It’s a trick it seems like every dog knows. You throw a ball or a stick and your four-legged friend gleefully runs after it, bringing it back to you. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to go, but not with your dog. When you toss something their way, they just watch it hit the ground without moving to grab it. Why won’t your dog engage in fetch?
There are many reasons your dog may have no interest in fetching, such as:
· Lack of training in how to fetch
· Wishing to keep the toy or item for themselves
· No interest in the item being thrown
· Boredom in playing fetch
· Undiagnosed health issues making it hard to get up and/or run
In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know if your dog doesn’t like playing fetch and never did. From whether fetching is an innate ability to elaborating on why your dog won’t fetch and what to do about it, this is one article you’re not going to want to miss.
What Is Fetch?
We briefly touched on it in the intro, but let’s begin by explaining what fetching even is. This is a game many dog owners play with their canine companions. When you two engage in fetch, you take an object and throw it.
The dog should still be able to see the item, but they will have to jog or run to get it. They then chase the item and bring it back to you. You can keep throwing it and your pup will bring the item back until you or they get tired.
The most common items for a game of fetch are a ball or a stick, but toys work just as well. Fetch can be played indoors or outdoors, although you have more space for long-distance throwing outside in your yard or at the park.
Kittens sometimes play fetch, and if you engage with them young enough, they may retain this ability as they grow up. For the most part, though, this is a dog activity through and through.
Does Every Dog Know How to Fetch?
We all have what are called innate abilities. These are things we can do on our own without any prior training or instruction. We just know how and what to do.
For example, we humans are born with an imagination. We also know how to count (to an extent), the appropriate ways to contort our face for different situations, and how to preserve ourselves through basic safety.
These innate skills are different than acquired skills. Your parents taught you to tie your shoes, ride a bike, and maybe even how to drive a car. These are not skills you’re born with, but instead, they take time to master.
Dogs have some innate skills, too. Since fetching is such a common sight among many dog owners and their four-legged friends, you might assume fetching is one of a canine’s innate abilities.
That’s not necessarily true. It all depends on the dog’s background. If they were bred as fetching and working dogs, then sure, your dog may know how to play fetch the moment they see you toss a stick into the air. Other dogs without that kind of background won’t understand what’s going on unless you teach them.
This is one of the six reasons we listed in the intro as to why your dog won’t play fetch. You can throw and throw all sorts of items until your arm is sore, but your pup won’t know to go after it unless and until you train them to.
Why Won’t Your Dog Fetch? Consider These Reasons
A dog’s training or lack thereof is just one issue that may cause them not to respond to a lively game of fetch. Per the reasons we listed in the intro, here’s a more thorough explanation of each of those other five reasons.
They Like What You Threw a Little Too Much
The item you choose for fetch can make things go one of two ways. Either your dog will love the item excessively or they’ll have such little interest that your game will go just about nowhere.
Let’s start with the former scenario. You use a toy your dog is gaga about. You bring the dog out in the backyard and entice them with the toy. As you shout “fetch” and launch the item across the yard, your dog has an eagle-eye view on their favorite toy. They begin running for it as soon as it’s in the air.
They may even divebomb to get it. Upon being reunited with their favorite toy, that’s the end of that. Your dog sits down on all fours and begins playing or snuggling with the toy. You call them back, whistling and commanding, but it’s like they can’t hear you. Your pup is in their own little world.
Such a situation requires you to try a different throwing item than a toy your dog is overly attached to. We wouldn’t recommend using anything edible, as treats sticks too can trigger the same kind of obsessive response.
Instead, use real sticks, a ball, or a rubber throwing stick your dog isn’t as acclimated to. Hopefully, their feelings on these items won’t be so strong, so they’ll finish the part of the game where they’re supposed to bring the item back. You can then play again.
They Have No Interest in the Item You Threw
As we said before, the opposite problem sometimes does arise depending on the item you use when playing fetch. Your dog just couldn’t care less.
Imagine this: you’re at an empty area of the park with your pup when you make the impromptu decision to play fetch. Since you don’t have anything around except the twigs and sticks on the ground, you decide to use one of those.
You bend down, pick up a nice, sturdy stick that’s a good length, and toss it away from your dog. Then you wait, and wait, and wait. Your dog stands there, doing nothing. Maybe their tail is wagging, but they don’t acknowledge the throw at all. They saw it, alright, but they don’t chase the stick.
Okay, you figure, maybe your dog just doesn’t care much about sticks. You take them home and a few days later, you decide to try playing fetch again. This time, you’re in your backyard, and you don’t use a stick. Instead, you toss a rubber or plush toy of your dog’s. Maybe you use a ball, too.
Once again, you get no response. Now you’re frustrated. Does your dog just not like fetch? What’s happening?
A few things are going on here. For one, yes, there’s a possibility your dog doesn’t care for fetch. They may need further reinforcement to grasp the idea of how to play fetch before they begin enjoying it.
It could also be that the item you’re using doesn’t inspire them to chase after it. Try taking an absolute favorite toy and see if that does the trick. These toys are most likely to trigger your dog’s toy drive.
This is the interest your canine companion has in any given toy in their collection.
Some toys will generate a middle-level toy drive from your dog, in that sometimes they really care for the toy and other times, not so much. These may work for fetching, but do know that results can be mixed.
Those toys that generate the least toy drive should not be used for fetch. If your dog truly doesn’t like them that much, then you may consider donating these toys to canines in need.
You could even use edible items like treat sticks or chewing bones to see if your dog will go after them. Should you do that, we still recommend gauging your dog’s toy gauge, as it’s good to know.
They’re Bored or Tired of Fetch
Fetch is not an ongoing game. At one point, your dog is going to tire out and not want to play anymore. You’ll typically see this coming, as their pace will slow, they’ll be less enthusiastic about running, and they’ll get extra sluggish about when they return the item to you. That’s when fetch should stop until another day.
Some dogs never reach that point. They don’t want to start fetching to begin with. Others will play along for a round or two, but once you toss that stick or ball a third time, that’s it, they’re done feigning interest.
There are several reasons your dog could be getting so bored with fetch as quickly as they are. For one, perhaps you never trained them on how fetch works, so they don’t feel confident enough for prolonged play. The item you throw might not be one of their favorites, so they don’t feel like bringing it back to you over and over again.
If you already took your dog on a long walk or otherwise exercised them before starting a rousing game of fetch, there’s a chance they might not have much energy for all the running around you’re asking of them. Don’t be surprised if they’re pooped after a few rounds of fetch. Try again tomorrow or the next day and let fetch be the first activity you two do together.
They Have an Undiagnosed, Painful Health Condition
More ominously, there’s always a possibility your dog may be suffering from an as-yet-undiagnosed medical condition or disease. These may make standing and running or walking for prolonged periods very painful. Thus, even though they’d like to participate in a game of fetch, your dog watches you throw the ball or toy over and over again without reacting.
The following conditions can affect a dog’s ability to stand:
· Botulism: The clostridium botulinum bacteria can lead to botulism in dogs. If your dog eats rotten vegetables or decayed grains, grasses, or hays, they could get sick from the bacteria. Within 12 and 36 hours, symptoms manifest. These include leg paralysis, weakness, pupil dilation, and drooling.
· Degenerative myelopathy: The spinal cord of a dog has many nerves, but if these break down during degenerative myelopathy, the limbs and brain cannot communicate as efficiently. This can cause hind leg issues, especially when the dog tries to stand. This condition may manifest in canines eight to 14 years old.
· Geriatric vestibular syndrome: There are many causes of geriatric vestibular syndrome, among them meningoencephalitis, hypothyroidism, polyps, tumors, stroke, hemorrhage, and/or brain lesions. It causes feelings of vertigo and dizziness in dogs. Certain breeds are more likely to develop geriatric vestibular syndrome, such as:
- Tibetan Terriers
- Smooth Fox Terriers
- English Cocker Spaniels
- Doberman Pinschers
- German Shepherds
· Invertebral disc disease: If the spinal cord’s discs becoming misaligned, this could cause a case of invertebral disc disease in your canine companion. The discs now come into contact with the spinal cord, affecting nerves and causing lots of pain in the process. Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, and Corgis may be especially likely to develop this disc disease.
· Paralysis: Spinal tumors, advanced Lyme disease, and even infections can lead to paralysis. This can stop your dog from ever standing or walking again in some instances.
These conditions may impact how quickly if at all your dog can run or walk:
· Degenerative myelopathy: Another condition of the spinal cord, with degenerative myelopathy, a dog’s spinal white matter disappears. Weakness in the hindlegs can lead to paralysis, with other symptoms including stumbling and wobbling. German Shepherds tend to develop degenerative myelopathy the most frequently. There is no known cause for this condition.
· Invertebral disc disease: The abovementioned disease can also prevent your dog from walking.
· Hip dysplasia: Large, heavyweight dogs like Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and German Shepherds tend to develop hip dysplasia most often, but other dogs can get this condition, too, including small ones. Hip joint damage prevents the dog from wanting to walk on all four legs, especially the rear ones.
· Arthritis: Many dogs will have arthritis, about one in five. Obesity, age, prior injuries, joint infections, bad diet, and cruciate ligament tears are some causes of canine arthritis. Your dog may exhibit symptoms like less jumping (on beds or couches), licking around their joints, and having a hard time standing after a nap.
If one or more groups of symptoms seem very familiar to you because that’s how your dog behaves, we recommend you schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away. They can check over your dog and confirm if they have one of the above diseases or conditions.
Their Genetics Don’t Make Them Predisposed to Fetching
Remember before how we talked about a dog’s history and how it may make them more likely to fetch? Certain dogs have fetching and other working tasks in their DNA. These include German Shorthaired Pointers, German Shepherds, Standard Poodles, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and other like breeds.
These dogs may require little if any training before they grasp how to fetch, whereas dogs missing that fetching instinct will need you to train them.
Can You Teach Your Dog to Fetch or Should You Enroll Them in a Class?
Alright, so you’ve identified which issue may be preventing your dog from fully getting into a game of fetch. One area you think could use some work is training, in that you’ve never spent time teaching your dog to fetch. You just assumed they knew how to.
You’re not necessarily to be blamed for that, but now that you realized your error, it’s time to train your dog at fetching. Should you be the one to do it or could you let a professional take care of the job?
Here are so pros and cons of each:
Training by Yourself
When you train your dog to do anything, be it fetch, sit down, or shake, the biggest benefit by far is the close relationship you two will have. Your pup will remember who spent countless hours out in the yard with them. You may get more of their affection and love, making your life that much richer and happier.
You can also ensure your dog learns to fetch specific toys, balls, or other items. That’s not necessarily guaranteed with a professional class, as you can’t be there to oversee the lessons. Another perk to training at home is saving money.
A professional behavioral class for your dog can certainly work out the kinks in their fetching abilities. They’ll learn to understand what fetching means, how to do it, and when to fetch an array of items. These may even surpass toys and include household items like slippers or a newspaper.
When you go the pro instructional route, you save a lot of your time. You do miss out on bonding moments with your canine, though. Also, what you don’t spend in time you do shell out in money.
Honestly, if it’s just fetching you’re trying to teach to your dog, then we’d suggest doing it yourself. A behavioral class for just that one basic lesson seems unnecessary. Only if your dog needs to learn other commands or is having behavioral troubles should you really turn to the pros.
How to Teach Your Dog to Fetch
You’ve decided you’ll be the one to show your dog how fetching works. The problem is, you’re not quite sure how to start training them. Allow us to present a couple of handy steps to follow.
For best results, make sure you train your dog somewhere where distractions are minimal. The dog park is a no-no, as there are too many other canines around. A fenced-in yard is also a good idea.
Step 1: Begin with Chasing
Imagine you didn’t know what fetch is or how it worked, and your person threw an item away from you and expected you to grab it. It’d be confusing, right? If your dog isn’t prone to fetching, then you can show them how the first part of the equation works by running with them.
Yes, that’s right, toss the stick, ball, or toy and then run after it. Your dog should give chase with you. Keep repeating this, going shorter and shorter distances each time until your dog is the only one who runs.
To keep them doing this over and over, make sure you reward your dog between each round of fetching. Verbal praise is good, but your dog is expecting something more, such as a treat.
Step 2: Introduce Restraint
Once your pup gets more familiar with chasing, implement the next part of their lesson. Throw their toy, but don’t let them run after it. Put a hand or arm out to block them so they can’t run. This will make them want to give chase even more, creating a natural interest and desire in fetch that may not have otherwise existed.
Step 3: Work on Retrieving
You’ve got half the equation down by now. Next, you have to work on your dog bringing the toy or ball back.
If you’ve gotten to the point where your dog can chase after the item themselves, then stand where you started and call them back. Your dog may take off running in your direction.
If they don’t, then take a rope and bring it with you for your lessons. Toss the rope out in the direction of your pup and shake it so the rope begins wiggling about. Your dog will be tempted and intrigued by the rope, following it back to you.
What if you’re in a scenario like the one we described earlier, where your dog loves his or her toy so much they don’t want to give it up? Besides the options we covered, you can also try introducing a secondary beloved toy. Throw this as well.
Your dog will surely go after it, but then they’ll realize their mouth is only big enough for one of the two toys. They’ll have no choice but to drop one.
Step 4: Having Your Dog Bring You the Item
There’s one part of fetch left to learn, and that’s the dog giving you back the toy or ball so you can throw it again. In some instances, your dog may stop short and spit out the toy, creating distance on purpose so you can’t necessarily reach right out and take the toy.
In that case, you want to command the dog to “bring it.” You can also say “all the way.” It will take repeated instances, but your pup will eventually learn to come back to you and then release the toy.
Tell them they’re a good girl or boy and give them a few hearty head pats or backrubs. The first few times you do this during training, it’s fine to give your dog treats, but wean them off these eventually.
Step 5: Putting Everything Together
The puzzle that is teaching your dog to fetch is now complete. Take your dog out to the yard or the park and practice fetching with a toy they like. Give your dog treats less and less often so eventually the game itself becomes their reward.
Fetch is a timeless game between human and dog that requires them to grab an item and bring it back. Some dogs don’t like fetch because they don’t care for the toy, they never learned to fetch, or they have a disease that inhibits a full range of motion.
The information and tips we presented in this article will help you pinpoint why your dog doesn’t love fetching and then teach them this fun activity. Best of luck!