How happy are you feelin’ – reading the fetch


Play Bow, play invitation, I'm happy.
Play Bow, play invitation, he’s happy, but has his own game in mind. He has a 6-foot leash on, but no one has a hold of it.

by Jeanine Renzoni

Would you like to play? See the play invite – a bow with tail up in a spunky way, but see the ball and face, this is an invite for a doggy keep away game. If I go forward now the response will be dodge, weave and try to catch me and just try to get this toy – not likely and not a way to set up fetching.

This next photo, also a dog with an object in its mouth, but a different body message; one of alert,

Confident flag carrier, it's an I've got this and I'm bringing it to you look...purposeful. She would be displeased if interfered with before she accomplished her task.
Confident flag carrier, it’s an I’ve got this and I’m bringing it to you look…purposeful. She would be displeased if interfered with before she accomplished her task.

confident purpose. See the high tail, high head and forward, alert ears, any other dog or person seeing this body posture would know not to try to steal her flag…she is on a mission. She is not inviting a game of chase.

In a game of fetch the posture is purposefully toward the return. Sometimes I will run away from the dog to get that coming to me purpose, the value in the game needs to focus on the return. But I reward the return, I don’t try to take the item, the dog shows me when they want to give it to me.

This is the look of a dog wanting the game of fetch.
This is the look of a dog wanting the game of fetch.
This pup looks happy, but also hot, time to rest from fetching.
This pup looks happy, but also hot, time to rest from fetching.
This is the look of a dog wanting to keep the toy, see the downward should, neck posture.
This is the look of a dog wanting to keep the toy, see the downward shoulders, tucked down head/neck posture.

If they don’t want to give it to me, I need to invite them to want to…by trading, by playing with some other toy, by my running away and inviting them to

See how the dog is trying to give me the toy? Toy extended, not protected.
See how the dog is trying to give me the toy? Toy extended, not protected. Ears back, tail neutral.

come with me in this game. But I don’t steal it from them, I don’t threaten it from them, I don’t drag them back with a long line and I don’t let them change the game into a keep away; I do this by not falling for the dog’s ‘chase me’ invitation and re-offering the game I want to play. If they think their thing is better than anything I have to offer I need to renew my efforts, get better treats or just play more exuberantly with what I’ve got…they’ll come, they want this to be a cooperative game.

There are occasionally puppies who don’t carry things around (for instance it seems-some shelties), but most pups put almost everything in their mouths and this is the perfect time to get a good fetch started or conversely to make it very difficult to get them to ever get something for you (either way, depending on your response). FYI kids will almost always get sucked in to the doggy keep away game, they need lots of coaching on this one and they want to take the object (OK, so almost everyone wants the object, but dogs are faster and willing to eat things especially if people keep grabbing things away from them).

Doing a good retrieve, but see the ears? He's not absolutely sure he wants to give it to me.
Doing a good retrieve, but see the ears? He’s not sure he wants to give it to me. So I’ll praise him up and invite the next round.

So re-think the strategy; you want a dog who will pick up and give you whatever you show you would like…this means giving things to you is fun and a valued activity. This means that as a pup they will pick up things you don’t want them to, but the important thing is not over reacting, instead trading and showing them with positive feedback what you actually want them to pick up…they will do it for you.

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