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How to Manage A Dog Obsessed With Ball

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.

Oblivious.

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.

(2019 update: Ace has passed away.)

How to manage a tennis-ball obsessed dog

How to manage a black Lab's tennis ball obsession

1. Don’t get mad at your dog for having a tennis ball obsession.

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 for your dog obsessed with a ball.

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.

My dog Ace the black Lab mix is obsessed with playing fetch

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 obsessed with a ball.

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.

Black Lab mix retrieving a stick from the lake

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 for your ball obsessed dog.

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.

Be safe!

What are some of your tips for managing a dog with a ball obsession?

Let me know in the comments! Tell us about your dog’s tennis ball obsession!

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Martha Muehlbauer

Saturday 25th of January 2020

My Maltipoo had to have surgery on his back leg because of his obsession with ball chasing. He literally would run so fast it looked like the back legs were drug along for the ride! I have to hide his ball(Kong) whatever, in the garage because he can sniff it out no matter where you hide it. The worse thing I notice now is he looses interest in eating and going potty and if I don’t insist he go outside to take care of that, he suddenly runs out the doggy door and doesn’t get very far because he waits so long! Yeegods!! I have never had a dog like this before and it is maddening!!!

Xola's Mom

Thursday 16th of August 2018

I have a question. My Dog Xola is obsessed with tennis balls we let her play but she wants to shred them in our bed and that's not allowed. When we take them away and hide them, she looks for them and cries. It's 2 am and she's been trying to find this ball for 4 hours, she did this all last night as well. My husband and I are exhausted and don't know what to do. Any tips?

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 17th of August 2018

Once you put the ball away, could you get her interested in something else? maybe a quick walk or working on some training with high-value treats? I would also put the ball away much earlier, maybe in the afternoon vs. bed time. I notice some dogs get more "crazy" over their toys in the evenings, especially puppies and younger dogs. Or maybe you could give her some type of chew like a bully stick when you put the ball away?

terry bailey

Monday 28th of May 2018

I have just taken a 7 year old rescue dog who is ball obsessed. At first it looked good as you can be pretty certain to get your dog back but after 5 days I now realise this is a major problem.

I will try the points in the excellent article in removing all toys and balls away except for execise time.

Not sure I will be able to handle dog in long term .He is a lovely dog and quite well trained except for his obsession

Ruth

Saturday 31st of March 2018

We just adopted a dog, lab mix, who is ball obsessed. Calm and gentle, especially around our little boys. Shares the ball politely when playing fetch. But will literally play past the point of exhaustion if we let her. Got her a Kong for a chew toy inside, and I've noticed she is starting to act the same way about it, even though it isn't a tennis ball. We keep the balls in a container outside. The problem is getting her inside afterward. She prefers to stand by her ball container and look sad ): Glad she's not the only ball obsessed pup out there.

Keith Amdur

Sunday 20th of August 2017

OMG Emma Lou is ball crazy.It`s me, not her.She is doing what makes feel so good.She has balls everywhere, People bring her balls all the time.No joke she has hidden balls all over the neighborhood.I am going put away all balls and toys.She has pulled muscles in her leg because of hours of fetching.My fault.People call her ball drunk dog.You have to check this behavior when their puppies.At age 4 it a lot harder.I feel bad because I really am hurting her by letting her go ball crazy.Thanks for your blog Lindsay.It has opened my eyes to what I`m doing.The other end of the leash is so true.Having a ball junkie for a dog is not cute anymore.Plus she does not engage other dogs with a ball in her mouth.WOW, this is an eye opener.