I love playing with my dogs, I play all sorts of games, including fetch. But! I have some rules when we play that help us have fun, play safe, and help us reinforce behaviours that I want!
Fetching has several components:
If any of these components are not working as desired it becomes a very one-sided game! For example, if your dog doesn't "chase" then the rest of the game is never going to happen! So first you have to build a desire for the item you are asking your dog to fetch. If your dog doesn't grab it, the item isn't going to return and you end up throwing and chasing the item with your dog and generally feeling a little foolish. If your dog doesn't return after grabbing you may well end up playing the dog's favourite game of "Keep Away" while they run around showing off their treasure and you chase after them. If your dog doesn't "release" the game can't continue either because even though they have completed 3 of the 4 steps you can't toss the item again if they are holding on to it.
So how do we build the desire to chase & grab?
If your dog does like toys, tie them to a rope or play with them attached to a flirt pole or lunge whip to build up your dog's desire.
Remember that PREY RUNS AWAY this means don't stuff it in their face, but instead place it out and wiggle it AWAY from the dog so they can FOLLOW and CHASE.
If your dog is NOT THAT INTO IT, start by teaching your dog to play with food! Roll some treats around, then stuff treats in an empty plastic bottle with some big holes for it to roll out of as they move it. Increase the difficulty over time. Tie to bottle to a string and let them chase that etc. Try some other food-holding items like an old sock etc. Be creative! Food also really helps with dogs that don't know how to grab!
What about the return?
If you truly want to have it easy, start in a small room or hallway that only has one exit (close other doors). Toss the toy into the dead end. When your dog turns around they will AUTOMATICALLY be bringing it to you. This means you have a prime opportunity to mark and reward the correct behaviour! Once this skill is doing well, move to a larger area. If you are worried about failure your can also put a long line on the toy that you can reel in.
My dog doesn't want to let go!
I hear you, they finally got the treasure and don't want to give it up. But what if you have another toy exactly the same or better than the first one? Will they trade? Animate the toy you want the dog to play with, and focus all your attention on it. Make the dog a little jealous that YOUR TOY IS BETTER. It may take a little convincing at first but try really hard to make yours more fun. If your dog lets go of the other toys praise and play with the new one. Once they have the new one, time to swap back. Trade trade trade!!!
If your dog is truly stuck, sprinkle a few treats on the floor to encourage them to go eat in exchange for their toy. It is totally ok to trade for food and this is how I end pretty much every session so my dog doesn't feel like they have "lost the game".
Remember this game should be FUN and COOPERATIVE if one of those elements is missing, chat with your trainer for some extra pointers!