Teach Your Dog to Play Fetch Without Anxiety

Nervousness in your dog can cause frustration because some of these games never end. Their natural hunting instincts come out, but there's no prey for them to catch.
Teach Your Dog to Play Fetch Without Anxiety

Last update: 01 October, 2018

What’s so special about a ball, a branch, or a frisbee? Why do dogs so eagerly chase after them when you throw them? Some dogs can even start to be “obsessive” about fetching toys. Read this article to learn how to teach your dog to play fetch without anxiety.

Dogs and playing fetch, a longstanding relationship

When you take your dog on a walk to the park, you bring more than just leash and collar. You also can bring his favorite toy: a ball. A dog can take forever looking for it over and over again, meanwhile, you sit on a bench and toss it as far as you can.

Is it natural for dogs to play fetch or have humans created this love for finding whatever is thrown into a grassy field?

In order to understand this behavior, you have to look at it as if the dog were “going back to his roots” and unleashing his wild side. The undomesticated relatives of dogs, wolves, travel long distances in search of food. As soon as they spot it, they’ll chase after it desperately until they get ahold of it and take it back to the pack for every member to eat.

So when your dog brings a ball back to your feet, that’s because it wants to share its trophy with you. It doesn’t matter that you’re the one who threw it.

Dog playing with interactive toy

Dogs still have some behaviors from their “wild era.” Some are more alive than others, but no dog can resist the temptation of chasing after a ball, branch, frisbee, or anything else you throw.

When playing fetch becomes an obsession

Even though for some dogs playing fetch is fun, it can become an obsession for others. They bark, become anxious, fidgety, and get desperate until you throw it, etc. That desperation has to do with a dog’s personality and a lack of control of the person who trained it.

It also has to do with how much exercise this dog gets every day. If it sleeps 10 hours straight because no one is at home, and you take it to the park right when you get back, well it’s no surprise the dog would have the energy to chase after a ball for hours.

Tips for teaching your dog to play fetch without becoming anxious

The breed is a big factor in teaching your dog to play fetch. Some have an easy time with it (Golden Retrievers, Pointers, Cocker Spaniels, Labradors) because of their natural instincts to chase prey. Other breeds might find fetch boring (German Shepherds, Boxers, Rottweilers, etc).

Happy Labrador with a ball

In order to teach your dog the “right way” to play fetch, you need to take your time and be patient. You also need to be calm and transmit that calmness that to your dog so he can learn better.

1. You make the rules

First, you’re in charge of when the game starts and when it ends. Throw the ball only after your dog has relieved himself or has spun around in endless circles. If your dog tries to get you to throw the ball by barking, whining, or jumping around, wait for him to calm down.

2. Only play when your dog is calm

This is a very important factor because it’s easy to mix up anxiety with joy. You have to teach your dog to obey your commands. So if you tell him to sit before you throw the ball, then he needs to sit!

Keep the “nothing is free” principle in mind. If your dog wants to play, then he has to give you something in return (not barking, sitting down, etc). Make eye contact with your dog, and don’t start the game he does it.

3. Your dog must bring you back the ball

This might be the hardest part of all, especially with dogs that hide things. You need to teach your dog to bring back the ball in order to keep on playing. Some owners give their dogs a treat when it brings the ball back. It doesn’t even have to be food, it could just be petting or kind words.

The contents of My Animals are written for informational purposes. They can't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.