Puppies learn a lot of important lessons through play. By wrestling and chasing their littermates, they learn how to read canine social cues and important things like how hard is too hard to bite when playing. When a dog joins a human family, play is an important way for them to bond with you. And it’s fun for everyone. But let’s dig into exactly what your dog gains from playing fetch – aside from a good time.
- Exercise – The most obvious thing is that your dog gets to run. Fetch is good exercise. For many pet dogs, a good walk is their most regular form of exercise as adults. But a regular game of fetch in the garden gives them a chance to use their muscles differently.
- Obedience – Fetch has rules, and your dog will learn that following your instructions has a reward. The dog must wait until you throw their toy and then they must drop it on command to continue the game. Fetch reinforces the lessons you teach in obedience about how your dog should look to you for instruction. And for so many safety reasons, it is important to teach your dog the command ‘drop’ or ‘let go’.
- Bonding – Having fun and working together are key ways to bond. The more fun your dog has with you, the more solid their bond to you is. And you’ll find that the more you play with your dog, the more you enjoy their company too. You’ll get to know each other better.
- Mental Activity – Many dog breeds joined human families as workers. They herded livestock, helped humans hunt, eliminated pests such as rodents and even pulled sleds. A bored dog is a destructive dog. Five minutes of fetch or other games every day can give them a boost mentally and prevent boredom.
- Health Check – A simple game of fetch can also show up some health issues that dogs often conceal. If your dog loses interest after you throw the ball, it might be because their vision is failing and you’ve thrown it out of their range of sight. As your dog dashes across the garden, you have the chance to notice if they have a little limp or avoid putting weight on one paw. These things are not always obvious when your dog is walking calmly beside you.
How to Play Fetch
Different dogs prefer different toys for playing fetch, and having a few options will keep it interesting for your best friend. Try a bouncy ball, a Frisbee-style disk or a toy bone. Start by getting your dog interested in the toy with a little tug of war or teasing them a little. (Only a little!) Throw it a very short distance, maybe a meter. If your dog gets it, call them back to you and offer a treat. Odds are they will drop the toy for the treat. Give the command ‘drop it’ as you offer the treat. (Low calorie training treats are ideal for this.) Do this several times, but stop before they lose interest. If the dog doesn’t chase the toy, run and get it yourself. Some dogs need to see you hype up the game a bit! Dabbing a touch of butter or unsweetened peanut butter on the toy before you throw it can also entice them to chase it.
One great thing about fetch is that it is easily scaled to whatever space you have. You can send a frisbee toy sailing across a field, or you can roll a ball across the sitting room. (The front hall is often a great place for indoor play with your dog.) Once your dog learns the game, you can keep it interesting by switching the toy you throw.