Most puppies will naturally retrieve but don’t let this fool you into thinking that they always will. You must take advantage of their age, combined with their natural inclination to follow you around, in order to ensure that as the pup gets older he will continue to smartly play this marvelous game with you. This is certainly not to say that you can not teach an older dog to retrieve, but it is not as easy as teaching a puppy.

Defining Retrieve

You throw something (a ball, a squeaky toy), and the dog goes and gets it and brings it back to you, and readily drops it so that you can throw it again. This is essentially what we are after when we talk about dogs retrieving or playing fetch with us.

Most puppies will naturally retrieve but don’t let this fool you into thinking that they always will.

Undermining a Good Retrieve

There are some common problems that often crop up over the course of puppyhood regarding retrieve that can easily be avoided or, if they are encountered, do not have to cause your dog’s retrieve to completely deteriorate. Why does that awesome retrieve so often go south? Let’s examine some things.

  • We neglect to refine the behavior, and make it reliable around distractions.
  • We chase our puppies when they pick things up in their mouths.
  • Puppy initiates game, then gets bored and quits. How do we avoid this? The toys that we play with should stay put away. We start the game and end the game before pup quits.
  • Avoid grabbing the toy that puppy brings to you, instead, gently take a hold of the puppy’s collar, give them a good scratch on the side of the neck tell him what a good puppy he is for bringing you the toy, make a real big deal out of it. You can put your hand on the toy or you can wait for the pup to drop it on his own. Let the pup bask in the proud moment for a few seconds. Quick grabs on your part may promote a game of ‘keep away’, where the pup comes to where the toy is just within your reach and then scoots off in another direction. If this does happen, you should run off in the opposite direction of your puppy. He will probably follow.
  • If you maintain good form regarding the retrieve rules, your pup’s retrieve should also maintain good form throughout his life. There may be some minor rebellion (crunchiness) during the Juvenile and Adolescent Period, (please see Your Puppy’s Development), but nothing that won’t right itself if you ride it out during that period.
  • If you are having trouble with the retrieve, refine your follow me and your drop it and then combine them. Continue reading for instructions.

TIP: It is important that you play this game for short periods of time. Stop when the pup is really enjoying himself. This will help to really build up excitement surrounding the game.

Be very sure that your puppy is interested in playing follow me and it is not the other way around. Have your pup chase you inside and outdoors. If he is not too interested, use a squeaky toy or find something that gets his attention, maybe his favorite toy or a tasty treat. While he is chasing you, use a phrase such as “Come On!” or “Let’s Go!”

Follow Me and Drop It: Retrieve

Once your puppy is crazy to chase you and happy to drop on cue, you can combine the two to play retrieve.
Kneel down and put your puppy between your legs. Hold him back with one arm gently around his chest. With the other hand, show him a toy, taunt him with it a little, wiggle it in front of him, ask him if he wants to Get It, but don’t let him have it. Use your voice and the toy and the fact that he can’t have it to get the puppy excited to get at the toy.


When he is good and excited, about 3 to 5 seconds of excitement time should do the trick, toss the toy a very short distance (between one to three feet).


Follow the pup as he runs to the toy and grabs it. Once he does, run in the opposite direction (5 to 10 feet) using the phrase that you used in your follow me game. The puppy should chase after you with the toy.


Once the puppy catches up to you praise him, give him a good neck scratch.
Repeat this game one or two more times – remember to quit before your puppy does.
As the pup learns how to play and his interest builds, throw the toy further and play a little longer.

TIP Even if he drops the toy and continues to chase you, don’t worry. Praise him for coming and run back and show him the toy. See if he will pick it up and chase you.

The Benefits
  • Dogs love to chase.
  • By playing the game of retrieve, we lower the odds of our dog chasing cars, bikes, cats, etc.
  • It is a wonderful way to completely exhaust your adult dog in a very short period of time. Your dog gets exercise and so do you.
  • Children can safely play this game with adult supervision.
  • You can teach your dog to fetch all kinds of things for you… the paper, your slippers, etc.