I know I’m not the only one who has a dog with a tennis ball obsession. Or, you could call it a retrieving obsession. It gets pretty annoying when my dog is obsessing over crumbled pieces of paper or hair ties or a stuffed animal. He will toss objects to me over and over, hoping I might throw them for him.

For the most part the mutt has mastered the “leave it” command. So at least when I tell him to leave it, he knows I’m not up for his game. The “go to your bed” command also comes in handy. Ace can’t annoy me while he’s lying on his dog bed. It’s a nice way to get him to calm down.

Last week I created a challenge for Ace that gets him to think while we are playing fetch. Instead of mindlessly chasing after the ball, he has to put some thought into what he’s doing.

It’s “simple.” All Ace has to do is make eye contact with me three different times: Before I pick up the ball, before I throw the ball and before he retrieves the ball. I don’t even say anything. I just stand there and wait for Ace to make eye contact on his own. He has to figure out on his own what gets me to throw the ball. And guess what? I’m not going to throw it if he sits there and stares at it or repeatedly tosses it at me.

tennis-ball-obsession

Encourage your dog to make eye contact while training.

Eye contact is a great training tool for dogs in general. It teaches them to focus on you. With treats and encouragement, looking at you should be a positive experience for your dog. With Ace, I encourage him to make eye contact with me rather than stare at the ball while we are playing fetch. It works this way:

1. I pick up the ball after my dog makes eye contact.

Ace drops the ball at my feet. I tell him to heel, and he sits at my left side. He listens to commands well, but he does so while staring at the ball. So at this point, he will be sitting in heel position but staring at the ball on the ground. If your dog needs a reminder to stay in heel position, keep his leash on and stand on it. That way if he gets up, you can quickly put him back.

While Ace is sitting at my side waiting for me to pick up the ball, I don’t say anything. I remain standing and wait for him to look at me on his own. When he does, I tell him “good boy” and pick up the ball.

2. I throw the ball after my dog makes eye contact.

This part is harder for Ace because his excitement escalates when he sees me pick up the ball. He will remain in heel position, but his body stiffens and he becomes fixated. Drool flows.

“Oh my gosh! She’s going to throw it!!”

I stand calmly with the ball on my right side. Again, I wait for Ace to pull himself together and look into my eyes instead of at the ball. Once he does, I tell him he’s a good boy and I throw the ball. He is not released to retrieve the ball quite yet.

3. I release my dog after he makes eye contact.

This whole time, Ace has been sitting and staying in heel position. Once I’ve thrown the ball, I wait one last time for him to make eye contact. This part is the easiest for Ace and he looks at me almost right away and even keeps looking at me for a second or two. Once he does this, he gets the ultimate reward of “OK!” which means he can run and get the ball. He drops it at my feet and we repeat the whole process. The whole routine takes about two minutes.

We’ve tried this “game,” two different days for about five or 10 minutes each. So far, it takes Ace about 20 seconds before he will look up at me. When he does, it’s for about a half-second. He seems to have already learned that if he looks up at me, I will pick up the ball. But he’s so obsessed with the ball that it takes him a whole 20 seconds to get himself to look away from it. I hope to get this time down to nothing.

Does your dog have any kind of obsession? How do you challenge your dog?

By the way, if anyone thinks only female dogs kill grass, take a look at our backyard!