Fetch: the legendary game of throwing and retrieving that dogs and hoomans know all too well. It’s easily played, and dogs seem to get some special joy from watching you throw a stick and then bringing it back to you. But why are some dogs so doggone crazy about it?
Most dogs are genetically predisposed to chasing after objects that move. Katelyn Schutz, Certified Professional Dog Trainer of Wisconsin Pet Care, says:
When you look at the domesticated dog’s closest relatives, such as the wolf or the coyote, there is a natural canine behavior called ‘prey-carrying.’ After a hunt, sometimes the wolf will carry the prey back to the den to be consumed safely with the pack, essentially ‘retrieving’ dinner for the family… the game of fetch in our pet dogs is suggested to be a simple variation of this ‘prey-carrying’ behavior.”
But there’s no denying that some dog breeds are more obsessed with this game of cat and mouse, or predator and prey, than others. This may be because we’ve encouraged a retrieving instinct through selective breeding.
Scientists speculate that the earliest domestication of dogs may have come as a result of hunting. Early humans could have bonded with wild canids and ultimately had them assist in hunts of large prey, thereby utilizing their impulse to track, chase, and retrieve.
Today, several working breeds, such as the popular Labrador Retriever, have also been taught to fetch in ways that would benefit us. Modern day hunters, for example, often use Labradors to bring back game fowl as they have soft mouths and are unlikely to shake and damage the bird.
The result of all this conditioning? Domestic dogs that not only have the urge to go after something, but also the intent to bring it back to you.
It also stimulates the reward regions of the brain and ultimately helps improve mood. Fetching can therefore make dogs feel happy, causing them to want to play again and again.
But hey, don’t settle for a stick. It’s 2016. Make sure you use a toy (like a ball, rope, or frisbee) rather than some nasty stick that you found in the woods. Vets have recently been urging dog owners to be aware of the serious injuries and health complications that can result from your dog chasing and chewing on wood.
Fetch on, motherpuppers!