Should I be making fetch happen?

Playing fetch with your dog can be a controversial topic among dog trainers and is a much discussed topic in the online dog world. You have trainers which tell people to never ever play fetch with their dogs and others that promote it as a fun activity with your dog. So knowing what is right and wrong can feel a little intimidating if we don't get more than just blanket statements and advice.

While playing fetch can be a great way to bond with your dog and provide exercise, there are also some potential downsides to consider. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of playing fetch with your dog and we will break down of why, when and how to incorporate fetch in your dog's life and what not to do.

Let's fetch!

Like everything, fetch is great in moderation & can be used as a valuable reinforcer and be incorporated into fun games with your dog (which we will get to later) but at The Furry Gremlins we also don't want to promote endless and mindless fetch playing day in and day out.

Here is why:

Injury: One of the major risks of fetch is that it can put your dog at risk of injury, especially if they are prone to joint problems or are not properly warmed up. Overexertion and repetitive motion can also lead to muscle strains and other injuries.

Obsessive behavior: One of the main concerns is that playing fetch can reinforce certain undesirable behaviours in dogs, such as obsessive or compulsive behaviour. Some dogs can become obsessed with playing fetch, to the point where they are unable to stop even when they are tired or in pain. This can lead to obsessive behaviour, where the dog constantly seeks out the ball or toy and becomes anxious or distressed if they are unable to play. In some cases, dogs may also develop a compulsive disorder related to playing fetch. This can manifest in behaviours such as repeatedly dropping the ball at their owner's feet, pacing back and forth while waiting for the ball to be thrown, or even refusing to eat or drink in order to continue playing. If you are interested in reading more about the effects of fetch and how it can lead to behaviour problems, we recommend "Compulsive disorders in dogs: an overview of types, symptoms, and the role of physical activity" by Erika Moreno and Marcy L. Souza.

Boredom: While playing fetch can be fun and stimulating, it can also become repetitive and boring for some dogs. This can lead to disinterest and a lack of engagement in the activity.

Each dog is very individual and fetch can be a great way for some dogs to spend time with their person but won't be suitable for others. If you aren't sure and would like for a professional to assess your dogs behaviours, we highly recommend the qualified and ethical trainers from IMDT - Institute of modern dog trainers. If you are in Australia, you can find a trainer close to you here.

After discussing the risks, we also want to talk about the benefits of playing fetch with your dog and how to play mindful fetch with your best friend.

1. Choose a safe and appropriate area: Find a safe and enclosed area where you and your dog can play fetch without distractions or dangers. Make sure the area is free from obstacles that could cause injury to your dog.

2. Use a suitable toy: Choose a toy that is appropriate for your dog's size and breed. Make sure it's durable and safe, with no small parts that could be swallowed or choked on.

3. Stay focused: During the game, stay focused on your dog and the toy. Pay attention to their body language and reactions, and be ready to adjust your throw or the game's pace accordingly.

4. Take breaks: Remember to take breaks during the game to give your dog time to rest and catch their breath. This can also help prevent your dog from becoming overexcited or obsessive about the game.

5. Use positive reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement, such as treats or praise, to reward your dog for bringing the toy back to you. This can help strengthen the bond between you and your dog and make the game more enjoyable for them.

6. End the game on a positive note: When you're ready to stop playing, make sure to end the game on a positive note. Never just take the toy away but swap for something your dog values. This can be a treat or a treat scatter or a different toy.

Fetch! - Let's make it a game

Here are some of our favourite ball games

Wait for it!

A game you can play with your dog that involves asking them to wait before fetching a ball is called "wait for it." This game can help improve your dog's focus and engages their mind.

To play, start by having your dog sit or stay in a designated spot while you hold the ball in your hand. Make sure your dog is paying attention to you and already knows how to wait. Once given the cue "wait" or "stay, take a small step back, place the ball on the ground and release the pup with "get it", encouraging them to get the ball.

Slowly build the difficulty by placing the ball further away, having your dog wait slightly longer, slowly tossing the ball and eventually throwing the ball and waiting for it to stop before releasing your dog to fetch. Make sure you don't progress to quickly so your dog still finds it easy to sit and wait until released.

If your dog breaks position and starts to move towards the ball, make sure you don't say "uh-uh" or "no". You can let them get the ball and still show positive interest when they bring it back. This only gives us information that we progressed to quickly and we can now take a step back and make it easier again for our dog so they can succeed in waiting before being released.


Dry Herding for our herding breeds

We can teach our herders (and other breeds) to herd a ball or other toy. Throwing the toy will be used as the reinforcer for following the herding cues. Here are the ones that we teach our dogs:

  1. "Come Bye" or "On By" - These cues are used to direct the dog to move clockwise or counterclockwise around the herd or here, the toy. "Come bye" is used to direct the dog to move to the right of the herd, while "go by" is used to direct the dog to move to the left.

  2. "Steady" - This cue is used to tell the dog to slow down or stop. It's important for the dog to learn to control their speed and movements around the livestock to prevent spooking or injuring the animals.

  3. "To Me" - This cue is used to call the dog back to the handler. It's important for the dog to learn to come back to the handler on command so that they can be repositioned or redirected if necessary.

  4. "Get Out" - This cue is used to tell the dog to move away from the herd or to push the animals forward. It's important for the dog to learn to assert their authority and move the animals in the desired direction.

  5. "That'll Do" - This cue is used to tell the dog that their work is done and to come back to the handler. It's important for the dog to learn to recognise when their job is finished and to return to the handler without being called repeatedly.

If you want to learn more, make sure you find a herding breed specialist that can walk you through the steps of how to teach herding game with balls.


We hope you feel more informed now about fetch.

Ultimately, the debate around playing fetch with your dog comes down to personal preferences and individual dogs' needs. Some dogs may benefit from playing fetch, while others may not enjoy it or may have underlying behavioral issues that make it a risky activity. It's important to consult with a qualified trainer or behaviorist to determine if playing fetch is appropriate for your dog and how to do so in a safe and responsible manner.