Maybe your dog once loved playing fetch, but they’ve since lost interest. Or perhaps they never really enjoyed chasing after balls in the first place. Whatever the case, you may be wondering what’s going on, and why your dog doesn’t seem into fetch.
Why Do Some Dogs Not Care About Fetch?
While catch might seem like a universally loved dog activity, it’s normal for some dogs to simply not want to take part. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of preference.
“Just like not all people like a certain type of activity or sport, not all dogs like the same type of activity,” explains Heather White of Heather White Dog Training. “Some dogs may not have experienced being introduced to an activity like fetch in a way that they enjoy.”
1. Genetics may be at play.
Some breeds — such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Standard Poodles, German Shepherd Dogs, and German Shorthaired Pointers — have been bred with an internal drive to pick up items. But others may need some extra guidance to get started the hang of fetch. After all, dogs that have been bred for this ability have had the interest cultivated over centuries.
That said, even if you have a dog from one of these breed groups, that doesn’t necessarily mean they “will automatically know how to retrieve and also want to,” says White.
2. A health issue could be getting in the way.
“Some dogs who have previously enjoyed fetching items might begin to lose interest due to an underlying physical component, such as arthritis, which can impact the amount of enjoyment a dog has in fetching,” explains White.
3. Even if it once was fun, your dog can lose interest.
“Dogs, just like people, repeat what they enjoy and what makes them feel good and happy,” says White.
Some dogs might lose interest in fetch because they’re not getting enough positive reinforcement or enjoyment out of the activity.
4. They may not like the thing you’re trying to get them to fetch.
Some dogs might “have specific preferences as to the types of items they enjoy picking up and retrieving back to their person, including the texture, shape, and even weight of an item,” explains White.
If that’s the case, try mixing it up with other types of items, such as balls, stuffed toys, and dumbbells.
5. The dog will pick up the toy, but not bring it back.
Certified dog trainer Penny Leigh says the most common problem she hears from owners is that the dog will run and pick up the toy but will not bring it to the owner. “The best solution for this is to play the two toys game,” says Leigh. “The dog picks up one toy and you immediately show them that you have another toy and they want to return to get that toy — or you can have treats and reward for giving you the toy with food.” This way, the dog does not feel like they are constantly giving up their prize, and they are constantly getting something in return.
6. They don’t understand how fetch works.
Some dogs may simply be confused about what’s being asked of them when it’s time to play fetch. To teach your dog to fetch, White offers the following pointers:
- Take it: First, encourage your dog to move towards a toy and reward that first step with whatever your dog likes best (verbal praise, treats, or physical contact). Build to eventually having the dog touch the toy with their nose or mouth and finally taking the toy in their mouth
- Drop it: Here the goal is for your dog to learn how to give up the toy or item they’ve picked up and then being rewarded for doing so.
- Retrieving: Start by asking your dog to pick up an item that’s within a foot of you and encourage them to either drop it in front of you or deliver the item to your hand. Once your pup accomplishes this, you can start increasing the distance between them and the dropped item.
Why Toy Drive Matters
To figure out which type of activities your pet really enjoys, White suggests paying attention to toy drive when you play with your dog. Look for which types of toys your dog gravitates towards and whether they are more interested in the toy or your involvement and praise. Trying out different toys, different types of reinforcements and rewards, and different activities are all good ideas for helping increase toy drive. She suggests remembering that the overall goals of playtime are to:
- Get your dog’s activity and energy level up
- Keep things fun and safe
- Make sure your dog isn’t overly excited, tired, bored, or disinterested
If fetch simply isn’t for your dog, White suggests considering the following alternatives sports and activity programs:
- Trick Dog — teach your dog new tricks and perform them in front of a judge
- Rally — a team sport where you and your dog navigate a course, side-by-side, perfmorning 10–20 skills.
- FAST CAT — a timed 100-yard dash, short for Coursing Ability Test.
- Scent Work —this one is all about the love of the sniff, where your dog will have to do some detective work and sniff out a variety of scents and substances.
- Agility — a race against the clock while completing an obstacle course.
“Once you learn about what your dog enjoys, chances are good that there will be fun activities out there for you two to explore together,” says White.
Best Fetch Toys
If you’re looking to mix up the toys you play fetch with, check out these dog owner-approved items.
With nearly 7,000 positive reviews, the Chuckit! balls are a top choice for fetch and come in multiple sizes. Price: $5
This durable dog toy in a dumbbell shape is made of natural and sturdy rubber and is ideal for both fetch and tug-of-war. Price: $8
Available in two different sizes, this soft rubber of this frisbee makes it ideal for teaching fetch. Price: $11