Learning how to play fetch with Milo: We only play games we both want to play!

Generally, a game of fetch involves a person throwing a ball, and a dog running after it and returning it to the person. Imagine my surprise when my Fitbit informed me that I walked a kilometer and a half during a short game of fetch. It seemed Milo and I were doing this wrong.

So, the next time we played fetch, I pretended to be an anthropologist observing this game while we were playing it. “What are these strange creatures doing with that round yellow thing on a string?”

I observed that Milo and I weren’t playing one game, we were playing two. The first game looked a lot like fetch. He’d go chasing after the ball and bring it back to my general vicinity. The second game included two things he loved: hanging onto the ball and being chased by me.

pls throw

The trouble is that while Milo loves both games, I only want to play the first one. That clever, clever dog had me playing a game I had no desire to play. Hmmm.

Here is what I did:

I made up some rules for our game.

  • I throw the ball. If he brings it back to me and stays close enough for me to grab his collar, I throw a little happy party for him and immediately toss the ball again.
  • If he doesn’t bring it back to me and stay close, I go get him. But when I go get him, I quietly snap on his leash and we walk off the field for a couple of minutes.
  • His choice: play fetch by the rules, or not play at all.

Within 40 minutes, he was choosing to play by the rules. I was shocked at how fast this happened.

I noticed a neat thing when he started playing by the rules. He’d bring the ball back to me, and then move his head, or move one front paw, like he was starting the Keep-Away Game, and then he would stop and settle back down right close to me as I grabbed his collar. His conflicting desires were revealed by those small movements. I would love to know what it was like for him inside his doggy mind as he stopped himself from making a choice that would not get him what he wanted.

Here are some things I am going to try to remember from learning how to play fetch with Milo:

  1. I need to stop, watch, and think about Milo and my interactions.
  2. It is good to take a bit of time to make a plan.
  3. Milo and I will only play games that we both want to play.

handsome Milo