What's the Big Deal About Fetching
How come some dogs will drive you crazy to play fetch, while others just don't get it (pun intended). We all know it has to do with breeding, but even within breeds we do see variation in this drive. I can anecdotally testify to the differences between breeds. Years ago when our kennel was dedicated to dog sledding and Siberian Huskies, my main interest was still obedience. As you know, retrieving is involved at the higher levels of obedience. Well Maddie, being a sled dog, could never see the point of retrieving, and it took me several years to get her to the level my retrievers are at, at 8 weeks of age.
So as we suspected it probably has to do with breeding, but a recent study has found that there may be an element of retrieving innate in all breeds.
Christina Hansen-Wheat of Stockholm University, Sweden is interested in how domestication affects animal behaviour, and to that end raises litters of both dog and wolf pups. In one test, a ball is thrown across the room and the pups reaction is documented. It was expected that the wolf pups would show no interest in chasing balls, and indeed this was the case in two of the three wolf litters. However, to their surprise, in the third litter several individuals not only chased the ball but returned it to an unfamiliar person. Although unexpected, in retrospect, Hansen-Wheat surmises that it makes sense.
"Wolf puppies showing human-directed behavior could have had a selective advantage in early stages of dog domestication," she says. In other words perhaps a willingness to retrieve led to domestication.
Dr. Stanley Coren talks about three different types of intelligence in dogs:
For retrieving breeds on the other hand the activity of retrieving is innately rewarding. If you like playing football, you play football even if you don’t get paid to do it. It just feels good to do it. The same is true for dogs.
The one thing common to almost all dogs is their compulsion to bond with their humans. If throwing a ball is how we spend time with our dogs, then it makes sense that they are going to drive us nuts wanting to fetch.