I do realize I am naturally biased, but my dog Ruffi is one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever seen. He picks up tricks in 1 or 2 repetitions many times. So imagine my shock when I went to throw him a small soft toy and it bounced right off his forehead!
I paused and thought…bingo! Ruffi is very food motivated so I came up with the bright idea to throw one of his favorite small treats to him instead. By catching his yummy treat he would learn what I want and I could then teach the toy catch.
One minute later, one perfectly aimed yummy treat bounced off his forehead from right between his eyes as Ruffi scrunched his face up and looked at me as if to say, “Why the heck are you pelting me with toys and treats!?”
How to Teach A Dog To Catch
If you search on the internet for how to teach a dog to catch, the advice is generally to toss a well-liked treat to the dog. Let them eat what they catch and quickly pick up what they don’t catch. They will soon learn the value of catching the treat. After all, every dog knows how to catch, right? Well mine didn’t. So if your dog is like mine and not a natural catcher and you don’t want to continue to bounce treats off their forehead, here is how I got Ruffi to catch.
It helps to start with very light treats like air popped popcorn. That being said it has to be a treat the dog likes.
Step 1: Give them the idea
Hold the treat high enough so the dog has to reach his head up to get it, but not so high that he has to jump. Just let the dog get it out of your fingers for a few reps. Praise every time they get the treat.
Step 2: Drop it from a short distance
Hold the treat just a tiny bit higher, no more than an inch away from the dog’s reach. As soon as he opens his mouth, drop the treat in. Still give genuine praise every time they get the treat. Do this for as many reps as it takes for him to be successful a few times in a row. This is the hardest step. Make sure the dog gets it at this level before going any further. For many this will be the ending point of the first few sessions.
Step 3: Increase the distance & start to toss
Gradually increase the distance that you are dropping the treat into the dogs mouth. Once you have a foot of distance you can try tossing the treat in a soft high arc into your dogs mouth. If you (like me) don’t have the best aim, first practice tossing the treats into a small container before practicing with your dog. You want to throw it right into their mouths to make it easy for them to be successful every time. Of course show your dog your genuine excitement and praise every time they get the treat. It helps if a friend or spouse can chime in how proud and excited they are as well! Stay at this level for many sessions and have fun with it!
Step 4: Continue to build up distance and difficulty
You can gradually start increasing the distance and difficulty of the throws. You can also upgrade to heavier small treats.
Step 5: Trade treats for toys
Eventually you can move to small soft toys by repeating the above process. It should take a lot less time to move through the stages.
Teaching Your Dog to Catch
Don’t ever stop letting your dog know how proud and impressed you are that they no longer let treats bounce off their forehead!
I am happy to say that Ruffi now catches any treat I throw him 99% of the time and even with my still-horrible aim. He can also catch toys, but being Ruffi, he would much rather catch treats.
Ironically he was complemented on his natural catching ability last week. The fact that the compliment came from another who has a dog that can’t catch, is what prompted me to write this article.