Teaching how to play fetch

Dog Food Advisor Forums Off Topic Forum Teaching how to play fetch

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  • #118672 Report Abuse

    David C

    Trying to use Zak George’s methods here with out five month-old Flat-coat Retriever/Black Labrador mix that we’ve had for only 1.5 weeks. We’ve got Zak George’s book, and we’ve made it to the portion where the training really starts, and are having trouble with fetch.
    ZG talks about how important fetch is and how important tug-o-war is to that fetch. We’re not trying to do so outside yet, because she gets so overwhelmed outside of the home still.

    She is showing zero interest in tugging and it’s mind-boggling to me. She doesn’t want to tug anything, even if she’s had it for a while.

    This is really affecting how she behaves during the day. We are constantly – and I do mean *constantly*, every couple of minutes – attempting to correct her, knowing exactly what the root cause is but being unable to solve the issue.

    She loves to rip things up, which is completely understandable. But now she has no soft toys or even the toy meant for tearing apart, because they’re all in shreds. She only has a ball, a rope that she shows no interest in, a Ruffwear Gnawt-a-Cone, and some antlers. Himalayan chews are coming, as she doesn’t care about the antlers much either. I don’t want her in the crate while we’re home. She’s so good with the crate, too, which I’m so thankful for.

    How the heck do I get her to play though?

    We’re also next to a park where there are always dogs, but she’s very shy and won’t really play with them. Plus, it’s a very uncontrolled environment, so dogs are running around willy-nilly. We do have a dog-friend that we’re meeting up with soon. But dog socializations don’t solve day-to-day stuff.

    Just this morning, I got her to tug for about five minutes, fetch for about five minutes, then she lost all interest despite my attempts to re-engage her, and wanted to lay down and chew it up.

    #118674 Report Abuse


    Hi David-

    What is the history on this dog? It sounds like it came from a shelter with the behavior you are describing? Can you give me some background on your dog? It will help me on how to advise you. Also sorry, but I don’t agree with Zak George and frankly, IMO, he is a joke. You may want to go a different route with training.

    #118675 Report Abuse

    David C

    ZG’s methods seem to work, and I’ve seen some research that back up some of his work. Any advice for different methods/resources for methods?

    Our pup – Zelda – spent the first ~4.5 months of her life in a shelter in Hawaii, then was flown to Bellingham, WA to stay with a foster family with two other dogs. There, she was given free range of the outside under supervision, and spent the nights in her crate.

    She’s super intelligent. When we picked her up and drove her home to Seattle (100 miles), she didn’t know any commands. Now, after 10 days, she knows her [new] name about 80%, sit 100%, lay down 50%, and we just started working on roll over. You may ask why we’re working on several things at a time. Frankly, I don’t think dogs can only learn one thing at a time – it really depends on the mood they’re in. She loves to lay down pretty much anywhere, so if she is, I work with her on roll over with a treat lure.

    Today, I got her to play fetch after having gone for a potty and walk when I got home. I made sure that I was real low to the ground, as she responds better to that. She immediately wanted to play when I got into the “play bow”. We first played with her one stuffed toy that remains (I forgot it was still somewhat in tact). She kept getting distracted or bored with it, so I kept having to re-engage her. When she got completely tired of that toy, we used an antler. She really loved that because it slides across our hardwood floor. She got tired of fetch altogether after about 10 minutes, and only wanted to tear (not chew). I gave her some ice cubes because she loves them, and they’re super cheap. Hah!

    #118677 Report Abuse


    If this puppy is ignoring “fetch” items and chewing/shredding things up, keep shred-able objects away from her. I know you said you dislike crating her, but crating is a tool and is only abusive if you use it too often and as a way to keep her “out of your hair”.
    If she’s mouthy with objects, this is good for a hopeful retriever!!
    If she gets something she shouldn’t have, tell her she’s very clever, clap at her, do NOT be angry….ask her to bring it to you. If she does, make a huge fuss and tell her she’s amazing and give her the object to play with, or give her a treat (not something crappy like a milk bone, but a several pieces of meat, cut small, one at a time to show her that bringing you things is GOOD. This IS retrieving.)
    A very smart breeder I worked with stressed to puppy buyers that puppies that get things in their mouths are GOOD puppies, smart puppies. Despite puppy proofing, this WILL happen. Best to teach the pup that bringing you treasures is a pleasurable thing, and are easily taught to trade and deliver to hand, vs. an owner that flips out and creates guarding because the pup is worried that you’re angry/trying to take the awesome thing away.
    If the pup has something in her mouth you wish she did not, encourage her to bring it to you (“What have you got!!! Aren’t you a clever puppy!!!!!!!”) vs. (“Give me that, that’s not yours”) etc.
    Have fun with your pup. If you’re really wishing for a good retriever, seek out a nice class that offers retrieving lessons and you won’t be disappointed.

    #118679 Report Abuse


    Ok I had a feeling she was from a shelter. The biggest thing you can do for her and I can’t stress this enough, is do NOT treat her like a delicate shelter pet that is too fragile to be a real dog. I see too many owners who sink so far into the “shes a rescue” excuse for why their dog is so poorly behaved. Just as you would do with a small puppy from a breeder, you need to begin to desensitize her and reward her for facing her fears. Petting her while shes scared only reinforces her being scared, it doesn’t calm dogs down like it does to children. Remember they aren’t human children. The best thing you can do is allow her to be a dog and respect her needs as a dog.

    You haven’t been taking her outside because “she” is scared. However, often times owners project their own fears on to their pet. Take her everywhere with you. Allow her to see and experience things even if its just from a far. This will help socialize her. And no she doesn’t have to meet people right away, just see them. And if someone gets angry that they cant come pet her, tell them shes in training. Socialization isn’t always about meeting every dog and person you encounter. Sometimes its just about experiencing being around something unfamiliar. If you start building her confidence in that way, she will begin to act like a normal dog and be more interested in toys.

    Get her into obedience classes. She will gain confidence from doing well in the classes. But not classes like at Petco. Go to a real trainer, preferably one that has dealt a lot with retrieving and hunting breeds. You may also want to consider getting her into some type of dog sport when shes older. Dock diving for example. Again, this builds confidence.

    #118680 Report Abuse

    David C

    Thank you both for the great advice!

    I have actually been trying to think of positive ways of enforcing good behavior (letting something go, for instance) despite the initial act being a “negative” one, so thanks for the examples of what to do when she gets something she shouldn’t. What if it’s the couch? This hasn’t been much of an issue, but there has been a time. We’re working on “Leave it” and she’s responding pretty well. Should we use this command for if she’s standing or attempting to stand at a counter or table?

    We do take her outside and around the block and to the park. As for allowing her to interact with other dogs that we don’t know, how strict and how lax should we be about that? The two times we took her there to interact with other dogs, she did okay. I just noticed many other dogs’ behaviors go unchecked. Maybe get a long training lead?

    I’ll look for some classes!

    • This reply was modified 6 days, 15 hours ago by  David C.
    #118682 Report Abuse


    As far as meeting other dogs go, its best to start with friendly, calm dogs you are already familiar with. The worst thing you can do is bring her to a dog park. The play is not structured and you never know what sort of temperament the dogs will be there. There are people that bring dog/toy aggressive dogs to parks because they just dont care. That and not everyone vaccinates there pets and has them on flea prevention, so you never know what she can pick up. Keep letting her play with your friends dogs and get comfortable with them.

    #118689 Report Abuse

    David C


    We just got back from an hour-long puppy play-date and it went very well. 🙂

    She’s still winding down now, but we got to see how she interacts with a more confident dog. She does have some timidness, but the other dog did well picking up on her signs.

    #118982 Report Abuse

    David C

    Well, we’ve gotten her to sort of play fetch in the home, but she still would rather just chew things up, including the thing we’re playing fetch with. Which must be a soft chewable toy (a rope in this case) or else she won’t play.

    Any time we take her out of the home, we cannot motivate her to play except with other dogs. Which is great and all, but we need a way to play with her without another dog. Outside the home, she’s too overwhelmed by smells and noises, always with her tail down and ears up, nose to the ground.

    This pup reminds me how different they all are.

    • This reply was modified 3 days, 2 hours ago by  David C.
    #118987 Report Abuse



    I’d worry about getting her into basic obedience classes before trying to master all this other stuff. She has no foundation or structure and neither do you. She doesn’t know what is expected of her, so she does what she wants. Find a trainer and get her in some classes, you will see an improvement.

    #118989 Report Abuse


    You have had the dog 2 weeks? The dog is less than 6 months old? She is probably still teething, they chew everything in sight till they are about a year and a half to two years old.

    Slow down, give her some time to adjust to a new home. She is a puppy!

    Dog trainer? If you can afford it and want to go that route I would ask your veterinarian for a referral.
    After all, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer.

    I would stay away from dog parks and such till you know her better. Lots of dog bites/attacks, and they can happen in the blink of an eye.
    Not worth the risk (imo) Has she had her rabies shot?

    Ps: Not all dogs are interested in playing fetch…..

    • This reply was modified 2 days, 23 hours ago by  anon101.
    #118993 Report Abuse

    David C

    Yeesh, pitlove. Brutal. Haha. I don’t think you know our structure, though…

    I know she’s still teething, and I’d love to be able to help her by giving her something she can rip and tear through, but nothing like that exists. 🙁 She does love ice cubes though, so she gets those a lot. 🙂

    anon101, typically dogs that aren’t interested in fetch have lower energy levels. She definitely does not have that. Haha.

    As for giving her time to adjust, what does that mean, really? Because she does need to learn expectations, so we’re constantly correcting her when she tries to get up on counters or what-have-you. She’s tuned to a clicker, so we keep one nearby at all times to quickly reinforce good behaviors.

    #118994 Report Abuse


    I had a dog that walked 5 miles a day. She would not fetch. Tried from puppyhood on, no interest. She was high energy.
    I have another dog now that will fetch and bring me the ball (from the day I brought him home at 7 months), for hours, I have to stop him because he doesn’t know when to stop, he will collapse from exhaustion. This same dog will not walk more than a mile or two without lying down.

    I find it takes a dog at least a month in a new home to start to adjust and understand rules.
    In the meantime I would start gentle training.
    Give her some time, right now she’s being a goofy puppy. She was probably pent up in a cage/crate at the shelter. Take her for long walks to get rid of some of that energy, at least an hour a day. You may find that she is calmer and more receptive to training.

    Are you near a clean lake? With the breed mix you mentioned I bet she would fetch if you threw something in the water?

    #118997 Report Abuse



    I never meant to sound brutal! haha. Sorry!

    #119002 Report Abuse

    Evelyn H

    I feel you on this one. I have a 4+ year old that has ALWAYS acted that way. We have done everything to keep her attention more than a couple minutes here & there to no avail. We mostly followed the same methodology pitlove recommended, but we’ve been doing it now for 4+ years and that aspect of her has never changed. After years of training classes, medication and even a vet recommended doggy psychologist at our local University of Oklahoma, we have all come to the same conclusion…it’s just a dog choice, not really much different than me choosing not to hike with my husband. Just not an activity I care to participate in. 🙂 As far as chewing, we also had many “flat toys” (sans stuffing) and finally got tired of spending so much money on toys, only to go home and guard her from swallowing the stuffing, then watch her disinterest as it was added to the “flat toy” pile. We now give our girl hand towels instead of toys, with 2 firmly tied knots in the middle. If she wants to tug or jump or fetch or hide/seek for a minute, she loves using the towel for those activities too. But then when she chews them to threads, we just throw it away and get another one out. I buy them in bulk at the dollar store & spend maybe $20 per year now. Don’t worry about it so much yet…Our Tika is very well rounded in all other ways, so yours will likely turn out to be just fine, even if she NEVER learns to like playing with you for more than a couple minutes at a time. 🙂 Good luck!

    #119130 Report Abuse

    David C

    anon101 – It may be a strange characteristic that we may just need to get used to. Haha! She did one fetch the other day while at the park. Sort of. Hah. Someone else’s dog that our dog had decided to befriend had left the ball. Zelda stared at it for a good few seconds, ears perked, and decided to go get *and* bring it back. She also watches other dogs play fetch with much intensity, especially if I’m the one throwing the ball. I think for now she’s really getting used to the idea of seeing other dogs and being able to socialize with them. She’s also still learning the entire socialization structure. She’s doing pretty well so far. 🙂

    For the chewing, since she’s learned “Leave it” she hasn’t been chewing on inappropriate things as much, and if we catch her, she will leave it. We also picked up some Himalayan chews, and I’m hoping there’s no hidden dog-killers in there like the “No-Hide” dog chews. She loves them!

    pitlove – No problem. 🙂

    Evelyn H – Unfortunately, with our pup, she doesn’t really care that there’s stuffing or not. So long as she can chew it up. I was actually thinking about getting some cheap towels too, but I’m worried I might miss it the one time she accidentally swallows a piece.

    There’s no way to tag people on these posts, is there?

    • This reply was modified 17 hours, 54 minutes ago by  David C.
    #119161 Report Abuse


    @david C,
    Most pups that are extremely mouthy and like to “carry” or “steal” objects make the most reliable retrievers you could ask for. This is why Goldens and Labs dominate retrieving trials 😉
    I agree with pitlove, get into a basic obedience class and teach her how to learn, and let the instructor teach you how to teach what you want. Sometimes our messages are mixed and we don’t even realize it.
    Are you wanting a dog with a competition retrieve with a dumbbell or just a pup that likes to fetch and bring stuff to you?
    We had a non-natural retriever that was shaped with a clicker to pick things up and bring them to us. He wasn’t sure about retrieving at first but management and working with a competition trainer changed this.
    He’s never, ever NOT done a good, reliable retrieve in the obedience ring and has never shuffled out–he blasts away from me with the fetch command and pretty much hauls ass on the way back!

    #119197 Report Abuse

    David C

    I don’t think competitions are in our future, but she could do it, I’m sure. Just don’t think that’s the sort of thing we could get into what with how much it costs. Private training around here is ~$150 for one lesson. Not an easy pill to swallow.

    #119219 Report Abuse


    I have found that products made by Tuffy last a long time, example https://www.chewy.com/tuffys-no-stuff-ultimate-ring-dog-toy/dp/117839

    If you throw it, they may even retrieve it for you 🙂

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