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Breaking a dog’s ball obsession: Days 29-30

It’s rewarding for me to work with dogs because they’ve taught me that with time and patience, dogs and owners can overcome almost anything. It’s just up to the owner to make changes. After all, most problems are the human’s fault to begin with.

So many retrievers are obsessed with tennis balls, so many border collies and other breeds are fixated on Frisbees, squirrels, cats. Some of these dogs are straight out of shelters, their time spent there often related to their obsessions. Other dogs have lived with families their whole lives but remain unchallenged, untrained, unexercised or misunderstood.

In Ace’s case, his ball obsession started before I adopted him. Instead of catching it early, I encouraged the behavior for a whole year. Throwing a ball was easy and convenient, and he enjoyed it so much. I didn’t recognize the problem until months later, and at that point working on the issue seemed too difficult. I didn’t think about fixing the issue until I realized that helping Ace (not pictured) overcome his ball obsession wasn’t about my sanity, but it was about helping him become a more balanced dog.

This was our hardest challenge so far, but that also meant I noticed more improvements. In the beginning of our challenge, Ace would not eat, drink, come when called, go to the bathroom or play if there was a ball in sight. Now he will do all those things. He keeps track and remembers where the ball is, but he will voluntarily do other things. A month ago he would not even notice other dogs, people, squirrels or bikers. Now there are times when he will run up to a dog and initiate play. I’m waiting for a day when he actually runs up to another dog, leaving me standing there with a ball in my hand.

One idea I have for this week is to give Ace short “time outs” at the dog park. If he starts to become too obsessive over a ball, I will make him lie down and relax for five or ten minutes. I might even do this if he doesn’t obsess over a ball just to help him learn to relax and enjoy himself while enforcing rules at the same time. Some people might think it’s mean to make a dog sit still at a dog park, but I think it will help Ace learn to be calm. After all, we don’t visit the dog park for exercise, we visit the dog park to socialize.

Today we are heading over to the store to buy a can of new tennis balls. Then we are headed to the park. Ace’s problem will not go away if I keep him separated from tennis balls. But he can continue to make minor improvements if I continue to work with him. As always, we still have a lot of work to do.

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