Fetch…it’s a classic.
For a lot of dogs out there, the ol’ toss and retrieve the tennis ball routine is the highlight of their day. But like anything repetitive, fetch can get old – for dog and owner.
So, in the interest of spicing things up a bit, here are six ways to get creative with fetch:
1. Spend Some Time on the How-To
Toy-based play is learned and practiced in puppyhood, says Heather Luedecke, certified dog behavior consultant, dog trainer, and owner of Delighted Dog Training Academy. If your dog didn’t play with toys in the early stages of his development, it will be much more difficult to teach him to fetch.
The “north-south game” is a great way to help your dog learn the ropes, says Angelica Steinker, a certified dog behavior consultant and founder of Courteous Canine Inc. To play this fun game, you’ll need two different toys. Throw or roll one toy in one direction, and once your dog heads off to investigate, throw or roll the other toy in the opposite direction. This will help your dog learn to go back and forth short distances – a must in fetch.
As your dog learns the ropes, you can make the retrievals more intricate. Just be sure to heap on the praise when your dog returns and gets it right.
2. Treat-Filled Toys Make Play More Interesting
Stuffing the object of retrieval with a tasty treat is a great way to capture and keep your dog’s interest.
Luedecke notes that it’s important to let your dog see, smell, or hear the yummy snack you’ve stashed in his toy. This automatically ups the ante. And the treat works as additional positive reinforcement.
3. Nix the Sticks!
They’re easy and they’re everywhere, but sticks are a big no-no when it comes to playing fetch.
Sticks pose a real threat to your dog, as small pieces can dislodge and get stuck in your dog’s mouth. In more severe cases, these pieces can cause intestinal blockages if swallowed.
If your dog is dead set on playing with sticks, Steinker points out that there are fake stick options you can buy for him. Luedecke adds that you can also wrap a real stick in duct tape and use that.
4. Take Five
When you’re in the middle of a rousing game, the last thing you want to do is take a break. However, regular breaks are important in order to prevent your dog from overheating.
“If you see his tongue starting to turn white or that he’s gasping at all or having any trouble breathing, it’s time to stop…You need to be the one to initiate that because your dog might not. Stop before he asks to stop.”
Breaks also help your dog learn how to unwind and relax after an activity session.
According to Luedecke:
“Teaching a dog to be compulsive about fetch builds arousal. That can lead to behavior issues – jumping, barking, biting – when you try to stop play.”
5. Combine Fetch with Hide-and-Seek
Regular old fetch can be hard on senior dogs, overweight dogs, and puppies. All the running, jumping, and catching can be taxing on bodies that aren’t quite up to the task.
If your dog falls into one of those categories, don’t fret. Instead, try a hide-and-seek version of the game by taking the toy (ideally one that’s food-stuffed and/or has a distinct scent), hiding it, and then setting your dog loose to find it. When he retrieves it, toss it and let him bring it back. The hide-and-seek portion of the game provides a built-in rest period.
6. Keep the Fetch Toys Hidden Until It’s Time to Play
Your dog will be a lot more interested in fetch if the toy is a special thing. Luedecke suggests storing the fetch toy somewhere up high where your dog can’t see, smell, or access it. Bring out the favorite toy only when it’s time to play, and it’ll be a novel experience each time.
“That way your dog learns that the toy is special and will understand what you are doing when it comes out,” she says.
And there you have it, fellow dog owners! What are you waiting for? Grab your pooch and go play!
How do you keep fetch interesting for you and your dog? Does your dog have a favorite treat you bring while playing fetch? Tell us in the comments section!
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