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.

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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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51 thoughts on “How to Manage A Dog Obsessed With Ball”

  1. A few tips I could add:

    Have a spare ready if your ball is lost. Some retrieving dogs will not give up the search when the ball was thrown, even if it is washing out to the ocean, over the fence of someone else’s property, or if they have to follow around another dog who has it until the ball is dropped (to name only a few things that could happen).

    Take water safety extremely seriously. Invest in a life jacket for your dog, even when retrieving from shore. Do not let your dog retrieve in the water while on leash – a very dangerous practice that may be “officially required” at some beaches.

    Do your best to harness and train an understanding of which is his ball/toy/object and steer all energy toward retrieving his ball and not another ball, toy or object (stick).

    Don’t bring your dog where they might interfere with someone else’s game of fetch, especially if you don’t have a rock solid drop. Your dog will be a nuisance to other owners and dogs at best and may even create situations of resource guarding or fights at worst.

    1. True. This isn’t normally an issue as most dogs don’t seem to steal other dog’s toys (in my experience anyway) but some few do and it can start a fight if the toy being stolen belongs to a ball obsessed dog. My dog is obsessed with one of her balls – she’s very possessive over it and although she’s not one to start a fight normally, she can get snappy if another dog takes her special ball.

  2. #2 So obvious, but easy to overlook! Maya and Pierson don’t have any obsessions, unless you count Pierson’s habit of always being on alert. I still use #3, the “that’s enough” command when I am done playing or when I am done petting. If I didn’t use that command, they would continue to pester me with those adorable brown eyes.

    Great tips, Linday!

  3. My sisters and I get so mad at dogs that are tennis ball obsessed. We don’t understand it and only want to play chase, but they only have eyes for tennis balls. Mom is thankful we don’t have that issue.

  4. Our family dog had a tennis ball obsession and we did the same thing throwing a ball out into the ocean too bad our dog didn’t have the sense to turn around. I had to go retrieve him! We learned a lesson that day.

    There are two toys our guide dog puppies are not allowed to play with one is a tennis ball and the other is a frisbee. The reason for this is because both frisbees and tennis balls are seen regularly in public. If a guide dog were obsessed with frisbees or tennis balls and were to see one while working this could put both him and his handler in danger.

  5. Some friends of mine have a Golden with this obsession. He would run himself to death if they let him, chasing tennis balls. They keep their “fetch” sessions short, like you suggest, and also put them away like you suggest.

  6. Great tips. I’ve never had a dog that was ball obsessed, but I’ve seen some at the dog park. You can and should control it and your tips are great.

      1. I have a mini Australian Shepherd who cares about nothing but playing with his ball. He can’t take his eyes off it. It Drives ME Crazy

    1. My lab drops her ball at everyone else’s feet to play with her which can be annoying for some People, even though I am the thrower. How can I stop this behaviour. She is ball obsessed .

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        That’s exactly what this post is about. I would probably just put the ball away or work on a very solid, “leave it” and “stay.”

  7. My dog Rico has the same ball obsession, with the exception that he does not like to give it up for you to throw unless you have another ball ready. The biggest problem I have is that we live in Brooklyn in an apartment and the only places I can take him to be off leash there is inevitably always someone else throwing the ball for their dog. Rico will crash their game (he’s also very fast so he always wins). Training him to come when there’s a ball in the dog park is nearly impossible with so many distractions. Any suggestions on how to manage his ball obsession but also let him have off leash time?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh gosh, I can only imagine! 🙂

      Really, all I can suggest is to work really hard on commands like come, leave it and drop without such huge distractions and then very slowly work into the dog park situation. I realize this is easier said than done because where else can you practice it?

      Could you visit the dog park in quieter times for a few months? Or maybe work with him on a long lead somewhere with a friend’s dog as a milder distraction?

      How about always having one of those tennis balls with a squeaker in it on hand? Will he drop his current ball to come to you for that?

      I know how hard it is to get an obsessive dog to obey when they are in that state of mind, so I was thinking maybe a squeaker toy sound could help “snap” him out of it for a second.

      1. Thanks! Yes we do work on come, leave it and drop outside the park – at home and with a long lead. I could always to more though. The squeaky ball is a good idea for getting his attention – I may just have to fend off the other dogs too – everyone seems to love the squeak 🙂

  8. Wow, I thought I had a pretty good idea of the drawbacks of having a ball obsessed dog, but now I see there is a lot more than I knew. Sean really opened my eyes to the dangers of a dog in the water. If I take them to the beach, I know to be a lot more careful now.

  9. I must have somehow stopped following your blog! Not sure how but I am looking forward to reading it again:)

    Kaya is ball obsessed so I have taken these things into account too. I limit play at home, otherwise she can’t relax. It has been an awesome way to work on her obedience though. She’ll do just about anything for the go ahead to get the ball. Luckily if I stop throwing it, she is content just to carry it around at the park or beach. And I do have to wrap her upper pads because she cuts them open:(

      1. Yep, but luckily she enjoys others things if the game is not going on. Also luckily, she only likes her ball and only likes me to throw it. She sometimes finds random balls on our hikes and brings them all the way back to the car. I never have to buy tennis balls…haha!

        1. Lindsay Stordahl

          Haha! Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually paid for a tennis ball either. But somehow we have about 10 of them!

  10. Okay so this post is hilarious and has Alfie’s name written all over it. I’ve long since stopped buying tennis balls, Alfie will search them out in the park for me 🙂 He is so obsessed he cannot be trusted to play with balls in the house anymore – he gets way too excited and forgets to sleep, drink or whatever else dogs do during the day. I hide them away until we take him out for a walk, and even then I have to limit his time playing fetch as he’s been known to run until his paws quite literally bleed (yes, its happened!).

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Haha! I’m not sure who is crazier over a ball – Ace or Alfie! Sounds like Alfie might be even MORE nuts over a ball. Is that even possible? 🙂

  11. Our Girl is tennis ball obsessed and has, on several occasions, hurt a front leg, leaping and skidding whilst catching the ball. The vet has said that, for the sake of her skeleton and muscles, she should not – ever – play ball games again. There is no way to explain that to Jessie, so following a month of lead only exercise, even in the garden, we have returned to the park. She has a flourescent yellow vest marked “NO BALL GAMES PLEASE” and I try to limit her to “Disabled dog games”. I get her to drop the ball – she has trouble releasing it into a hand – pick up the ball, hold her harness, asking her to “Wait”, I throw the ball, which, much to her disgust no doubt, goes a few yards only, then release her to find it. If we’re lucky and the grass is quite long, I try to distract her from fixing on where it falls, then it takes her longer to locate it. Her tail is whirling the whole time she is searching, so it’s a great alternative to the excitment of haring after a flying missile. As to the effectiveness of the vest, well there are still a few divots who chuck the ball for her, but hopefully, some will take note, despite Jessie’s entreaties and her
    “pretty-face-pleases”!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Wow, Ace needs one of those vests! He has an injured shoulder due to chasing a ball so hard over the years. I still like to take him to the dog beach, but it’s hard to prevent people from throwing the ball for him. He also has the “pretty please” face.

  12. My (heeler x everything) pup is ball crazy. We have to hide them in the freezer because it’s the only place he can’t sniff them out. If he does find one he can’t get to, I’m sure he would sit and stare in the general direction forever (if we didn’t stop him) 100% of the time there’s a ball of some sort hidden there in some obscure place.
    He will also run until he collapses so we keep fetch short and always have a bottle of cold water and a foldable bowl no matter where we go for the rest breaks I have to make him take.
    He has also learnt to place the ball near our hands (wherever we are) in order to fetch at any time.
    He also used to suck on golf balls as a puppy…sort of like a dummy I always thought. I find it adorable he enjoys them so much. Every now and again I’ll buy a 15 pack of tennis balls in a mesh bag and he happily spends the day playing, hiding them around the house etc.

  13. Our one year old puppy is fetch obsessed, she used to love running and playing with other dogs, now its “ball this” and “ball that”, in fact it doesnt need to be a ball, she just wants to fetch. I’m so glad i’ve stumbled accross your website, i will try some of your tips and hopefully they will work. Dont get me wrong i love the fact she wants to fetch, but she just wont stop, if i could even limit this behaviour i’d be happy. Our other dog just rolls his eyes at her and tuts.

  14. Christone Green

    My dog, Oreo, is ball obsessed, which is odd since he’s not a retriever at all. In fact, he’s a Shi Tzu. However, he lives to play ball. I have never had any problems limiting his play, however, he will chase any type of ball, including baseballs and golf balls, which had led to a lot of teeth being broken off in his mouth (before I rescued him). The only real issue that I have with his obsession is that often times when he is in intense fetch mode, he will drop the ball on the ground and then pee on it. Suffice it to say, that behavior calls for immediate end to our game at least until the ball dries after I rinse it off. Recently, his favorite ball is the inside part of a tennis ball sans fuzz, so that makes it a little easier to take. Why does he do this? Is he just oblivious to where he is urinating or is he exibiting a behavior that you all may have seen in other dogs. We do have quite a large furry family, so is he marking it? He is fixed, and about 5 years old.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hey Christine. I have not seen a dog do that before. I am not sure if he is marking it or just accidentally peeing on it. Almost seems like he might be marking it.

  15. Hi everyone. Im having trouble with our dog. Obsessed with his ball (s). He is the snob at the park who only cares about his ball. We play with it inside – i know we have to break this habit, but i feel terribly guilty if we put it out of sight and he goes into a depression mode if he can’t find it or we won’t play with him. Please help. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  16. At home my yorkie puppy is ball obsessed, and maybe a bit OCD. At 9 weeks old he learnt to fetch. Strangely though he does not exhibit his obsession when in the park – there will only chase but not fetch his balls.

    As soon as we are at home/awake he wants to be let into the living room to go and find his balls. He will bring one to you and pushes it to your feet/hands. If you don’t respond he will knock it into you repeatedly. Ignoring the ball after throwing it will cause him make small noises, then he works up to very loud ear-piercing barks all the time staring at the ball. He then moves on from these to noises like he is dying and collapses flat on the floor whilst staring at it (looks like a tiny bearskin rug with all his hair).

    Whilst playing fetch he forgets everything else and can have accidents. He would rather play than eat, and sometimes you see him falling asleep on his feet whilst waiting for you to pick up the ball.

    His OCD is that he has to put the ball on the floor and roll it to you before you are allowed to touch it, and if he is not satisfied he will move it and roll it again. When we are in the kitchen he goes to another room and rolls it into the kitchen for us, he can never be in the kitchen when he drops the ball. When his brother gets to the ball first he gives the ball to the obsessed one to bring back (which is okay as the brother only enjoys the chase and not the retrieving).

    He is always trying to pick up multiple balls, with his record being 3 medium-sized tennis balls! (this is a dog with a 1 inch jaw!) And if he cant pick them all up he dribbles the extras back to us. He likes to check all balls are where he left them with a tap of his nose when his brother is around.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh wow, that is impressive! I have known of a cairn terrier who had a similar obsession. It must be something with the terrier instinct to chase small animals. What you describe is a lot like my Lab mix Ace. It can be so frustrating sometimes.

    2. I have a cairn terrier who is exactly like this even so much to the point that he forgets his potty training while playing fetch and has accidents in the house. The upside like this article says he will never venture far from me as long as i have a ball, but I’m afraid his obsession is a little too much. I’ve just started using some of the techniques in this article in the hopes that it will help.

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        Oh gosh, good luck with everything! I understand, except my dog thankfully hasn’t had accidents. However, he won’t go to the bathroom when he’s fixated.

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  18. Thanks for a great article. We just adopted and adorable terrier cross who also has this obsession. I now understand that it can’t be cured, but your management tips will be really helpful.
    A couple of years ago in Germany we came across a lab retrieving a ball from a fast flowing river – I even videoed it. One time it did go too far and we thought the dog would just keep going. He eventually reluctantly gave up. We thought he was being very clever, but I now realise he was just being obsessive. Our mutt does switch off eventually but during the game she even ignores snacky treats.

  19. I have a 2yr old sprooker, she will pick a ball up from indoors and just chuck it out you and if you don’t respond she will whine, this said if I put it out of site this usually stops it. But as someone else said even when you hide the balls they sniff them out! Out on walk she will constantly pester me for the ball if we walk where we have played ball previously, if I change the location she looks but soon realises there is no ball game. The problem with this is there is only so many places you can walk your dog before work. She comes to work with me and when I leave the office for a break she will be circling me as if to say lets play ball. I realise that had I not started the ball throwing in the first place we wouldn’t have this problem now. I am dealing with it by keeping a ball on me out of site on walks as someone commented it is a fantastic way of controlling her, sadly it maybe not ideal though. All this said thankfully I did train her before this obsession so its not all negative she is a lovely dog.

  20. My lab after playing fetch one in the morning for like 15 mins. And then we go to a field and play fetch again for like 30 mins. Then we walk for three miles and after the walk while I’m driving home she whines and crys and shivers because she knows that’s where another tennis ball is and she thinks we will play some more. Which I will not do. But what do I do with her undaunted whiney shivering self while I tell her no enough etc all the way home

  21. Sandy Weinstein

    Evie loved balls but i never gave her tennis balls very much. my dental vet is against them. it is okay to let them play with them but not chew on them b/c they wear away the enamel on the teeth and also their teeth. once you have finished playing, take the ball away. Evie loved to play with balls, she had big balls, like soccier or play balls. she never really liked little balls. my other 2 gals do not really like balls either.

  22. My dog Robin is obsessed as well, but recently it’s become very dangerous. If someone is walking with a ball or a stick Robin will do anything to grab it out their hands, oblivious to everything – even fingers. He’s not a mean dog, he would never hurt anyone on purpose but this problem has caused him to “accidentally” bite people. No one has complained yet but I need to correct him immediately. Any thoughts/suggestions?

  23. I limit my mini Aussie shepherd to 5 mins of ball fetching, I also have a bottle of cold water and dish so she can cool down after fetching. She would fetch all day long, I use a tennis ball and a big cloth squeaky ball. She needs both balls together and as long as I have that squeaky ball She will always cone to me and sit waiting for it.

  24. Sandy Weinstein

    my dental vet, who is a specialist, does not like tennis balls. if you let your dog play with them make sure they are not chewing on the ball, take it away when the dog is not playing with it. the cover of the balls wears down the teeth and enamel.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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

  28. 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?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      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?

  29. 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!!!

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