Playtime can be training in disguise, especially when you teach your dog to fetch. But be warned: As a pet parent, you need to determine the rules of fair play and enforce those rules. Grabbing the toy from you, ripping it up, and playing keep away may be fun for your dog, but not for you! When things get too wild, stop playing immediately!
How do you determine if your puppy has turned a fun game of tug or fetch into something different? Pay attention to your dog’s body language. If your dog is jumping on you, grabbing at the toy, nipping at your hands, shaking the toy in their mouth, growling and becoming vocal, or refusing to return the toy to you, you must stop playing with them. These behaviors may be cute for a puppy, but when your dog gets older and bigger it will no longer be so fun. By rewarding the behavior of appropriate play and discouraging inappropriate play, you can avoid teaching your dog bad habits.
When you have established the rules of play, tug and fetch are more enjoyable for both of you. ECAD has found these two games to be the ideal teaching environment for training the commands “Get It” and “Give”.
The "GIVE" Command
“Give” means that your hand is on the item and your puppy releases the item from their mouth.
Step 1: Place your hand on the item and say, “Fido, Give,” but do not pull on the item.
Step 2a: If your dog does not release the item, show them a reward (another toy or a treat) by placing it in front of their nose, and say “Give”. When your dog opens their mouth to take the reward, repeat the “Give” command, take the item, PRAISE!, and give them the reward.
Step 2b: If your dog willingly releases the item, the moment they open their mouth and release the item, PRAISE!, say, “Yes! Good Give,” and continue to play.
Step 3: Repeat the steps 1 and 2 until your dog has willingly released the item three times in a row.
Note: On rare occasions, some puppies are determined to keep the object and simply refuse to “Give” no matter what. In these situations, gently place your thumb on your dog’s gums and begin to apply pressure while repeating “Give” slowly, giving your puppy time to respond and release the item. If necessary, continue to increase the amount of pressure, but do not use your fingernail. This will become uncomfortable for your puppy, and they will release the item.
If your dog is stubborn, this may become a battle of wills. But it is important that you remain the parent and not give in to puppy’s obstinate behavior. Be patient, but firm. Never rip the item out of your puppy’s mouth or pull on the item. This will cause them to want to tug, and your dog will think you are playing.
THE "GET IT" Command
“Get It” tells your puppy to pick up an item, often used during a game of fetch.
Step 1: Pick up an item, such as a ball, rope, or stick. Show the item to your dog, enticing them, but not exciting them.
Step 2: As soon as your dog sees the item and expresses interest, throw your item at waist level about 15 feet in front of you. As you release it, say, “Fido, Get It!”
Step 3: When your dog reaches the item, say, “That’s it, Get It!”
Step 4: Your dog will instinctively want to pick the item up, so mark the moment they do by saying, “YES! Get It,” with a big smile on your face and a lot of excitement.
Note: When your dog comes back to you with the item in their mouth is the ideal time to teach the “Give” command.
Step 5: Repeat steps 1 through 4, as well as steps from the “Give” command. Make sure you continue to “play” until your dog is retrieving the item and giving it to you successfully for three or more times consecutively.
Once you are confident that Fido fully understands “Get it” and “Give,” you can begin to throw the item farther and farther away. At this point, ECAD recommends adding the “Come” command to the sequence of commands. The sequence would sound like this, “Get It…YES!...Come…YES!….Give…YES!” Always praise your dog once the sequence has been completed.
- Remember to establish and enforce the rules of fair play. No one wants to play with a bully.
- Have fun with these commands. Playing fetch is a great opportunity for you and your dog to bond while burning off some energy and teaching manners.
- Use your markers: “That’s It,” “Yes,” and “No!”
- You are the boss. Be patient, but firm when your dog is resisting giving you an item, because one day that item may just be your favorite pair of shoes or the TV remote.
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All training tips in this series are from ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities), a non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs for veterans with disabilities. Learn more about ECAD.