Football season is finally here and what a great time of year to get outside with the dog. Have you ever wondered why dogs like to play fetch?
Here are some points from Labrador Training HQ.
It’s a Doggy Instinct to Fetch
Many dogs, including Labradors, were specifically bred to retrieve certain items for their human owners. Even now, that means that many dogs still have this ingrained disposition to chase after objects, pick it up in their mouth and bring it back to you.
This feature has been an ingrained part of being a dog for literally tens of thousands of years. Humans first set about domesticating canis familiaris (that’s a family dog to you and me) at least 15,000 years ago, where they were trained to help hunt and retrieve food for the human family.
The dogs that were good at these retrieving tasks were the dogs who were picked out to breed and pass down their skills to their puppies. Those puppies would then pass their inherited skills down through their family tree.
While it’s unlikely that your family sends your Lab out hunting for food like we did in the past, your pup will still have inherited some of the retrieving skills passed down by their ancestors. And, of course, chasing and retrieving are two of the components of a successful game of fetch!
Fetch Makes Dogs Feel Good
Thanks to this inbuilt disposition for chasing and retrieving, many dogs are likely to get hooked quickly when they’re first introduced to fetch as it’s something that they’re already naturally good at.
So, when you play fetch with your dog and you notice how much they’re enjoying themselves, that’s because they’re able to show off their ingrained capabilities. We’re simply letting our dogs do what they do best when we play fetch.
Debbie Jacobs, the author of A Guide to Living with and Training a Fearful Dog, wrote about fetch back in 2012 that, “All of these behaviors are self-reinforcing, meaning they make the dog feel good. They don’t need to be rewarded for the behavior. If you like playing football, you play football even if you don’t get paid to do it. It just feels good to do it. Same is true for dogs.”
Unlike behavioral training, say, where most dogs will start without any knowledge or skill on how to respond to your commands, fetch allows them to flex their skills and be praised while doing it.
Additionally, it’s a great form of exercise for your Lab and – just like with humans – their brain will release a dose of feel-good hormone Serotonin while they exert themselves. This makes them feel good and will naturally encourage them to keep playing.
Quality Time for You and Your Dog
Of course, underscoring everything is the fact that fetch provides some quality time for you and your Lab. Enjoying extended playtime with their owner as they get to chase after Frisbees and sticks really is a dream come true for many dogs.
Unlike games of tug-of-war or even training, fetch requires less energy from you, the human, so you can playfully engage with your Lab for as long as you like and until they get tired. Fetch is an interactive game that encourages the bond between human and dog, cementing your position as the ‘alpha’ as you command your dog to retrieve objects for you.
Most people tend to play fetch when they’re out at the park, so you can combine this fun, active game with a long walk, or even with a couple of additional training exercises if your Lab is feeling particularly on the ball.