Why do dogs like to play fetch?

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dogs love to play fetch

If someone said to you that they were going to throw your favorite object away, only to ask you to bring it back and throw it again, you might think this was a little bit odd. However, dogs seem to love doing this – so just why is that?

Instinct and Heritage

Many dogs were bred specifically to retrieve items for their owners – so it’s no surprise they still want to do that! Any dog described as a retriever – Labradors, spaniels, pointers and even poodles – falls into this category. Whether it was fetching ducks,  birds or other game, these dogs knew their job. They were also bred for an attribute known as ‘soft mouth’, a combination of physical traits and attitude that meant they could carry the game without damaging it. If you have a retriever, you’ve probably noticed how gentle they can be during fetch.

Of course, many dogs that aren’t retrievers like fetch, and that’s because all dogs have an instinct (however small) to hunt. Playing fetch tickles these natural instincts and will spur a dog into action. Plus, it’s great exercise – and just like humans, dogs get a ‘natural high’ in the form of serotonin when exercising in ways they enjoy.

It’s You Time

Have you ever done something just because you get to spend more time with the person doing it? Let’s face it, we all have. A huge part of a dog’s enjoyment when it comes to fetch is getting to spend time with you! You’re almost certainly your dog’s favorite person. Given that with fetch often comes long walks, time in a park, and devoted fusses just for them, it’s no surprise they love it. That, and treats might be involved.

Fetch is also something we as humans can enjoy without too much effort – we’re not the ones doing all the running, after all. It’s rewarding to see your companion being so well behaved, so it ends up being a nice little loop. We’re pleased the dog is being so good, the dog is pleased we’re pleased, and then we’re happy because the dog is happy. Make sure to encourage this cycle with lots of praise and encouragement.

Training Time

Whilst house training Staffie puppies can be fairly easy, there are some additional bits of training it’s advised to do. They’re not the quickest breed to get on with other animals, so it’s advised that you socialize them as much as possible whilst they are puppies. (It’s here that getting a rescue has an advantage – they will have often tried to socialize them where possible in advance).  They also like to chew on things so make sure to spend some time teaching them what is okay and what is not okay to gnaw on. We suggest getting some tough chew toys so that they don’t wear through them easily, and avoiding playing with them in ways that encourage them to chew on you, their leash, or anything similarly breakable.

Showing Off

Doing things you know you’re good at tends to be enjoyable, and most dogs are good at fetch. Most dogs.

Unlike tricks, which are learned behavior, a lot of fetch comes naturally to dogs – even if they don’t quite have the hang of it to start out with! Plus, it’s a great chance for them to run around, search the environment and generally just be a dog. If you’re good at singing, or sport, you will get enjoyment out of it, even if there is no tangible reward beyond your own enjoyment. Just like humans, dogs can get anxious or stressed – they may not have the same worries and fears as us, but a good bit of relaxation doing what you enjoy is good for everyone, even your loyal four-legged friend.

But what if they don’t?

This all said, some dogs just don’t like or understand fetch. Sometimes it’s the breed – a terrier might be great at running to the toy, getting hold of it and bringing it back, and then refuse to drop it. Unlike retrievers, bred to bring game back, terriers were more commonly bred to kill pests, so it’s no surprise they have different instincts. You can still enjoy fetch with these dogs, you just might need to approach it differently.

One suggestion is to have two toys on the go, and swap them. This may work (or you might end up with one lost in a field) but it’s definitely a good starting point if the issue is at the point of exchange.

Of course, some dogs just don’t understand why you’re throwing their toy all the way over there. In this case, start small – and get something specific for the game of fetch, that is only used in this way. Start by rolling it a couple of feet away and see if you can get them interested that way.

teach your dog how to play fetch

If they go for the ball, but struggle to carry it, it’s worth keeping an eye on their teeth – if they’re a puppy, they may be teething, whereas an older dog may have sore joints. Make sure you can’t see any decay though – a reluctance to use the mouth can be a sign of this.

It may just be that your dog doesn’t like fetch – and that’s fine! Make sure to find something they do enjoy – perhaps tug of war, agility tricks or similar activities – that will let them gain the above benefits of showing off, indulging their instincts and, most importantly, getting time with you.

Sources and References

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