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If there is one thing my Golden Retriever loves, it is a game of fetch. A day does not pass where he does not engage me to play a game of fetch.
As a matter of fact, of all the dogs I’ve had, my Golden Retriever seems to like fetch more than the others, almost as if it is natural for him. Why is that? Why do Golden Retrievers like to fetch?
Golden Retrievers love to play fetch because it satisfies their instinct to retrieve and hold objects in their mouths. Golden Retrievers were bred in the 19th century to assist hunters in retrieving downed game birds. Playing fetch mimics this activity, allowing the dog to express its instinctual drive.
Instincts in dogs can be very powerful. And often, we can use those instincts to train the dog for specific work activities or to satisfy their mental and physical needs through play and exercise.
This article will explore why Golden Retrievers love to fetch, if they do it naturally, how to teach them to fetch like experts, and much more.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Like Fetch So Much?
Golden Retrievers, in a way, are made for fetch. If you Google the word “fetch,” the definition reads as go for and then bring back (something) for someone. Similarly, if you Google the word “retrieve”, the definition is getting or bringing (something) back.
Sure, other dog breeds may love the game of fetch as well. It’s fun and satisfies a prey drive, which all dogs still possess to some degree or another. But, the Golden Retriever was bred to fetch or retrieve – it was what the dog was designed to do, so to speak.
So, the “fetch” behavior has deep roots in the genes of the Golden Retriever (and other Retriever breeds). Fetching is much more gratifying for the retriever breed of dog because it satisfies at a deep level – at a genetic level – the dog’s instinctual drive to do something it was designed to do.
Hold up. If you’re interested in whether Golden Retrievers have a low or high prey drive, then check out this post: The Golden Retriever Prey Drive: Is It High or Low?
But, something else makes fetch so appealing to the Golden Retriever – it’s a game played with a person.
Golden Retrievers are an exceptionally smart breed. They have a strong willingness to learn, are athletic, and are sweet-tempered. Additionally, the Golden Retriever was developed to work closely with humans, which is an important trait of a sporting or hunting dog.
And so, the game of fetch is very well aligned with the traits inherent to the Golde Retriever. The game requires working closely with its owner and requires an athletic component as well.
After all, the game is much more fun for the dog when played with its human owner. And, it matters little if the object of its fetching desire is a ball, frisbee, or stick.
Speaking of balls, if you’re wondering why Golden Retrievers love balls so much, especially the tennis ball, then check out this article: The Golden Retrievers Obsession With Balls: Solved!
So, yes, fetch is in their nature. Is it any wonder the dog would love a game that satisfies its instinctual drive to do something it was born to do? The game is gratifying or pleasurable to the dog for that very reason.
Do All Golden Retrievers Like To Fetch?
As discussed earlier, the Golden Retriever has a strong genetic drive to fetch. They were bred to help hunters with the task of finding birds or other games and bringing them back undamaged.
So that begs the question, do all Golden Retrievers like to fetch?
Most Golden Retrievers like to play fetch, especially if the game is introduced to them when they are puppies. However, keep in mind that while a dog may have a strong drive for certain behaviors due to breeding and instinct, there are still individual differences within a breed.
So, the short answer would be it depends on the individual dog. However, most Golden Retrievers love to fetch, which is not surprising considering that the breed was developed for that purpose.
While the behavior may be more “latent” if the game was not played with them as a puppy, they typically can learn to love the game as adults with a bit of training. More often than not, the drive is there, and it just needs a little coaxing to express what is inherent within the dog.
However, as noted, Golden Retrievers are individuals. So, while they may have a distinct drive as a breed, they might be softer or non-existent in a specific dog.
If your Golden Retriever doesn’t like fetch and, even after some training and gentle coaxing, would rather not play the game or for very long, that is fine.
Instead, find an activity that it enjoys. If you need some suggestions, consider this article: Boredom Busters: 21 Great Activities for Your Golden Retriever.
Do Golden Retrievers Naturally Fetch?
Most Golden Retrievers have an innate or natural drive to pick things up and carry them around. It’s often while Golden Retrievers will steal things and why they especially love stealing stocks.
In general, most Golden Retrievers will naturally fetch things. Fetch is born from a strong prey drive to chase things combined with breeding to retrieve objects. So with a strong instinct for carrying stuff in its mouth and for retrieving, the Golden Retriever, as a whole, is a natural at fetch.
However, as discussed earlier, Golden Retrievers are individuals, and there may be differences within the breed.
Still, as a whole, most Golden Retrievers will happily chase and pick up objects that are thrown, such as a ball, stick, or frisbee. Or, if they’re in a playful mood, they may search out a toy or object and bring it to you to engage in play.
These activities are a natural tendency to go get things or fetch. However, while you may find the Golden Retriever naturally brings objects back, the dog may not naturally give the object back to you.
You may find your Golden Retriever runs out to get the ball or stick but then tries to engage you in a game of keep-away or chase, especially if you have chased the dog before.
So, while the Golden Retriever naturally fetches, it may not naturally drop it at your feet or in your hand. That requires teaching the “let-go” or “drop it” skills.
For example, my Golden Retriever Bailey loves fetching objects. Often he’ll fetch an object and bring it back but doesn’t want to give it up. Instead, he wants me to chase him.
Other times, he’ll fetch his rope toy and gladly bring it back because he wants to combine fetch with a game of tug of war.
I have no issues with either game because he has been taught to drop it or let go on command, so I can quickly get him focused on fetch only by asking him to let go or drop it.
Are Golden Retrievers Good at Fetch?
Golden Retrievers are typically excellent at fetch for a variety of factors, including:
- They were initially bred to retrieve objects
- They were developed to have soft mouths to gently hold downed waterfowl and not damage them
- They love to play
- They have a strong prey drive to search, stalk, chase, and hold things in their mouth (bite-hold)
- They are athletic dogs
- They were bred to work with humans and love doing so
So, yes, Golden Retrievers are generally very good at fetching. It’s what they were developed to do, and even today, as hunting dogs, it’s part of their training.
Consider for a moment if you were to design a dog to fetch. What would you want in that dog?
You would want a biddable dog (willing to learn) who loves to play; after all, fetch is a game. It might be helpful if the dog has a strong desire to chase and search for objects.
Maybe you want to teach the dog to catch and fetch a frisbee or catch a ball off a dock, then swim and bring it back. So, the dog should be highly intelligent and athletic (strong and agile).
You’d want the dog to have a soft mouth when holding the fetched object to not damage it. In addition, you want a sweet-tempered dog that enjoys working with humans.
Finally, a dog that is eager to please and obey would be good too, especially considering fetch might require some training.
Sounds about right? That dog already exists, and its name is the Golden Retriever.
How Do I Teach My Golden Retriever To Fetch?
Teaching a Golden Retriever to fetch is not difficult. Most Golden Retrievers will naturally chase a thrown object and pick it up. Some naturally bring the object back, while others may run with it or lie down and chew on it (or hold it in their mouths).
So, typically the first half of fetch – going and getting the object – is a natural behavior for Golden Retrievers. Most Golden Retrievers will also bring the object back to you as they want to continue playing.
The trick is to teach them to let go of the object and then wait for it to be tossed again. However, with a dog so smart, it should not take long.
If you find your Golden is running and getting the object but not bringing it back, use a 20 ft recall leash.
Fetch can be taught in a few short training sessions. For example, Bailey naturally chased and retrieved objects when he was a puppy. He would come back most of the time, but occasionally, he wanted to run off with the toy.
Or Bailey would bring his toy back, but he did not want to give his toy up. So I had to teach him to come back and let go of the object when asked.
How did I do this? By playing tug. The tug game is a fantastic way to reward the dog for coming back and teach it to let go. Tug is fun for the dog, so it’s a reward for bringing back the toy.
However, you may not always want your dog to tug on the toy before releasing it, so I used a variety of toys. For example, Bailey knows not to pull with certain toys (like balls). Instead, he lets go or drops it when asked because balls are particularly fun to chase.
Another key is to start with short distances and short durations and start in a distraction-free environment. Puppies lose focus quickly, so it’s best to teach them in a setting that is free from distractions.
Here is a summary of things to keep in mind when training a Golden Retriever to fetch;
- Keep it fun and make it engaging
- Use a recall leash to ensure your dog comes back.
- Have a variety of toys available – your Golden may have a preference for one or many.
- Always progress training using the three “D’s”: duration, distance, and distraction. That means you start with short durations, short distances, and no distractions, then progress slowly to longer durations, distances, and more distractions.
Getting behaviors reliably in increasingly distracting environments is the most difficult for a dog to do. It is why it’s left for last. So, work on duration and distance first before moving to distractions.
If you need any help training your Golden Retriever then check out my link below (in the Gold box) for the best online dog training programs. Spoiler: one inexpensive course stands out above the competition.