German shepherds are high energy herding dogs. They were bred to protect sheep and as such, have a high prey drive. Fetch is a great game for them to learn because it satisfies their mental and physical needs. It also provides them with companionship while reinforcing training in a fun way.
For the purposes of this article, we are referring to a German shepherd’s prey drive as their eagerness to work, enthusiasm to play, desire to chase, and natural ability to herd-not to chase small critters down the street or any other destructive behaviors.
Due to their high prey drive, German shepherds love to chase so it doesn’t take much incentive to get them to run after a ball or snatch a Frisbee from the air. Teaching a German shepherd to give chase after a ball usually doesn’t take much, if any work. Training them to retrieve it, return, and release a ball is how you teach a dog to play fetch.
Playing fetch provides:
- Mental stimulation
- Training reinforcement
The first step to teaching your dog to play fetch is to introduce a ball or Frisbee (whatever toy you plan to throw) and encourage them to play with it. Play tug with the toy. This step will require that the dog learn to “get it” and to release it, “drop it.” You can choose whatever commands you want as long as they are consistent. Have fun with this step but practice until the dog reliably grabs and releases the toy on command. If you have trouble with this, use your dog’s favorite toy.
Start dropping the toy on the floor and then ask your dog to “get it,” and when they do, reach out for it and ask them to “drop it.” Practice trying to get your dog to hand you the toy, while you reach out and take it. Or, at least have them drop it on the floor for you.
If your dog won’t “drop it,” offer treats as an exchange and reward for good behavior. Eventually the game will be the reward but this is an important behavior for all dogs to learn for many reasons, including if they pick up something you don’t want them to have.
This step is also important as it will set the expectation on how you want the dog to return the ball. It doesn’t matter if you want your dog to drop the ball at your feet or hand it to you as long as you show your dog what you want.
The next step begins with you tossing the ball five to ten feet from you and asking your dog to “get it.” Once the dog runs and gets it, call them back to you. When the dog comes, step back a few steps to reinforce them coming toward you, or following you with the ball. Once close, ask them to drop it and reach out to take it. Once they have mastered the retrieve, start throwing the ball farther and farther.
When you’re done playing fetch, cue your dog that the game is over by giving the “all done” command. This will teach the dog that the game is over and now it’s time to relax. This is a great signal for dogs to learn to bring an end to excited play or behavior.
Tips to get your dog to retrieve and return the ball:
- Be patient but keep the energy and excitement up when your throw the ball.
- Offer lots of excited praise.
- Don’t throw the ball far initially; keep the dog close to you.
- Stay low to the ground so you can get the dog’s attention and encourage the dog to want to return to you right away.
- If your dog wanders around, keep the ball close, follow the dog, clap your hands, and call the dog back to you-be part of the game.
- Run backward to encourage the dog to run to you.
- If you’re using a Frisbee, roll it to teach them to grab the rim.
- Teach your dog to retrieve different items such as balls, Frisbees, dumb bells, etc.
- Keep it fun and exciting.
We hope these tips help you teach your dog to play fetch. Please share with your family and friends.