Wimbledon is just around the corner. This summer the eyes of the world will be upon us once again as the world’s finest tennis players meet at the iconic venue to battle it out while we sip champagne and enjoy fresh strawberries with lashings of cream. Wimbledon is a British institution, and to celebrate the world-famous tournament we’ll be offering a special promotion from the 1st to the 14th of July.
We’ll be giving away a free tennis ball with all orders. That’s right! Absolutely all of them. What better way to enjoy the spirit of Wimbledon with your furry friend? While we don’t expect you to teach your dog to play tennis (they don’t have thumbs which can make holding a racket tricky), they can still get into the spirit of things by playing the next best thing… A nice game of fetch!
Playing fetch is the quintessential activity for happy pet parents (and even happier pets). It’s a fun game for both and involves pet and parent working together in perfect harmony. It not only helps to keep your dog active, but it can also bring the two of you closer together. That said, it can be perplexing to owners when they throw their tennis ball with an exultant cry of “Fetch!”... Only for their cuddly canine to stare back at them blankly as though they’ve just been asked the reciprocal of pi.
If the game of fetch eludes your beloved pet, we’ve compiled this fun tutorial to help you and them get into the Wimbledon spirit together.
Game, set and app!
If your best efforts to teach your pet fetch (or sit, or roll over or any other tricks) are met with frustration time after time, tech-loving pet parents may benefit from a dog training app. While the app won’t do all the work for you, it can provide guidance and support while allowing you to track the progress you and your dog make together. Some good ones include Dogo and Puppr. Okay, so they’re also the ones with the most adorable names. We don’t make the rules!
Whether you choose to use apps to help you to teach your dog this fun game or not, here are some steps to ensure that you’re both fully trained and ready to go by the time Wimbledon rolls around...
Introducing the fetch toy
You can start the game of fetch with your new tennis ball or any other aerodynamic toy of your choice. However, we’d advise against playing fetch with a stick. While it may be a time honoured tradition it can also lead to nasty injuries from tongue splinters to punctured eyes. Once you’ve decided on a good toy, you need to help your dog to build a relationship with it so that they can get excited about the game. If your dog hasn’t taken to fetch before it may be because they have no investment what was thrown or know that it was thrown for them.
Place your chosen toy close to you. As your dog gets closer to it, click on your clicker (or your in-app clicker) and give them a healthy dose of praise and a treat. If they touch their nose to the toy, repeat the process. This will help your dog to build positive associations with the fetch toy and will make the game more fun in the long run.
Get the toy moving
Now your dog associates the fetch toy with fuss and goodies. Great! The next step is moving it around so that you that the dog has to go out of their way to get it. Don’t throw it just yet. Just establish it as a moving object. Hold it at arm’s length and move it in different directions. Every time that cold wet nose touches the toy, reward your dog with some love and a treat.
Repeat this process until the dog has learned to follow the fetch toy.
Teaching grabbing behaviours
Now it’s time to start conditioning your dog to grab the fetch toy in their mouth. Place it on the ground at about arm's length but within reach. If your dog touches the toy with its nose as before, don’t reward it with a treat just yet. Give it some time to get curious about the toy. When it starts to nibble, bite or lick the toy, reward the behaviour in the usual way.
When they get around to picking the fetch toy in their mouths this is your cue to shower your beloved pet with treats and attention. Your dog now has the skills they need to start playing fetch!
Now your dog knows that picking up the fetch toy with their mouths leads to all-round merriment, we need to get them used to the mechanics of the game in a safe and stress-free environment. Starting out in the home is a good idea so long as you start small (the last thing you want is the fetch toy to start wreaking havoc around your house).
Start out by tossing the fetch toy just a couple of feet away. When they pick it up, click your clicker, treat and praise them. Repeat this until they have it down to an art, then combine this with the “come” command to get them to come to you with the fetch toy. When they bring it to you, take it from them, click, treat and fuss.
Take some time to throw the fetch toy farther and farther away (without destroying any picture frames or vases) until both of you are confident that you’ve mastered how the game works.
Taking the game outside
Believe it or not, this can be more complicated than you might expect. Don’t forget that your dog has been practicing in a familiar space where their scent is everywhere. Next, you’ll be taking the game into an environment where the distraction of new sights, sounds, and smells are plentiful.
If possible, start out in your back garden or another enclosed space. Or at the very least a walled off area like a local park. Practice your game in an off-peak time where there will be fewer people and (crucially) fewer other dogs.
Make sure you bring plenty of yummy treats with you to keep up the positive reinforcement and start off small, throwing the toy just a few feet away before going for increasingly robust and ambitious throws.
By the time Wimbledon comes around, the two of you will be volleying your new tennis ball back and forth like champs!