Playing fetch - Dogs that won’t return or drop their ball
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Playing fetch - Dogs that won’t return or drop their ball

Dogs
Education & Training

Playing fetch is something that most dogs enjoy, and for very active and lively breeds like the Springer spaniel, a game of fetch can help them to get the additional exercise that they need and allow them to run around freely, without having to match them pace for pace!

While playing fetch comes naturally to most dogs and few dogs can resist taking off after a ball, some dogs don’t seem to really understand the rules of the game-and will either fail to bring the ball back to you to throw again, or come back with it but then won’t drop it or let it go!

If this sounds like your dog, playing ball with them is probably rather frustrating, particularly if you have more than one dog and the game ends when one of them disappears off with the ball, or won’t surrender it.

In this article, we will look at how to work with your dog to retrain them about the rules of playing fetch, and how to get your dog to bring the ball back and surrender it to continue the game. Read on to learn more.

Dogs that run off with the ball

If your dog is apt to take off with the ball and fail to bring it back, actually playing fetch with them can be a challenge! Many dogs are possessive about their toys and other resources and are reluctant or unwilling to share it or let go of it when they have it-and this might be the case with every toy or ball you take to the park, or just a certain favourite one.

Additionally, some dogs don’t understand the game itself, nor realise that you’re not throwing them a prize to keep, but playing an interactive game with them, and so identifying what your dog is thinking when they play is a good start with retraining.

If you always play with the same ball or if your dog has a specific favourite, try using a different one, which your dog may be less possessive over. Also, if your dog doesn’t like to share their toys and you take them to a park where other dogs play, they may be reluctant to surrender or bring back the ball lest someone else runs off with it!

Getting a dog to come back to you when they have found the ball is something that dogs who understand the game do on their own-because they want the game to continue and have another chance to chase after it. However, if your dog keeps well away once they have caught the ball, you will need to integrate recall commands and skills to get your dog to return to you, and this area might need work in and of itself first.

Work on using a command to get your dog to look at you, and use it sparingly and clearly so that it doesn’t get lost in the background noise to your dog-and when your dog does return to you, give them a treat and praise, and send them off again.

Don’t only use the recall command to curb your dog’s behaviour or at the end of the walk to take them home, because if your dog knows that recall means game over, they will be reluctant to comply.

To achieve good recall, you have to convince your dog that coming back has a greater reward than ignoring you-and as this becomes ingrained in your dog’s mind, they will respond instinctively to your command.

Then, you can use the recall command when necessary to bring your dog back with the ball, and in time, they will begin to bring it back without the need for the command.

Dogs that refuse to drop the ball

If your dog will reliably return with the ball after they catch it but won’t surrender it, the reasons for this are likely to be similar to a failure to return in the first place-such as resource guarding, not understanding the game, and trying to keep the ball away from other dogs.

An additional element that may come into play in this instance too is if your dog knows that you will negotiate for the ball or try to take it from them, turning it into a game of tug the toy, or of chasing after them to get the ball! All of this is likely to be entertaining for your dog and provide them with fulfilment, and reinforces the behaviour of hanging onto the ball once they have caught it.

Make sure that you have a “drop it” or “leave it” command for your dog, and when they return with the ball but won’t let go, or keep coming up to you with it but back off when you try to take it, integrate the command.

Stay still-make your dog bring the ball to you, instead of going after them-and get their attention before giving the “drop it” command. Reinforce the command with a treat, but only give your dog the treat once you have the ball-don’t give the treat beforehand, and then get into a grabbing race with your dog to be the first one to pick the ball up!

Again, conditioning improves compliance with the command, and over time, will reinforce the fact that dropping the ball means another round of chasing and catching it, and not that the ball is being taken away.

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