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so our puppies name is Ollie. Ollie is an 18 month old American bully mix, with lots of energy to play.

Recently I started working with him more, and he picked up basic commands really quickly, but I'm really failing trying to play fetch with him. He loves to initiate it by bringing a stick inside, and get my attention. I can't get him to drop things through. I used to use another stick to entice him, to let go of his current one, but he's learned this, and now will just chase after the second stick with the first one in his mouth.

I know he kind of understands "drop it." Because he will whine, and usually put a little distance between him and I, after I say it. He is also completely unmotivated from treats, even ones I thought were his favorite. I've also used a digital clicker, but that's seemed the least productive.

From the research I've done, I really don't think he's trying to protect his "claim" as he will usually follow me, and look to me when he gets in a playful mood. I try not to chase him, and will try to "end" the game if he doesn't listen, but I'll throw it once and this process begins anew.

Any help, or recommendations would be really appreciated. Thank you

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    Welcome! It qould help to give you focussed answers, if you add some question (question mark) or give one sentence with a clear aim you want to reach. Because this is not a common forum but a Q&A site, this is expected here. Commented Mar 18 at 18:30
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    Not all dogs are food motivated. Sometimes the best you can do is .. just tire them out
    – Journeyman Geek
    Commented Mar 19 at 10:19

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Ultimately, fetch may not be the best game for your dog and it may be worth looking into other games.

Dogs have different personalities that are very broadly grouped into:

  • Socially motivated dogs love to do anything with you. They are the dogs that learn commands and tricks easily and tend to always stay close to "their" human.
  • Object motivated dogs love their toys, chewing on them, fetching them and sometimes guarding them. They don't care too much about who throws the stick, just about the stick itself.
  • Internally motivated dogs are the independent ones that might chose to do their own thing regardless of any toys or treats you try to bribe them with.

Of course real life is never only black and white and each dog combines all of these characteristics to varying degrees. If your dog is very object motivated, he might value having the stick much more than fetching the stick, and giving the stick to you might be very, very hard for him. If your dog is more internally motivated he might not care too much about what you want to play, as long as he has what he wants. If he's more socially motivated, he might prefer playing tug-of-war with you than playing fetch.

Our own dog is very socially motivated. We managed to teach her to fetch a frisbee and drop it for a second frisbee to be thrown. It was a long process, but pretty much worked like Ditto explained in their answer. She still has days where she's more interested in having the frisbee. On those days she either drops it much too far away from us, or she does fetch it, but then runs away with it again. Then I engage in a different game with her like tug-of-war or chasing her around the yard. In the end, what matters (at least to me) is that the dog has fun. If playing fetch isn't fun for her today, I can adapt. I'm sure you can, too.

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  • As far as games go for one of my dogs, "Catch me if you can/try to take this away from me" is the best, most fun, most hilarious game on Earth. Some days I indulge him because he loves it, and it really is hilarious, he's such an imp. Some days I just switch to something else he likes (like learning tricks). As you said, we adapt, to each other. Commented Mar 20 at 0:01
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this might sound odd, but I've read for things like "fetch" .. don't push it, or force him ... ask him to "give it" (save "drop it" for other things) - ask once only ... and if he doesn't, completely ignore him and walk away - game over. Only continue the game if he actually - willingly on his own - drops the toy for you to play.

Fetch only exists if he relinquishes the toy. If he doesn't .. no game of fetch. What he's doing is teaching you to play "chase" .. he takes the stick .. and you chase him for it ... his thoughts "THIS IS GREAT FUN!" .. so take that fun away ... you don't want him learning to run from you. ;)

Ironically, this doesn't work well with our dog, as she's quite content to take the toy and chew it on her own (she doesn't run away .. she isn't keen on fetch - although her drop/give it commands are pretty good) ... so YMMV .. :)

but if he's showing interest, it may work that by showing disinterest, he'll learn that to play, he needs to give it up to you.

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In what other contexts does Ollie know "Drop it?" Has this only ever been done when the item he is dropping is then taken away from him? That may be part of the issue if so.

It also sounds like he is more play motivated than food motivated, which is GREAT! A play motivated dog is often overall easier to train and will typically learn more consistent responses, even when food isn't available. However, since most common advice focuses on using food as rewards, working with a play motivated dog can require a bit of a mental shift.

Play Motivated Training

The first thing to wrap your brain around is that where normally you would offer a treat as a reward for delivering desired behavior, you may instead want to offer "play." This can be confusing, because "play" is less specific than "treat." Usually, with play-based training, most play-rewards are kept very short - for example, 60 seconds of tug or a single short throw of an item. These can be interspersed with longer rewards of 2-3 minutes of play and even interspersed with a more traditional food reward.

The second thing to consider is that a reward of "play" might disrupt the behavior that you're training, so it's important to teach a "marker" to tell your dog that what he's doing right now is what you want, and that he'll get a reward in just a moment. Clicker training is a common example of a positive marker, and there are a bunch of resources available on how to do it. However, you can also make up your own marker. Using things like "Yes!" or "Good!" or even a snap or hand sign can work.

You might already have a marker for desired behavior, but if you don't, you'll want to spend a few training sessions teaching one by giving the marker (e.g., saying "Yes!") and then instantly offering a play-based reward for 30-60 seconds. Repeat that, and then start adding back in the commands he already knows and using it in context.

Drop It

Once your pup understands that your marker means that he gets play time, you're halfway there. Now, you need to get him to see that he gets the marker (and thus the reward) when he drops the toy - which sounds like it's been your challenge so far. As soon as he does drop it, you'll give the marker and throw it again, which is the reward itself.

Teach drop it in a neutral context with non-toy objects first. Offer him something that is okay for him to have but that he doesn't view as his play things (a wooden cooking spoon you don't care about, an old piece of clothing, or even just the handle of a fabric or leather leash are often good options for this). Offer it to him and ask him to take it. (If he doesn't know how to do that yet, look up some videos of how to teach "take it".) Then, give him a favorite toy and tell him to drop it. He'll drop the other item in favor of the exciting toy, and you can mark that and engage in play. Repeat.

Once he'll drop a non-exciting object for an exciting one, you can switch to trading toys. Give him a toy, but show him a different toy and ask him to drop it. Focus all your attention on making the new toy as exciting as possible. Show that you are excited to play with the new toy, and he will be too. When you have his attention, offer him the new toy. When he takes it and drops the other one, mark it and play with the new toy with him. After a little bit, pick up the first toy and repeat the process, trying to drop the one he currently has. Most dogs love this "trading game" and will happily trade toys back and forth knowing that they have your attention and nothing's being taken away forever or even at all.

Teaching Fetch

Now you have all the pieces! He's already used to trading toys back and forth when you offer them to him directly. Now, instead of offering the toy for him to take gently from your hand, throw it up in the air for him to catch or pick up. You can reduce the deliberate play between throws as he gets used to this because the act of catching/getting a new toy is the play. You can also work on lengthening the time between when he drops the old toy and when he gets to put his mouth on the new one. Slowly, you can increase the length of your tosses to across the room.

This is a good time to start teaching him that when you say drop it you want him to drop it right in front of you, not across the room. When he drops a toy too far away, hide the next toy behind your back, point at the one he dropped, and tell him to take it. Then call him to you, and ask him to drop it again, showing him the new, exciting toy. He'll figure it out :)

As soon as he's reliably dropping one toy at your feet to catch the next one, you can go outside and start to expand your range. And Voila- fetch!

Eventually, he'll understand that you're going to throw the next ball, and you won't always need to have two balls with you at all times to get him to drop the first one.

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