Training your Labrador Retriever to Fetch

True to their nature, Labrador Retrievers are excellent at retrieving almost any type of object. This is one of the reasons that they are used so frequently for waterfowl hunting, as well as for many active dog sports.


Labrador Retrievers have an instinctual oral fixation. This basically means that they have a constant desire to chew or carry objects in their mouth. If not provided with appropriate chew toys, a Labrador Retriever will chew on anything from shoes to furniture, in order to satisfy their instinctual need for oral interaction. However, their oral fixation is the main reason why Labradors are extremely easy to train to obey the command “fetch”.


The hardest part of training your Labrador Retriever the command “fetch” is convincing them to give the retrieved object back to you! That being said, the proper training of this command can be accomplished in a few easy steps. Some Labrador Retrievers do still need training to fetch, despite their instinctual retrieval abilities.

  1. Establish an interest in the object that you wish to be retrieved. For example, if you are using a tennis ball, incorporate the ball in normal playtime activities. Give your Labrador a small treat reward for interacting with the ball, especially when you throw the ball and they run towards it. Some Labradors will naturally bring the ball back to you at this point (in which case, you should say the command “Fetch”, and provide a reward), while some will need the additional steps to properly retrieve objects.
  2. Once your Labrador understands that interacting with the object produces rewards, try throwing the object to be fetched a significant distance away from you. At this point, say the command “Fetch”, ideally in a low tone of voice (to identify it as a command, and not as praise). If your dog immediately runs to pick up the ball, but doesn’t bring it back to you, try saying the command “Come”. When your dog returns, give them a lot of praise, as well as a treat reward.
  3. If your Labrador Retriever doesn’t bring the object back, and instead takes it away to chew on, completely ignore your dog. Interact with another dog toy or another person, without acknowledging your dog. After a short time, your dog will realize that you are no longer part of their playtime, and come over to try to elicit your attention. At this point, reward your dog (especially if they bring the “fetched” object with them).
  4. This process may have to be repeated several times until your dog is properly fetching any object that you throw. The best training method uses constant positive reinforcement for obeying the command, while completely ignoring your dog when they do not obey. This will help your dog understand that obeying your commands provides positive interaction, as well as treat rewards.

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