Teaching Your Dog When Play Is Over – An ‘Off Switch’

My dog is a retrieving fool.

Even in his old age, Ace will not stop dropping his tennis ball at my feet for “one” more toss if he knows he can get away with it.

“One more time?” he asks, tail wagging.

That’s why I use the phrase “That’s enough.”

I say it in a serious, mean voice.

This might seem a bit extreme to the average dog owner, but this phrase is important for keeping my dog safe. Ace is one of those dogs who will injure himself from “working” too hard. He’s done so many times over the years, which of course is my fault.

2019 update: Ace has passed away.

The dangers of over-working your dog

Today, I have to make sure to remind my friends and family members not to throw balls or sticks too many times for Ace. Most people do not realize how easy it is for a dog to overheat.

My dog is so serious about playing fetch that he doesn’t even pant. He stares at the ball, completely fixated, holding his breath and shaking.

Here’s the face he makes:

Teaching your dog when play is over

One time, when Ace was just 1 year old or so, I was playing fetch with him for maybe a half-hour at the dog park. When I stopped throwing the ball, he collapsed to the earth, completely exhausted, rib cage heaving.

I’d never owned a ball-obsessed dog before, and I hadn’t quite realized how careful I needed to be with setting limits.

Thankfully, I was able to get him to some water and slowly cool his body. He ended up being fine once he cooled off. (And ready to play some more!)

That’s the day I learned to be careful with my crazy dog.

Why some dogs need to learn an off switch

“That’s enough” is my signal to my dog that means “I’m done throwing the ball. Go lie down.”

Since he won’t stop playing on his own, I have to set this rule for him.

When I say “that’s enough” there is no negotiation.

I am consistent and serious, because if I’m not, my dog knows it right away.

If any of you have equally obsessive dogs, I’m sure you understand the dog will always keep trying to play if he thinks there’s a chance you’ll give in, right?

My dog thinks he’s so sneaky when he ignores me and just moves on to the next person with his ball, especially at the dog park.

People are very impressed by dogs that play fetch.

“Oh, wow! Your dog plays fetch?!”

And then I have to be the “mean” mom who goes over and moves my dog away.

“I’m sorry, but he can’t play any more fetch or he’ll hurt himself.”

People look at me like I’m a little off, but that’s OK. 🙂

How to teach your dog an off switch – Teaching your dog when play is over

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1. Decide what word or phrase you want to use.

When you decide to end the playing, calmly say “done” or “that’s enough” or whatever phrase you want to use.

It should be different from the “release word” you use during training.

For example, I use “OK!” to release Ace from stay or sit, and then he often grabs his ball as a reward.

I use “That’s enough” to signal we’re done playing fetch or tug.

2. Truly ignore your dog.

Once you’ve said your “off switch” phrase, you have to mean it.

Truly stop playing.

I would also avoid talking to your dog, petting your dog and looking at your dog unless he lies down or sits beside you. If he does, praise him.

If he keeps pestering you, firmly say “No. That’s enough.” Then,  put the toy away if needed and turn away from your dog, walk away or leave the room.

Other tips for teaching your dog when play is over:

  • Give your dog something to chew on or play with on his own when you’re done playing, like a Kong toy or a chew.
  • Put him in a kennel/crate for some down time. Not as a punishment, just time to chill out.
  • Give him (or teach him) the command “go to your bed” or even simply “stay.”
  • It might help to keep certain toys put away or to keep certain toys outside.

How do the rest of you signal when play is over?

Do your dogs seem to get it?

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Related posts:

How to tire out a  hyper dog

How to manage a dog obsessed with a ball

How to stop a dog from whining for attention

15 thoughts on “Teaching Your Dog When Play Is Over – An ‘Off Switch’”

  1. Good blog Lindsay! It’s important , you’re so right. It’s something I didn’t really know when I started dog walking. Someone mentioned it to me at some point so when I regularly played for an hour with a golden retriever, (with a tennis ball, what else) I made sure she would have rest periods throughout. Thankfully, she went along with it just fine. I’d feel so guilty if I was responsible for harming a client’s dog!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh gosh that would be so awful to harm someone else’s dog. I worked at a boarding kennel once where a bulldog overheated in the play yard. It was everyone’s fault, including mine. I was only 16 at the time but learned a lot from that experience.

  2. Your description of Ace’s fetch obsession makes me laugh! And their little tricks they think we don’t know about…lol.
    Kaya is fetch obsessed too but luckily she knows when she’s had enough and finds a shady spot to lie down and chomp on her beloved ball. And if we’re playing on a hike or at the beach and I don’t feel like throwing it anymore, she’s content to just carry it as we walk. She also looooooves to dig at it in the sand or snow. I think she would do that for hours on end if I let her.
    And she will only drop the ball for me so I don’t have to worry about stranger danger. It’s actually funny because she loves to bring the ball over to people just to show off. When they say drop or try to get it from her mouth I have to tell them she’s just showing it to you. Haha.

  3. This is so important, particularly when it gets hot. In the Winter, I don’t know what it would take for Cookie to have enough. In the summer, she’s pretty smart about it for most part. I use “all done” and a hand signal.

  4. I’m completely with you on the ‘ball obsessed’ thing. My little golden Cockapoo is so nuts for his ball. He’s totally focused and like Ace will stare at me and his ball shaking with the excitement of it, so I’ve had to adopt a cut off and I always say in an (what I hope is an impressive voice!) “FINISHED”. He seems to understand that’s the ball bit over with otherwise he would keep on going till the cows come home!

  5. When you describe Ace it could just as well be my Bailey! I can’t believe how totally fixated he is with a ball (be it his or one he’s ‘borrowed’ of another unsuspecting dog). He can fetch for England.
    I have to firmy say FINISHED! He is the only dog I know who is like this so your post is very reassuring that I don’t have a weird dog. Thank you.

  6. That information was soooo helpful. I thought I was the only one with a ball obsessed dog! I am going to try your recommendations.

  7. I use “all done” and just ignore the behavior. It works in many situations. I would also put the ball away where the dog couldn’t see it. I’ve owned weimies and aussies and know how intense they can be. I also taught them “settle” to reinforce it’s time to stop. We can’t help love them though, can we?

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