Have you ever met dogs who hate fetch? Show them a ball and they'll make the most miserable face as if you're asking them to do who knows what. This is a common complaint among dog owners whose dogs hate fetch, but what makes fetch such a dreaded activity? The issue may seem like a small one compared to other more serious dog behavior problems such as dogs chewing slippers, chasing the mail man, barking non-stop and peeing on everything around the house, but it can be frustrating to deal with especially when your next door neighbor's dog is an unstoppable fetching machine. So what's up with dogs who hate fetch? Don't be too fast to label your dog as stubborn. Here are some possible explanations for dogs who hate fetch and some come from research.
Lack of Fetching Genes
Colloquially, some dog owners may remark that your dog hates fetch so much because he lacks the fetching gene, but is there really such a thing as a "fetching gene"? Well, turns out that these owners may be up to something.
According to a recent study published on Genetics, Volume 206 Issue 2, June 2017, fetching tendencies may be linked to genetics.
The study "Genetic Characterization of Dog Personality Trait" conducted by Joanna Ilska et al. states clearly: "We identified substantial genetic variance for several traits, including fetching tendency and fear of loud noises, while other traits revealed negligibly small heritabilities."
If fetching was found to be one of the traits with highest heritability, it means that you should stop labeling Rover as stubborn because of his reluctance to fetch, but you may blame his genes instead... well, at least in part...because genes are written partly in pen and partly in pencil.
"The researchers found that fetching has a higher heritability rating than any other personality trait. Interestingly, some previous studies have lumped trainability with fetching ability, which results in lower heritability scores for both of them."~Karen London PhD, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
Not a Fetching Breed
Some dogs are naturally drawn to fetching because they have been selectively bred to do so for several generations. This brings us back to the gene discussion, but let' delve deeper into the role the human and working dog partnership played in a dog's tendency to fetch.
No, we're not talking here about the redundant fetching of balls and Frisbees we often witness nowadays, we're talking about real-business fetching. In other words, fetching as a job, and not to simply wear out an energetic dog who is bouncing off the walls desperately looking for something to do.
Dogs who were selectively bred for their fetching capabilities often belong to the retriever group. As the name implies, retrievers were selectively bred to retrieve downed birds.
When a hunter used to shoot a bird, the retriever was scrambling through the brush to retrieve it, hopefully with a soft mouth so not to puncture the precious meat delicacy that was later served on the table!
Many retriever puppies will start naturally 'fetching" as soon as they can walk; they'll retrieve a ball, a thrown stick or even your missing slipper. This natural behavior pattern can then be further refined through training so that these pups can fetch whatever you want.
However, as always when it comes to dogs, and their behaviors, absolute statements are to be avoided. Not all retrievers come with a factory pre-installed fetching gene which will make them fetch a can of fresh beer straight from the fridge in a robotic manner. And in the same way, some breeds who are known to have little to do with fetching historically, are seen fetching with a passion.
On a side note: my Rottweiler's eyes brighten up every time she sees me with a ball in my hand. Rottweilers were selectively bred to herd cattle, pull meat carts to the market and as loyal guardians, yet my Rottie can never say no to a game a fetch.
Even among breeds that are more prone to being naturally blessed with fetching genes, consider that there can be great genetic variances, and sometimes, even within a litter. This means that within a batch of puppies from the same litter you may end with some specimens who love to fetch and others who detest it.
Of course though, while genetics play a role in a dog's predisposition to fetching, you must also consider other factors such as the environment in which the dog is raised, training methods employed and other lifestyle factors.
Inapropriate Training Methods
The way you train your dog can really put a dent in his natural desire to fetch. It may sometimes start with an owner being overly protective of his personal belongings or perhaps a well-meaning dog owner who is afraid that his or her pup will pick up and eat something potentially harmful.
The owner may therefore find himself scolding or making a loud commotion every time the pup picks up something he shouldn't have. "Leave that! Drop that! Will you ever stop getting in trouble?" Soon, the pup learns that it's bad to pick up anything with his mouth.
Yes, the dog may appear well behaved, but his natural desire to investigate things and pick them up has been suppressed and possibly even extinguished for good. It can be quite difficult to teach such dogs to love fetching because they have inhibited this desire to investigate things and carry them around with their mouth. It may take some time and effort to bring these natural tendencies back to life.
Another dynamic is dogs who yes, are eager to pick items up and carry them around, but fail to return them. Yes, many dogs do not like to bring back the ball when fetching! This behavior of playing "keep-away" is often seen in dogs who have been chased or reprimanded for not returning personal items. These dogs may therefore think it's more fun to run off with something rather than return it or they may do it more protectively (and sometimes even defensively in dogs who resource guard) so to keep the item for themselves.
Both cases can be quite challenging to overcome, so here's a piece of advice. From a young age, make sure to train your pup the joy of relinquishing certain items using the rewarding 'trade game" rather than chasing your dog around to retrieve an object and prying open his mouth, or using harsh tones or harsh training methods.
The Role of Dog's Environment
And then you have some dogs who do have a predisposition for fetching, but it's just a "wasted" talent. Dogs who are kept outdoors all day or who are used for other tasks may know how to fetch naturally (or may be predisposed to it) and may just need a little of bit of incentive.
These dogs were just were never given the opportunity to bring out their natural talent and learn how reinforcing it can be.
It's not like these dogs "hate to fetch" or they're "stupid," how some people sometimes like to unjustly portray them. It's just that these fellows were never given the opportunity to exploit this natural behavior because of their lifestyle.
Don't be too fast to therefore label a dog as stupid or as hating to fetch. These dogs may just need a little incentive to enjoy the rules of the game and then these guys may have a blast and even get hooked on the game.
And if you have tried countless time to train your dog to fetch but was unsuccessful using traditional methods, consider training your dog to fetch by using a powerful training method known as back-chaining.
In back chaining, you would train the last behavior of the chain first, then the behavior before that, moving in a backward fashion. So back to training a dog to play fetch, one would therefore start by training the dog to take, hold and drop the ball in a person's hand (or in front of the person).
This is repeated several times so the action of dropping the ball in the hands or in front of the owner has a very strong history of reinforcement and the dog performs the behavior reliably. Then, the dog is trained to bring the ball and drop it, then to pick it up from a a distance, bring it and drop it and so forth until the whole sequence is completed.
The Bottom Line
As seen, there are several explanations for dogs who hate fetch. Last but not least, if your dog has always loved to fetch and now your dog seems to hate it, consider that there may be chances that he's suffering from some medical problem. Your dog may have joint pain or some other pain localized elsewhere that is interfering with his desire to fetch.