Playing fetch with your pup not only provides him with a healthy outlet for his energy, but also allows you to bond with him. Unfortunately, if your dog refuses to give the toy back to you once he's fetched it, then the game isn't any fun. If Rover is being protective of his toys during games of fetch, you'll need to teach him to let go of them on command.
Teaching Rover to "Drop It"
Your dog might not let go of the toy during a game of fetch because he doesn't understand what you want him to do or may even think that you want to play tug-of-war. To teach him to release his toys, you'll need to teach him the "drop it" command. Get him interested in one of his favorite toys, then say "drop it" and offer him a delicious treat. Once Rover drops the toy at your feet or into your hand, give him the treat and praise him. Repeat this exercise for 15 minutes a day until he consistently lets go of the toy on command.
Dealing With Possessiveness of Toys
Some pups tend to guard their toys due to possessive aggression. Basically, if Rover decides that the toy you've thrown him to fetch is very valuable, he won't want to relinquish it because he thinks you won't give it back. This can develop due to insecurity and fear or if you regularly take items away from him, like those that he shouldn't be chewing on. Reduce his toy-guarding urge by having several toys at hand during your game. Offer a new toy to him in exchange for the toy he fetched so he'll drop it, then throw the new one for him to fetch, teaching him that dropping a toy results in continued play.
Stopping the Game
When it comes to fetch, or any games, it's up to you to control the situation. If you throw a toy for Rover to fetch and he brings it back but won't drop it, even after you command him to or offer him another toy, simply stop the game altogether. After stopping the game, walk away and ignore Rover for at least 15 minutes. This teaches him that by refusing to give up the toy, the fun game stops. Do this consistently during each play session, including if he drops the toy but snatches it away from you when you try to pick it up to throw it.
Warnings and Considerations
If Rover refuses to give up the toy he has in his mouth, don't engage him by trying to tug it away from him. Not only does this negatively reinforce the behavior, but it is potentially dangerous for both you and for Rover. Your pup could bite you in his efforts to guard the toy or you could damage his teeth by yanking the toy away. Avoid negative training methods like punishing your pooch by either yelling or physically harming him for failing to give up the toy. This will only make him frightened of you and possibly even aggressive.
By Susan Paretts
Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA: Animal Behavior
ASPCA: Teaching Your Dog to Play Fetch
The Whole Dog Journal: Teaching Fetch Using Positive Reinforcement Techniques
2ndChance.info: Ain't Misbehavin' -- Training Your New Puppy
The Pet Docs: Common Questions and Answers
The Humane Society of the United States: Dog Aggression
RSPCA Victoria: Possessive of Toys and Food
About the Author
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, crafts, television, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared in "The Southern California Anthology" and on Epinions. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.