My dog Ace was a retrieving fool and had 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 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, 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 for having a tennis ball obsession.
I used to get irritated with Ace when we visited the dog beach and he wouldn’t socialize with the other dogs. Instead, he just ran around looking for a ball in a near panic.
I learned to accept this about my dog. He would always have that drive to retrieve, and I couldn’t change that about him.
Instead, I looked at the positives:
- My dog would not run away as long as I had a ball
- My dog would do just about anything for a ball, so he was 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 kept Ace’s toys put away, and I set rules for indoor play. Fetch was 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 used 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 worked because I was serious and my dog knew it. If he was extra wound up, such as when multiple “ball throwers” were present, sometimes I just had to take the ball away.
4. Play fetch in a structured way, with time limits.
I tried to keep the hyped-up, mindless fetch throwing to a minimum. Instead, I made my dog take breaks, and I included structured rules or commands. For example, I would make Ace sit until I released him to retrieve the ball. And sometimes I had him wait while I hid 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 did 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 couldn’t seem to help themselves from throwing a ball or a stick for Ace, even once he was 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 learned that sometimes I had 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 asked them to limit it to one or two throws. If they didn’t listen the first time, I asked again.
When necessary, I learned to intervene to protect my dog from exhaustion or injury, especially when he got 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.
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.
9. Be extra careful at the beach.
I saw my dog swimming out into the ocean to retrieve a toy that was too far gone, 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.
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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