My Dog Won’t Play Retrieve. How Can I Exercise Him?


My dog only likes to retrieve the ball or squeaky toy for a few minutes and then he loses interest. I don’t know how to get him enough exercise if he won’t play fetch. Help…?


Some dogs build their interest in retrieving over time, yet others never really “get into it.” In the latter case, you have to be creative regarding how to provide your dog with sufficient daily cardio exercise.

Before you go ruling out retrieving (or “fetching”), however, make sure you’re properly following the training principles in my Perfect Dog DVDs. It could very well be something you’re doing – or not doing – that is having an adverse affect upon your dog’s enthusiasm for the game.

Fetching is, in essence, a command in that you’re asking your dog to retrieve an item for you and then bring it back to place in your hand. So, you do need to first establish your unwavering authority before your dog “gets” the fact that he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. If your dog’s opposition to retrieve is a respect issue then you most certainly need to work on that. This includes the “Drop” command where the dog must place the item in your hand (versus dumping it a few feet away from you, or even playing a bit of “catch me if you can” before reluctantly coming in to you).

Another thing to consider is your dog’s level of health. If your dog is simply unfit and even overweight, it’s only natural he’s going to struggle with retrieving. His mind is being overruled by his body, so his natural canine instincts are being quenched. If this is true of your dog then you need to get him on to a strict diet (consult your veterinarian) and force him to exercise (within his capabilities – again ask your veterinarian) each day, slightly increasing the exercise time every few days until your dog reaches his ideal weight. I’ve seen many a dog’s personality completely transformed through weight loss. These dogs seemingly strip away their shell of subdued complacency to reveal a light, joyful playfulness within.

Try different toys, too, before you lose hope in the retrieving game. A certain dog may not be attracted to fetching a ball or squeaky toy, but he may find a frisbee totally enjoyable, for example. I find small dogs and puppies can get quite excited by bell toys (toys with little bells inside).

If, however, your dog is showing command obedience, he’s not unhealthy, and you have tried a variety of throw toys, it could be that your dog is simply not the fetching kind. In this case, I always like to suggest the following as the best, simplest exercise alternative: Get your dog to run along beside you while you ride a bike. You can go as fast as you need to and for as long as necessary, depending on your individual dog’s needs. Sometimes, however, you need to adapt the choice of exercise according to your dog’s size. If you have a tiny dog, he’d most likely be satisfied with a jog around the block with you!

Sufficient daily exercise is a critical part of successful training, and most dogs need at least two to three exercise sessions every day. These sessions need to last for at least 15-20 minutes and they need to be at the cardiovascular level (where you get your dog’s heart really pumping). If you don’t allow your dog the opportunity to expend his excess energy, he’ll be restless and discontent. This can lead to hyperactivity, a host of mischievous behaviors, and even separation anxiety.

Your dog didn’t have a choice who he went home with, so it’s your responsibility to provide the quality of life he needs and deserves. It’s great to know you’re determined to solve the exercise problem you’re facing with your dog. It may mean slightly earlier mornings, popping home for lunch (or getting a “helper” to stop by), and even enduring the elements after work. However, doing what it takes as a caring, responsible dog owner will bring you priceless reward as you see true contentment in your dog’s eyes.

– Don Sullivan

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