item, and don't acknowledge it, either. Just keep saying the command “Find the (object name)”. Once he has mastered the game, do a more advanced variation of the game, where objects are placed in different locations and then telling him to find it.
How to teach your dog to fetch their lead
Imagine combining the pleasure of knowing you're going for a walk with the actual task of fetching the very symbol that signals a walk is about to happen. That's how you can double your dog's fun by teaching them to fetch their own lead.
Cat Donald, pictured below with her dog Skye, told K9 Magazine she taught her dog to fetch her lead during the UK lockdown. Cat is a dog trainer and enjoyed spending one-on-one time with her dog teaching her new things, as did many others, according to a new survey by Pet Munchies.
Skye learning to fetch her lead / Photo Credit: Cat Donald
Here's K9 Magazine's guide to teaching your dog to fetch their lead (only suitable if your dog's lead is made of a mouth friendly material, such as rope or nylon):
1. Using the normal techniques of teaching the dog fetch, we associate our object with a word (i.e. lead/leash). Then, place the lead in a balled up state and encourage your dog to pick it up and carry it.
2. Encourage your dog to pick up the lead using the word repeatedly saying "Lead" or "Leash" (not "Fetch" or "Carry", we must use the name of the object so our dog associates that with this specific retrieval task).
3. When your dog picks up the lead, praise lavishly and allow them to carry it for a while.
4. Place your dog's lead a short distance in front of them and say "Lead" or "Leash" (again, not "Fetch"). A click of the fingers helps. We're repeating step two just so it really starts to resonate in our dog's mind what we're doing.
5. Then, extend the distance between the placement of the lead and your dog and again give the word "Lead" or "Leash".
6. Once your dog has cottoned on to the association between the word "Lead" or "Leash" and the object in question, move on to very slightly hiding the lead, perhaps around a corner or behind a sofa - but still within easy finding distance. Our objective is for your dog to succeed, but to have to work slightly harder.
7. Once step six is complete we can start to get fancy. Place the lead underneath something like a bed or a chair. Again, we want the dog to work a little bit harder, but still to succeed in finding their lead.
8. Having accomplished step seven, the next step is to place the lead slightly above the dog's nose level, perhaps on top of a chair that the dog can easily reach.
9. We're almost done. Once you're completely happy that your dog fully understands the connection between the word "Lead" or "Leash" and the exercise in retrieving the object, we can start to properly hide the lead.
Help your dog by giving them audible encouragement and walk with them to point them in the right direction. We want the dog to succeed each time so use your judgment on how complicated you want to make the hiding place.
10. After repeating step nine successfully a few times, immediately follow up by taking the dog for a walk. It's the ultimate reward!
How to teach your dog to fetch the remote control
Okay, we've all been there. We sit down on a Sunday afternoon in readiness to veg-out in front of the TV, only to realise we've left the remote control on the coffee table or on the sofa at the other end of the room. The other end of the room, that's MILES away!
So there's only one thing for it, we need our canine helper to do our walking and retrieving for us. Oh, what a lazy bunch we are.
K9 Magazine's Christopher learning how to fetch
Here's K9 Magazine's guide to teaching your dog to fetch the TV remote:
1. Using the normal techniques of teaching the dog fetch, we associate our object (the TV remote) with a word (i.e. 'remote').
2. We encourage the dog to pick up the remote and use the word repeatedly "Remote".
3. When the dog picks up the remote we praise lavishly.
4. We place the remote a short distance in front of the dog and say "Remote" (not "Fetch"). Again, similar to teaching your dog how to fetch their lead, a click of the fingers helps.
5. Then, extend the distance between the placement of the remote and your dog and again give the word "Remote".
6. Once your dog understands the link between the word "Remote" and the object, begin gently hiding the remote, perhaps around a corner - but still within easy finding distance. Again, our objective is for your dog to succeed.
7. Once step six is complete, place the remote underneath, again similar to the lead trick, a bed or a chair will do. Your dog should work a bit harder, but ultimately still succeed in fetching the object.
8. Having accomplished step seven, the next step is to place the remote slightly above the dog's nose level. Somewhere they can easily reach.
9. You're on the final stretch here. Once you're completely happy that your dog fully understands the connection between the word "Remote" and retrieving the TV remote control, you can start to properly hide it and give them verbal encouragement to fetch it. Walk with them and point them in the right direction too. Again the goal is for your dog to win by finding the remote.
At this point, you should now be able to forget the remote and ask your dog to bring it to you! It's a win-win for both of you, your dog gets mental stimulation and you don't have to get up to cross the room.
If you're motivated to find out more, TV behaviourist Victoria Stilwell shared her favourite ways to keep dogs entertained at home, including how to fetch some of the most common household objects, with K9 Magazine recently. Read her dog training tips here.