Playing a game of fetch with your dog can be a very fun way to enjoy some time together. If, however, your dog doesn't return the toy to you, this can also become a game of frustration as you try to convince him to bring it back.
We'll go over the process of teaching your dog to play fetch step by step.
Step 1: Teaching your dog it's fun to bring you his toy
At first, you should avoid asking your dog to give you the toy. Start by putting your dog on leash so he can't run off. Play a game of tug of war and let go of the toy. If your dog runs away from you, gently guide him back using the leash. Once he gets in you reach, grab the toy and continue to play tug of war. Continue doing so over multiple training sessions and you'll start noticing your dog will return to you or even stay with you when you let go of the toy because it's fun to bring you the toy.
Step 2: Teaching 'let go' or 'drop it'
In the first stages of teaching fetch, avoid to ask your dog continuously to let go or drop the toy. You'll want your dog to return the toy in the palm of your hand. So start this habit immediately. Also, if you constantly ask your dog to give you the toy, what's the fun in bringing it to you?
Once you start teaching this, keep a treat at hand. Let your dog sniff the treat while holding the toy and ask him to 'let go'. He'll probably let go and take the treat. Once he get's the hang of this. You can also reward your dog by giving him back the toy immediately after het gave it to you. This way he'll start to understand it's not bad to give away his toy.
Step 3: Throwing at a small distance
When you aren't quite sure your dog will return the toy to you, keep him on leash in order to not give him the opportunity to learn running off with the toy. If step 1 is going successfully, you can start throwing the toy. Start by throwing it at a short distance. It's the quality of the fetch that's important at this moment, not the distance.
Step 4: Increasing the distance and distractions
Everything is going great, your dog returns the toy to you when you throw it at short distances. Now you can start by gradually increasing the distance or distractions. Always start by adding 1. If you would go to a very distracting environment all of a sudden and start throwing three times as far as normally, this is just asking for a failed fetch. So choose on whether to increase the distance or the distraction one by one.
Step 5: Finishing off the Fetch (optional)
This step is the finishing step in this process. Though it's not everyone's goal to get a perfect Fetch, it's included since this makes the fetch in obedience complete.
There are a few elements to add in order to get an 'obedience' fetch. Firstly, your dog should wait next to you when you throw away the toy until you give the command. Add a 'wait' cue before throwing to start teaching your dog this part. If he would immediately race off, put him on leash again to be able to guide him back until you release him.
Upon returning, your dog should sit right in front of you and present you his toy. He needs to remain seated while you take the toy.
The exercise is then finished off by a heel command.