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Teaching Your Dog to "Fetch"

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Teaching your dog a few simple tricks is fun and entertaining for both you and your pet. It's best if your dog knows and reliably responds to the basic obedience commands of sit, stay and down before teaching him to perform tricks. Most tricks are built on basic obedience work anyway and, also, in the process of being taught "the basics," your dog will have learned to pay attention to you during training sessions.

If your dog has an orthopedic problem, check with your veterinarian before proceeding with more advanced training. Even relatively simple tricks can place unnecessary stress on bones and joints that are in any way compromised.

Successful of training of your dog hinges on rewarding the desired behavioral response in a timely fashion. The most valued rewards differ from dog to dog: For some, food it is the most powerful reward, for others, praise or petting are what they crave. Some dogs will do whatever their owners want them to, just to have a little playtime. Find the reward that best motivates your dog to learn and stick with it. Work with your dog daily in 5 to 15 minute sessions. Keep training fun, and end sessions on a high note with reward for a job well done. If you feel yourself getting frustrated or tired, quit and try again later.

To teach your dog to fetch, start with the object he loves most. With your dog on a long leash, give your dog the command "sit." Take the object and toss it a small distance from the dog. Give the command, "fetch," and let your dog run after the toy. Once he has it in his mouth, gently draw him back to you by means of the lead. Show him a tasty food treat and give him the command, "release." It is very important that your pet give the object to you willingly. This is not a tug-of-war. Retrieving breeds will learn this trick quickly, and may play for hours. Other dogs may not be so enthusiastic about surrendering their favorite toy, so make sure you reward success exuberantly, lavishing your dog with praise and treats.

Once your dog reliably brings the object back to you, remove the leash and have him fetch the object on his own. For a more advanced "fetch," teach your dog the names of different objects. Once he understands the concept of "fetch," work with one object at a time and call it by name until he can identify the object by name. For example, if you want your dog to get the morning newspaper, start by throwing a paper. Give the command "fetch paper." Your dog should bring you only the paper to receive his reward. As your dog learns the names of different objects, give him some mental exercise by laying out 3 or 4 different objects and asking for them by name. See how smart your dog is.

Continue to practice this over and over. Always use a happy singsong voice and lots of positive reinforcement. Eventually, your dog will understand and will begin fetching all kinds of things.

The keys to success when teaching your dog tricks are patience, practice, praise, and persistence (the 4 P's). Every step in the right direction should be rewarded as though your dog had just won the lottery. Tricks are fun – and learning how to do them should be fun, too.

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