Why Do Dogs Love Playing Fetch?

Black Lab , Zeke, loves to play fetch all day!


Zeke, a Black Lab, loves to play fetch all day!

If you have ever spent any time with a dog, you know that some of them absolutely love to play fetch! Like their two-footed counterparts, as they get on middle to senior years, the mind may say “go” but the body often says “nah, not so fast.” But when their energy is high and their muscles are full of vigor, some dogs will cajole you into playing this game endlessly until either they, or most likely you, tire out. Retrievers and spaniels are especially known for their zest for this activity, while others, based on possibly breed or personality, show little to no zeal.

I was spurred on for this topic because a friend of mine, a habitual dog uncle, got the chance to take care of a high-energy Black Lab for a few days while his brother’s family was away. He sent these images to me and noted that he has a newfound appreciation for new parents whose baby requires constant attention and supervision. Apparently, Zeke loves to play fetch – hundreds of throws at a time at all hours of the day.

So what is the deal with this fetch obsession and their never getting tired of the game?

Well, according to professional dog trainer, Debbie Jacobs, who wrote A Guide to Living with and Training a Fearful Dog, “There are certain patterns of behavior that can be found in all canids. One is that they will orient toward something they hear, see, or smell. If they can see it and it moves they chase it, catch it, shake and kill it and then shred and eat it. These are not ‘learned’ behaviors, they come built in.”

Canids, by the way, are any of a family (Canidae) of carnivorous animals that includes the wolves, jackals, foxes, coyote, and the domestic dog. [source]

She goes on to explain that through domestication and breeding certain behaviors were selected for specific breeds. For instance:
— Working dogs were selected for their abilities to perform actions like chase, catch, shake and kill
— Herding dogs look and chase
— Retrievers will grab but are less inclined to shake and eat
— Terriers follow the pattern through to the kill

“All of these behaviors are self-reinforcing, meaning they make the dog feel good. They don’t need to be rewarded for the behavior.” [source] Playing fetch allows them to flex their skills and be praised while doing it.

Zeke- looking puzzled

Fetch is also a great form of exercise! So a young healthy Lab with boundless energy will enjoy the natural release of Serotonin, which contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. It is also “an important neurotransmitter in a dog’s brain that regulates heart and lung function, behavior, awareness of pain, appetite, body temperature, and movement.” [source]

According to Petmate.com, 10 active dog breeds that are considered the best at fetch include:

  • Border Collie
  • Labrador Retriever
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Standard Poodle
  • Golden Retriever
  • Belgian Malinois
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Nova Scotia
  • German Shorthaired Pointer

Other sources like Petcentral also include breeds like the Belgian Sheepdog, Belgian Tervuren, Flat-Coated Retriever, German Shepherd as exceptionally adroit.

Sometimes, though, certain dogs just never seem very interested in the activity or never become very proficient at it. The age and health of the dog can certainly play a role. “Puppies that are teething or older dogs with teeth or jaw problems may find that it hurts to pick up and grip something in their mouths. Dogs suffering from any leg injuries are unlikely to be able to chase effectively too.” [source]






However, in the absence of these factors, if you are looking to spur your pup’s desire to play a satisfactory game of fetch, there are a wealth of resources available online. Here’s just one Google Search. Caesar’s Way provides six tried and true tips. I will let you read the full article to discover the details but the points cover the following:

  1. Start with chasing
  2. Add extra motivation
  3. Retrieving
  4. Avoiding “keep away”
  5. Getting the object back
  6. Pick something your dog likes

So while some dogs may love it, and some dogs may show little interest in a game of fetch, most dogs owners realize that the experience can serve as a valuable bonding experience. It can also serve as a fun activity, a healthy exercise, and a delightful diversion for both human and canine. Plus how many fur parents don’t glow with pride when their beloved children can demonstrate catch and retrieve with proficiency on command in front of others. Though even if the dogs don’t perform so well in company, we still love them (just like children) and make sure to extol their other virtues to our friends.

 

Zeke wants to play fetch - AGAIN!

 

REFERENCES:
Why Do Dogs Like To Play Fetch? [labradortraininghq.com]
Why Are Dogs So Obsessed With Endlessly Playing Fetch? [huffpost.com]
Doggy Psychology: Why Your Dog Loves To Play Fetch [tug-e-nuff.co.uk]
9 Active Dog Breeds Who Excel at Playing Fetch [petcentral.chewy.com]
The 15 Most Playful Dog Breeds [vetstreet.com]
Why are most dogs so hellbent on, and obsessed with, playing fetch, never getting tired of the game? [quora.com]
Why Do Dogs Play Fetch? [mentalfloss.com]

Puppy Dog Eyes