Fetch and Ball Games for Dogs

Is playing fetch good exercise for dogs

Golden Retriever playing fetchFetch is a great exercise for dogs. It not only gives them a good cardio workout. The changes of direction and jumping to catch the ball also helps to strengthen muscles and tendons.

In addition, it provides mental stimulation by giving them a job to do and the scenting work to find the ball when lost in the long grass. Fetch also provides quality bonding time with your dog and is an excellent training opportunity. Playing fetch teaches a dog many skills and commands like come, release, get it, etc.

Just throwing a ball for your dog can get a bit boring for you and to some extent for your dog also. There are many variations to the game of fetch that you can try to spice things up.

Why do dogs play fetch

The desire to play fetch for dogs dates back thousands of years ago when they became domesticated. The ability to fetch the prey and bring it back to the human was rewarded. Dogs that were good at this, were kept and bred.

As a result, retrieving became an instinctive behavior, especially for dogs bred to retrieve for hunters.

Dogs also love to fetch as the exercise makes them feel good and they get the undivided attention of their owners.

How to teach a dog to fetch perfectly

Many dogs automatically know how to fetch and return items to you. This is especially true for retrieving breeds as this is instinctive intelligence. This is when a dog does something with little or no training as it is what they were bred for.

For other dogs, fetching the item is no problem but returning it to you to throw again can be an issue. While other dogs will just look at you when you throw the item as if to say “what do you want me to do?”

So when teaching your dog to retrieve a ball or toy you first need to know how much of the process they can already do. Here is a list of steps when teaching a dog to play fetch. Depending on your particular dog you may be able to miss out on some of the steps.

Step 1 

Get your dog interested in the toy. You can reward your dog with a treat for touching or mouthing the toy and showing interest. Continue this process until your dog is very keen on the toy.

Once they show interest in the move it around so they have to move towards it. Get them to take the toy in their mouths.

Step 2 

Toss the toy a short distance of 2 or 3 feet. When they pick it up in their mouths grab the toy and give them a release command. Give them a treat for giving you the toy. If they run away with the toy don’t chase them as they will think it is a game. Just call them and offer them a treat for giving you the toy.

If they try to turn it into a game of tug of war let go of the toy. Again offer a treat in exchange for the toy.

Step 3 

Once they release that they get a treat for fetching and giving you the toy you can increase how far you throw.

With each successful fetch, reward them. Then toss the toy a little farther. Repeat as many times as necessary for your dog to understand what this fetch game is all about.

Step 4

By this stage, your dog will pretty much have the game of fetch all worked out. It is just a case of practice now. Take the game outside now and throw the toy or ball a little further each time.

Fetch games for dogs

There are many ways to play fetch with your dog and they don’t need to involve a ball. Here are some suggestions.

Frisbee Toss

Most dogs can chase and catch a ball. But a Frisbee requires a little bit more skill, coordination, and timing. Many dogs look spectacular playing this due to their agility. Roll the Frisbee on the ground towards your dog. They will instinctually want to grab it in his mouth. Once you’ve accomplished this, try tossing it at a very low level first to your dog. If you feel like your dog is ready to go to the next level, toss the disc a little higher and further. Great energy burner and you may be amazed at your dog’s agility and acrobatic skill.

Dog scenting kit

These kits are used to train dogs for hunting. However, they are ideal even for a pet dog to challenge their nose work skills. Comes complete with the training dummy toy and a bottle of Rabbit scent. There are other scents available such as duck and goose.

This is a great game to play with a gun dog breed such as Spaniels. Throw the retrieval dummy into the bushes and have your dog track and return it to you.

See the Hound dog scenting kit on Amazon

Use a ball launcher

Handheld ball launchers are an excellent way to exercise your dog. Obviously, the further you can throw the ball the more your dog has to run.

They also make life easier for you as the long handle lets you pick up a ball without having to bend over to the ground. It also prevents you from having to touch a slobbery ball.


The best quality and well-known brand are the Chuckit.  These are also extremely inexpensive and well worth having. Check out the Chuckit ball thrower on Amazon.

Automatic Ball Launchers

I am sure you have had the experience of your dog wanting you to throw the ball just a few more times. With an Automatic Ball Launcher, they can play fetch by all by themselves. This will require training them to put the ball in the funnel initially, but once they know what to do they are away and fetching. Read “Automatic Ball Launchers for Dogs” to learn more

Ball games  for dogs

Find the ball game

This is more a game of hide and seek using a few balls. So your dog can’t see you hide several tennis balls around the house or yard. Tell them to fetch the balls. If your dog is ball mad they will know exactly what to do.

An alternative is to deliberately throw the ball into the bushes or long grass and let your dog sniff it out.

Piggy in the middle

The same as the children’s game. With two people, throw the ball to each other and allow your dog to try and intercept and catch the ball in the air. If you are by yourself you can throw the ball up against a wall. Don’t forget to let your dog win a few times.

Herding Balls

Herding balls are an excellent way for herding dog breeds to burn off energy while catering to their natural herding instinct. It is like cattle or sheep herding without the cattle or sheep and is similar to the herding dog sport Treiball.

These breeds were bred to chase and control moving objects. Teaching your dog to play herding games will actually reduce their desire to herd people and other dogs as herding breeds often do.

Recommended Herding Balls

Jolly Ball

The Jolly Ball was the original herding ball for dogs and is inexpensive. It is made from hard plastic and is virtually indestructible. However, some dogs are able to scratch the surface with their teeth or claws which can leave sharp ridges on the toy. Can also be filled with water or sand to add weight to give more resistance to the workout.

View Jolly Balls on Amazon

The Jolly ball also comes in a range of sizes from 4 1/2 inches to 14 inches so you can choose the size that is best suited to your particular dog. A further option is the Jolly Soccer Ball if you want to be able to kick it yourself. This ball floats on water and will not puncture.

Virtually Indestructible Ball

The Virtually Indestructible Ball is super tough and is slightly more expensive. It also comes in a range of sizes to suit your particular dog.

View Virtually Indestructible Balls on Amazon



  • Joseph Coleman

    A lifelong writer and proud dog dad. Joseph started this blog dedicated to helping other dog owners find accurate information on how to keep their pets at their healthiest through exercise and nutrition. His passion for all things canine shines through in his writing, and he believes that every dog deserves the best possible care. If you're a dog owner looking for reliable advice on how to keep your pup healthy and happy, be sure to check out Joseph's work.