A lot of dogs love to play fetch with a variety of toys. So you may find yourself routinely throwing a ball, stick, or Frisbee for your pooch to retrieve. But why do dogs love it so much?
Most dogs love to play fetch as it satisfies their prey and hunting instinct to chase after something they can hold in their mouth. Dogs have high energy and love to run, and playing fetch provides a way to exercise and release energy. Additionally, fetch gives a dog a job to do, a sense of purpose, and an interactive and fun way to bond with you.
Read more about our dogs’ instinctive behavior and the best toys for fetch.
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Why Our Dogs’ Instinctive Behavior Leads to Their Love for Playing Fetch
Dogs evolved from wolves, and even though they have been domesticated for thousands of years, they continue to function based on their instincts. Chasing and running after prey was essential for wolves to survive. Catching small game and carrying it back to their den for other wolves and their offspring was a communal activity. Hunting and sharing of food ensured the survival of the entire pack.
A 2020 study published by iScience.com discovered that 8-week-old wolf puppies raised by humans were tested to see if they would play fetch. Three out of eleven wolf pups spontaneously ran after balls when prompted by verbal cues. They were not trained to fetch the balls, but with some initial encouragement, they ran after them and returned them to their handlers. The researchers postulated that this was instinctive behavior passed on to dogs and may have influenced the early selective breeding of dogs.
Other Reasons Dogs Love to Play Fetch
Dogs Love to Run and Release Energy
Dogs are built to run! Running and chasing is probably our dog’s favorite form of exerise. Therefore, a game of fetch is a perfect way to allow them to release their naturally high energy and do something fun. It is much better than letting them chase the neighbor’s cat!
As you have probably discovered, dogs can usually outrun us and are incredibly fast–much faster than humans. Dogs need exercise, and running and playing fetch is a great way for them to get it in a safe and fun way. Although going for walks and sniffing around their territory is something dogs really enjoy doing, nothing beats running their little legs off!
Fetch Gives Your Dog a Job to Do
Most dogs, like people, need a purpose in life. Herding, hunting, and scent/sight dogs were bred to help ranchers and farmers mantain their livestock and properties. We continue to train dogs to assist in military and search operations in a variety of ways. The dogs who are trained to do this seem to thrive on their work and are very loyal to their human handlers.
But the average family pet does not usually have a purpose other than to be by our side or sit on our lap. But if we take our dog running with us or teach him to fetch a ball or a Frisbee, he will feel like he has a job. Your dog will know that it is important to you that he chases a ball and brings it back to you. Even though this is fun for him, it will also feel like a job he is rewarded for doing well.
My younger sister had an Australian Cattle Dog who loved nothing more than to chase a ball and bring it back to us. We would sit in her long, grassy yard in Iowa for hours and throw a ball for her Blue Heeler to run and fetch. He never seemed to tire of it and always wanted more.
Playing Fetch is a Fun Bonding Activity
When we interact with our dogs doing something they enjoy, we strengthen our bond with them. As with humans, doing fun things brings us closer together and creates a unified purpose and bond through shared activities. I go into more depth about this in my post, How Shared Activities Help You Bond With Your New Rescue Dog. Be sure to read it!
Dogs Love to Hold Things in Their Mouths
Dogs also love to hold things in their mouth. Whether it is their favorite toy, a chewy bone, a stick, a disc, or a ball, dogs are very oral animals! This is probably due to their hunting instinct to catch and hold onto small game. If you have every noticed your dog carrying his favorite toy around the house or greeting you at the door with it, he is probably trying to bring you a present. Be thankful it is not really a dead rabbit!
My Pug/Cattle Dog mixed dogs seem to enjoy balls the most. They are not fond of sticks or Frisbees and ignore them when I throw them. But they will go crazy over their favorite balls.
They have three favorites at Amazon, Snug Balls, Chuckit Balls, and Chew King Fetch It Balls. The Chew King balls are probably their favorites because they have holes in either side for treats and they are little more flexible. My dogs love to hold these balls in their mouths for hours squeezing and releasing them much like a chewing action. You can see more about these balls and other toys on my recommended products page, Dog Toys.
Is Playing Fetch a Healthy Activity?
Playing fetch is a normal, healthy behavior. It gives them a good outlet for their high energy. However, dogs can devlop obessive behavior. If your dog becomes fixated on a toy, will not give it up, engages in aggressive resource guarding behavior, and ignores all other healthy activities, this may be an indicatation of unhealthy, obsessive behavior.
The best way to deal with it is to give your dog a variety of toys and activities. Create a routine that guarantees fetch will be part of her daily activities. And teach your dog a command that indicates that playtime is over, such as “All done” or “That’s enough.” Then, trade the toy for a high-value snack and put the ball or disc away for several hours.
My dog, who is most like a Pug, used to carry a Chew King ball around all day. She would not let go of it, even when I bribed her with treats. She would not drink water or rest as long as she had the ball in her mouth. The only way I could get her to let go of it was when I served dinner. I would then quickly grab the ball and take it to the garage. Once the ball was gone, she would lap up half a bowl of water.
I broke her of this obsessive behavior by allowing her to have her favorite ball frequently enough so she would not get frantic. Then, I would only let her have it for a few hours to break her attachment.
Most dogs love to play fetch so they can run and chase things. It is great exercise, a lot of fun, and can feel like a job. Find out what toys your dog enjoys chasing the most, then head out to the park and spend some time bonding with your favorite pup!