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Removing your puppy’s desire to play fetch with you

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This blog is going to tell you the easiest way to prevent your puppy from ever playing fetch with you.

Why you would want to do that… I don’t know.   But I’ve had this conversation so many times that I thought I better put it out there. Either so you can remove the fetch if that is your goal, or so that you can avoid this mistake if you do not want that result.


If you want to teach your puppy never to play fetch with you, then include your puppy in games of fetch with your adult dogs. It’s that simple.

It works like this:

Take your young puppy out with your adult dogs who already play fetch. Throw the ball or toy. Your adult dogs will do what they have always done; enthusiastically run out to fetch! And your smart puppy will do the smart thing; chase the adult dogs and have a fantastic time with live prey!

If you think about it; at this stage of the game, it’s a win-win. The adult dog gets the ball, which is what they wanted. The puppy has a fantastic time chasing the adults and doesn’t risk the wrath of the adult dog by trying to actually touch a prized object.  And the human gets everybody exercised.

The problem shows up long term.  Your puppy is learning to focus on running dogs rather than objects that you want your puppy to value.  That’s not much good if your sport might involve working around other running dogs.

Your puppy is learning to ignore objects altogether.   In some breeds, I do not doubt that the adult dog will politely take its turn, holding back so the puppy can win. But I can tell you that my adult dogs have no sense of humor about sharing their toys with youngsters.   Plus, even if they would share, the puppy simply does not have the raw speed to keep up.

Your puppy is learning how amazingly fun other dogs are; even running away!  No focus on body language or reading the interests of the other dog, no focus on mutually engaging activity, and certainly no focus on you or where you might fit into the bigger picture. Mostly you’re the chauffeur.

And while this article will not go into the potential long-term issues, I’ll just throw something else out there.  Someday your adult dog might not appreciate having the puppy, now grown up, chasing after him. Or bashing into him.   Or circling him.  Or barking at him…

You get the idea.

My dogs live together as a group. I have neither the time nor the energy nor the inclination to crate and rotate dogs.  It works fine; they do not “bond” to the other dogs and ignore me.

But they play and train as individuals.  It may be fetching a ball, playing tug, engaging in personal play with me, or learning specific skills.   That is our one-on-one time, and it’s the highlight of their day – or I am doing something wrong.

When all of your dogs are grown-up, you may find that you can take them out as a group and play ball. That’s your choice.  But when they are puppies, think 100 times first.  Ask yourself:

What are you teaching and what are the possible long-term ramifications of this choice?   If you’re comfortable with answer, then carry on. If you’re feeling a little queasy, take this opportunity to rethink your strategy.





About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

21 responses »

  1. What a fabulous post and I am embarrassed to say I have never thought of this. I will be changing my ball game immediately – pronto – super fast!!!

  2. peacelovepointers

    What do people have against fetch though? It’s not bad or harmful for dogs to pay fetch is it? Unless you overdo it of course.

    • This title of the post is joking, it’s about how playing fetch with your puppy and adult dogs at the same time removes a puppy’s desire to play fetch with you, and many people mistakenly do that

  3. No pack or prey drive involved, what you allow-that’s what you’re training!!!

  4. Should you allow your puppy to play with your older dog?? My puppy loves to run and play with my older dog but she also plays with me and seems to choose me over the dog most of the time. I like to let them run in the field but I won’t do that if there is a risk of the puppy wanting to always do that and not work with me.


    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Pingback: Articles I’ve Enjoyed Recently | Little Brown Dog Blog

  6. Brilliant post. Also embarrassed to say I didn’t think of this until I saw the problem start to happen. Luckily my older dog is a good puppy trainer. Now if they play fetch together, they take turns. One is doing a down stay while the other fetches. But I also make sure the puppy has one on one time with me. With border collies I actually have to teach them to watch other dogs run and *not* chase them or there would be no active dog sports for us. My older one still quivers a little when she hears anyone shout “come!” because that means a dog is about to run!

  7. Thank you! I have tried to explain this concept to friends and students many times.
    Your ability to paint a picture with words is amazing. May I share this post with friends and/or students? Sometimes people can “get it” when it comes from a different source. I do believe you have explained the concept in a way that makes it easy to “hear it “.

  8. Melissa Bartlett

    My brother in law bought a field trained lab bitch, Lady, and hunted ducks with her. After a couple of years he bred a litter and kept the biggest male pup, Buck. But he never trained Buck just took him along. I got to see Buck and Lady one family vacation when Buck was about 2 years old and weighing 90 lbs. Walking the dogs on the beach was a miserable experience with Gary throwing sticks for Lady who was promptly pounced on and slammed and generally beaten up by Buck until she dropped the stick and tried to fend him off. Then he raced around until she gave up and went back to the stick whereupon Buck started on again. Buck never retrieved, he just harassed poor Lady and Gary never inferred, saying “they’re just playing”. In a couple of years he no longer could take Lady hunting as he said her temperament had changed, she refused to give up the bird and frequently growled at his friends who came along. I felt really sorry for Lady, Buck was never controlled and ruined her retrieve.

  9. it also affects dogs who grow up with a litter. The stronger (bolder. dominant) pups get to fetch, and the other pups learn to chase them.. Having kept two pups from the same litter. I can assure you that the quieter one loves to play fetch — alone. The dominant (big Brother) wants to run away with any toy he can fins, and wants to be chased for it.

  10. Christine Layton

    So true ,many years ago I taught my bc pup to come to a whistle with our rotties,I was out walking with just my bc one day and blew the whistle,he ran around looking for our rotties ,lightbulb moment x

  11. But my husband always does that. Training him is the problem . Big Problem!!!

  12. This came at an opportune time! I just got a pup and did this very thing on our walk the other day,let the big dog chase his frisbee so the pup could run along….no more of that! Quick question what about group walks out in the woods when all the dogs run together and will come to me to check in and get treated…is it okay to reward him if he comes with them but his focus is on me?

  13. Armand Rabuttinio

    Something a lot of people never consider. “Oh let’s get another dog to keep this one company. “Yes can easily be a big mistake. Great article.

  14. I think you need to pay attention to how the dog is responding to the object and the other dogs. You can observe fairly quickly if the training is becoming counterproductive. I have successfully trained four Dutch Shepherds, two German Shepherds and one Lab to chase and catch Frisbees at distance by taking out an experienced dog and letting the other:
    (1) Get excited and chase the dog, not knowing why;
    (2) Figure out what the other dog is chasing;
    (3) Stop chasing the dog and start chasing the object that the other dog is chasing;
    (4) Fading out the first dog.

    You obviously can’t do this with dogs that tend to be resource guarders, and I have a Border Collie with conflicting impulses to herd dogs versus to chase Frisbees. I also have a rescued Dutchie who would rather not obey a recall if he can be chasing other dogs-even though he only does this after he has successfully caught his own Frisbee. It’s not a “one size fits all” approach, but it can work well if you are observant and adjust your strategy according to what the dog is piecing together in its mind.


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