My dog is a retrieving fool and has no off switch.
Once when my brother stood in the yard holding a ball, my dog did not notice a BEAR run across the yard or the fact that my parents’ dog was chasing the bear.
When I first adopted Ace, I thought maybe I could break his tennis ball obsession – HA!
Instead, I’ve found ways to manage his behavior around a ball, and the following are my top management tips.
I know we have a few other ball-obsessed dogs among us (Alfie, Mort …), so please share any additional tips if you have them.
How to manage a tennis-ball obsessed dog
1. Don’t get mad at your dog.
I get irritated with Ace when we visit the dog beach and he won’t socialize with the other dogs. Instead, he just runs around looking for a ball in a near panic.
I’ve learned to accept this about my dog. He will always have that drive to retrieve, and I can’t change that about him.
Instead, I look at the positives:
- My dog will not run away as long as I have a ball
- My dog will do just about anything for a ball, so he’s extremely easy to train
- Lots of people wish their dogs would play fetch since it’s an easy way to exercise a dog
2. Don’t keep toys out all time.
I’m amazed when people tell me, “My Lab never stops bringing me his ball.”
Well, put the ball away!
I keep Ace’s toys put away, and I set rules for indoor play. Fetch is mostly saved for outside, other than a few, rare games started on my terms.
3. Have a command to signal when play, or “work,” is done.
I use the command “That’s enough!” to tell my dog under no circumstance am I throwing that ball again. I have to say it in a stern, almost mean, voice.
This command only works because I’m serious and my dog knows it. If he’s extra wound up, such as when multiple “ball throwers” are present, sometimes I just have to take the ball away.
4. Play fetch in a structured way, with time limits.
I try to keep the hyped-up, mindless fetch throwing to a minimum. Instead, I make my dog take breaks, and I include structured rules or commands. For example, I might make Ace sit until I release him to retrieve the ball. And sometimes I have him wait while I hide the ball, followed by the command “Find it!”
You may want to try disc dog classes, flyball or other sports with your dog. Ace and I took a disc dog class for fun and he of course loved this. We also do lots of fetch playing in the water whenever possible.
5. Ask people not to throw balls or sticks for your dog.
People love when a dog will fetch, and they can’t seem to help themselves from throwing a ball or a stick for Ace, even once he’s near exhaustion.
If you have a dog like Ace, I’m sure you’ve heard things like “Wow! He loves to fetch!” Or, “Wow, how did you get him to do this?! He’s trained so well!”
Um … he just does it. Not trained.
I’ve learned that sometimes I just have to step in and ask people not to throw balls or sticks for Ace, especially at the dog park or dog beach. With friends and family, I ask them to limit it to one or two throws. If they don’t listen the first time, I ask again. When necessary, I’ve learned to intervene to protect my dog from exhaustion or injury, especially now that he’s getting older.
6. Build solid obedience skills.
All ball-obsessed dogs need to learn a solid come, sit and stay at minimum. It’s a lifelong challenge to keep working on these skills around serious distractions such as two people playing catch. Ace just about loses his mind when he’s not allowed to run back and forth between two people throwing any sort of round object. Managing this will always be a work in progress, and that’s OK.
The commands “drop” and “leave it” are also important, for obvious reasons.
7. Protect your dog from injuries.
Some examples of fetch-related injuries could include:
- injured knees or shoulders from sudden stopping and starting motions over time
- worn paw pads from retrieving on pavement, ice, gravel or hard dirt
- nails worn down and bloody for the same reason
- heat stroke
8. Limit fetch to 5 minutes or less.
A good rule of thumb is to limit fetch playing to five minutes for most dogs under most circumstances. At the very least, just pause for a minute to make sure your dog is doing OK. Take a look at his paw pads. Take note of how heavy he’s breathing.
If someone else will be watching your dog for the day or for the weekend, make sure they are also aware of the need to set limits. Make sure to mention this to a pet sitter or dog daycare provider as well. Some people just assume dogs will quit playing on their own, but that is not the case with a dog like Ace.
9. Be extra careful at the beach.
I’ve seen my dog swimming out into the ocean to retrieve a toy, and I thank God he managed to have the sense to turn around once he realized how far out he was. This was scary for me and him, and it’s of course my fault for putting him in that position to begin with.