Play Fetch, Not Keep Away

Make playtime more fun by teaching your dog how to play fair.

Q: My husband and I recently took over ownership of a 6-year-old Doberman. She is very well trained and loves to play, but she is very protective of her toys. We have found that we have to play fetch with 2 balls or 2 Frisbees because she is unwilling to drop the toy unless there is another one to go after. At the end of the game she absolutely will NOT give up the ball or Frisbee and she ends up chewing it to pieces. This is becoming a major annoyance. We love to play with her, but hate the struggle of getting the toy back. It would be so helpful if you could give us some tips on what we can do to solve this problem.
A: You need to teach your Doberman the skill of releasing any object when you ask her for it. Playing the training game “Thank you/ Take it” is a good way to do that.

This game teaches your dog to take an object gently and then release it when asked. This game should be “required study” for all puppies, but it can also be taught to a mature dog.

What to do: Start with a toy the dog can hold one end of while you hold the other. A plush toy or braided fleece rope works well.

First liven up the toy by shaking it and pulling it away to entice her interest. Then say “Take It” and let your Doberman grab an end. Continue holding the toy while she mouths and plays with it.

To teach her to release the toy, say “Thank you” and offer a treat in trade for the toy. Keep hold of your end of the toy and show your dog a yummy treat in your other hand, held about six inches away from the corner of her mouth. Most dogs will opt for the treat and let go of the toy. Don’t jerk the toy away when your dog lets go; just hold it right where it was so she doesn’t think she’s lost his toy by giving it up to you. (If your dog is more toy-oriented than food-oriented, offer another toy instead of a treat.) When your dog lets go, praise “Good Thank You” and give the reward. Then immediately offer the original toy back, saying “Take It!” Praise, “Good Take it!” when she grabs on, and let her play with the toy while you keep hold of it too.

Repeat this several times, ending with “Take it,” and allowing your dog to keep the toy. Once she learns this skill, you can apply it to your fetch games. Instead of just “trading” by throwing a second ball or disk, wait for her to release the one she has. If she teases you with it instead of giving it up to you, simply sit down, start reading a magazine, and ignore her. Rest one hand on your lap, palm up in a receiving gesture, and don’t look up from your magazine until she touches your hand with the toy, trying to give it to you. At first, this might take a while, since she’s used to “winning” the game of “keep away.” But after a bit, she will realize you’re not interested in playing keep away. At that point, if she actually enjoys playing the fetch game, she will give you the ball (or at least drop it where you can reach it).

If she tries to make this game a competition with you, quit playing and read your magazine again. The only way you can “win” is to refuse to play by her rules. This may mean you’ll be throwing fewer balls or discs for her in the beginning, but once she catches on to the New Rules of the fetch game – you don’t throw until she gives you what you ask for – she’ll play the game your way. Be patient – it will pay off. Meanwhile, enjoy your Doberman’s wonderful qualities – those are far more important than fetch games in the long run.

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Behavior and Training · Dogs