Why Do Dogs Like Playing Fetch?

Some dog breeds have a natural instinct to fetch an object and bring it back to their owner. There are other breeds that don’t particularly like playing fetch, and even some dogs that need to be taught how to play fetch. 

Playing a game of fetch with your pooch or new puppy helps you bond with your new furry friend, and it’s a way for your dog to exercise. But there are also health-related risks to playing fetch with your dog. 

Let’s see why dogs like playing fetch, why it’s great for them, and also when it isn’t. 

Why Do Dogs Like Playing Fetch?

Dogs love playing fetch because they can show off how strong and fast they are, they get to exercise and burn off energy, they satisfy their natural instinct, and they revel in spending time with their human. 

In more detail, here are the 5 reasons why dogs like playing fetch: 

Reason 1: Instinct and Selective Breeding

One of the first reasons why a dog likes to play fetch with their human is because of selective breeding. Humans have been domesticating dogs for the past 18,000-30,000 years or so. Dogs breeds like the Labrador retriever were bred to hunt, chase after a bird, pick it up with their mouth, and bring downed fowl and game to their owners. 

Dogs are descended from wolves, and wolves have an innate instinct to carry their prey back to their families and den. This instinct to carry something is natural canine behavior that has stayed with our domesticated furry friends. 

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Reason 2: Exercise 

Every dog breeds needs to exercise to remain active and healthy. Playing a game of fetch with your dog is one way to ensure they get their exercise. A game that pays off physically is also more enjoyable than other forms of exercise at times. 

Reason 3: Burn off Energy 

Some dog breeds like collies, retrieves, and sheepdogs are high-energy. While these dogs can burn off energy by exercising, playing with them is another way they can get rid of excess energy.  

Reason 4: Athletic Ability and Feel Good Factor 

As natural athletes, dogs want to use their innate abilities to run, retrieve, herd, and more. A game of fetch lets your dog practice their natural athleticism, and they can also show off how fast, strong, and capable of fetching they are. 

Reason 5: Quality Time With Their Owner  

Your pooch wants to be the center of your world, with all your attention and love focused on them. When you play fetch with your dog, you both spend one-on-one quality time with each other, which is a great bond-boosting activity. 

Apart from bonding and spending quality time together, a game of fetch is appealing because it’s gratifying for your dog. When playing fetch, the reward centers of a dog’s brain are stimulated, making your pooch feel good. This is one reason why your dog may seem to never tire of playing fetch with you.  

Do Dogs Naturally Play Fetch?

Not all dogs naturally play fetch, and there are some that may not even instinctively know how to play fetch. 

Several dog breeds that were domesticated and bred to fetch, pick an item up, and bring it to their owner are: 

  • Australian shepherds 
  • Border collies 
  • English Springer spaniels 
  • English whippets 
  • Golden retrievers 
  • Labrador retrievers 
  • Standard poodles 
  • Shorthaired pointers 

Is Playing Fetch Good for Dogs?

Playing fetch is good for dogs because it stimulates them physically and mentally, it boosts their mood, improves their behavior, and relieves anxiety. However, a game of fetch with your pooch also carries health risks like joint strain, injury, and exhaustion, and it can be obsession-forming too. 

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Let’s look at the benefits and risks of playing fetch with your dog in more detail: 

4 Benefits of Playing Fetch With Your Dog 

Here are the 4 pros of playing fetch with your pooch: 

Benefit 1: Physical Stimulation (aka Exercise) 

When you play fetch with your pooch, they are physically stimulated because they get to run around. It’s simply another way for them to exercise, except when playing, they get to spend time with their favorite human.  

Benefit 2: Mental Stimulation 

Playing a game of fetch is mentally stimulating to your dog. As your dog watches you throw the object and it flies through the air to land somewhere, your pooch needs to focus and concentrate. They also have a task to do – retrieving the item you threw. 

So playing fetch ensures your dog’s mental health stays in tip-top shape.   

Benefit 3: Boosts Mood and Improves Behavior  

A dog that’s playing fetch with their owner is a dog that isn’t bored. And a dog that isn’t bored won’t get into mischief like digging holes in the garden or chewing your favorite pair of shoes. As you play with your pooch, you pay attention to them, reward them with treats, praise, and head scratches, which instantly boosts their mood. 

Your dog will also wag their tail in anticipation of you throwing the object again. This is your dog’s way of letting you know they are happy. 

Benefit 4: Relieves Anxiety  

When your pooch needs to focus while playing fetch, any anxiety they were feeling will be relieved. Plus, continuous exercise – whether your pooch is running with you around the park or playing a game of fetch – ensures your dog stays physically healthy.  

4 Reasons Why Playing Fetch May Be Bad for Your Dog 

Here are the main reasons why fetch isn’t good for dogs: 

Risk 1: Exhaustion 

Your dog may simply be starved for attention and demand to play fetch for a long time, even when they are dead tired. When playing with your pooch, look out for when they seem to be tired. 

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Your dog may be panting excessively, yawning, thirsty, or not responding to commands. 

Exhaustion from over-exercising can also result in exercise induced collapse (EIC) where your pooch may collapse after 5-10 minutes of a game of fetch or another intense workout. Your pooch may recover within half an hour, but they may also die. 

Ensure you spend enough time with your dog so they know there will be more when a game of fetch is done. 

Risk 2: Joint Strain 

Playing too much fetch can also put strain on your dog’s joints, which can cause mobility issues and other health complications. When your dog carries something in their mouth, they place more weight and pressure on their front legs, which can result in joint strain and muscular injuries.  

Also, when your dog leaps into the air to catch an object like a Frisbee, they can injure themselves. 

Risk 3: Canine OCD 

Playing fetch turns into an obsession for some dogs, called Canine Obsessive Disorder. When your dog has canine OCD, it can result in exhaustion, dehydration, and/or overheating. 

You will also see anxiety when your pooch can’t get to the item they need to retrieve for you, possession over the object, and excessive drooling and panting. 

Risk 4: Physical Injuries 

A stick may be the easiest object to pick up and throw for your dog to fetch. However, sticks are dangerous: 

  • Your dog can impale itself on the stick. 
  • The stick can damage your dog’s mouth if there are thorns, splinters, or sharp edges. 
  • The stick can also become lodged in your dog’s throat. 
  • Your dog may run and grab at a stick, which can shatter into splinters and then enter soft body tissue, causing serious injury.