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Playing fetch behaviour

What is the link between playing fetch and predator motor patterns?

You may also like to read the page about retriever behaviour to help understand playing fetch - retriever dogs are about the best dogs for playing fetch, but actually many breeds of dogs will engage in this play. Have you ever wondered though why not all dogs will play fetch? Now to some degree it is an individual dog thing, but it is also linked to the motor patterns that are bred into certain breeds of dogs - for example it is very uncommon for any individual in the retriever breeds not to play fetch!

Read more on retrievers

Playing fetch is a motor pattern - there is a sequence and the sequence produces a pleasant result for the dog, this pleasant result is satisfying and so the dog enjoys playing fetch. A retriever or any other dog that has a 'soft mouth' is the best for playing fetch as they will not damage the toy, and will usually give the toy to you easily so that you can repeat the sequence. The motor pattern is based on predator behaviour. You may find this a little hard to believe, as you may be playing with a ball or frisbee or similar and don't see how that could be at all like hunting prey, but let's examine the motor pattern.

You begin the fetch game by orienting your dog to the object - you hold it up and wave it and maybe call the dog to you, or the dog is already oriented and brings the object to you. You notice that your dog is watching the object closely - that's orientation.

Now as you thrown the object the dog follows the object with his eye, even if he is already running after the object, keeping his attention firmly on it.

In the case of throwing a ball or similar, the dog doesn't get a chance to stalk first, but goes directly into the chase from the eye.

Now comes the grab-bite part of the sequence, when the chase is complete the dog picks up the object, rather than attacking and biting into it.

The terrific part for those with these kinds of dogs is the modification that then takes that motor pattern into causing the dog to return to you and hand over the object, not because you want it back, but because they know it will allow the sequence to start all over again.

Livestock guarding dogs including maremmas do not possess this predator motor sequence. For this reason alone, any typical livestock guardian of any breed will not play fetch! True, some individuals will play some limited form of fetch, and usually only sometimes and usually only for 1 or 2 throws, then they will lose interest. Any livestock guardian who plays true fetch would be a concern to me as to their ability to be trustworthy.

The following video is a great example of what it looks like when you attempt to play fetch with a maremma, and illustrates the points discussed here well.

It is interesting that often a maremma will run after an object that is thrown, and have a look, maybe pick it up and walk away with it, but rarely will the 'fall for it' a second time, preferring instead to let the human 'play fetch'. I'm quite sure they must be chuckling inside that we are dumb enough for fall for a trick more than once!

male maremma playing with his pups displaying the loving nature of these livestock guardian dogs

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