There are two ends of the retrieving spectrum. At one end is the domestic pooch playing fetch with his owner and at the other, is the experienced, highly skilled working retriever, collecting birds. Some dogs are better retrievers than others, but all dogs can be taught, with varying levels of success, to fetch. The breed, personality and intelligence of the individual dog and the persistence and will of his owner will determine just how well he learns.
Labradors, spaniels, golden retrievers, pointers and curly coated retrievers are all natural retrievers. They have soft mouths, which mean they are less likely to damage any game that they collect and instinctively are driven to retrieve. They love it and it takes very little training to get them to fetch. But some are better than others and some individuals, even if they are a retriever breed, may simply prefer to do something else. Training, genetics and personality influence a dog’s willingness and capability to retrieve. Some nonretriever breeds are naturally good retrievers. For example, the Jack Russell terrier is a willing retriever.
Not so Natural Retrievers
Some dogs were not built to retrieve. Dogs with a more independent nature, such as those bred for guarding livestock, may be less capable as retrievers. These dogs are used to acting in a protective manner and making decisions for themselves, so owners of Anatolian shepherds or komondors may find it a challenge to get their pooch to fetch. Some hunting breeds may prefer to "kill" the toy, rather than bring it back. If your dog shakes the ball when he gets it, he's exhibiting strong hunting instincts and weak retrieving instincts.
Training a Dog to Retrieve
Any dog, in theory, can retrieve. It is a simple case of rewarding the dog when he performs the fetch so he is driven to do it again. The key to your success is motivation. Using the right toy and the right reward will increase your chances of success. Understanding your breed’s other instincts is important too. For example, don’t try to teach a border collie to fetch when there are kids or other dogs about as his herding instinct typically will override any desire he has to play fetch.
When to Give Up
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a dog simply doesn’t want to play fetch. You may have taught him the game and he may well understand it, but if it doesn’t excite him, he will lose interest. It’s not fair to persist with activities that bore or frustrate your dog and in many cases, he’ll simply refuse to play. If your dog has no interest in retrieving, find an activity that he loves instead.