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I have searched this site and didn't find a question with the specific issue we're facing.

We've tried to teach our dog fetch and came across an issue we didn't know we we're having prior to this and since then have noticed it's not a problem related to fetch training itself. Our dog (7 year old Lab mix... Or shepherd... Or anything really) will go after the ball and get it. She does then run our direction when called but takes a turn just in front of us. After that she will lay down and chew the ball making sure she keeps a certain distance to us. Most times we have to pretty much "corner" her to get close. We are certain that's because she doesn't want to give up the ball. However she displays no signs of aggression, anger, fear or excitement during the process. Once we get a hold of her she gives up the ball easily when we grab it (we don't pull or anything, she let's go when we touch it). Also later we noticed that when we proceed the walk and she has the ball to carry she does not respond when recalled as long as she has the ball.

Additional info:

She loves chewing more than anything but that's not a suitable activity for walks and I'd like to have her running and be involved in play time when on a walk. She has a chew toy available at home that she has access to 24/7 (and I'd like to keep it that way). Giving up the chew toy is not a problem at all. However she won't fetch that either but drop it when called. She is not obsessed with toys. She will let us know she wants the ball when we have it but doesn't do so in an excessive way and is fine when she doesn't get it. The ball is something special for weekend walks and is otherwise out of her reach because she will chew it up and destroy it.

We have tried multiple things such as:

  • Reward her with a treat when she gives up the ball (after cornering her) or offering a treat in return for the ball; she won't take the treat cause the ball is more important.

  • Don't bother her at all when she has the ball (no recall and nothing); she will come closer to us and lay down there but still keeps a certain distance.

  • no recall but walk up to her and put her on the leash to continue the walk not "mentioning" the ball at all; no effect at all visible the next times we tried

  • making ourselves more interesting by backing off from her after calling her... Cheering, clapping.... The whole thing; it worked two times until she understood the concept.

Actual question:

How do I get my dog to stop walking away with the ball considering the approaches we've tried? And in addition to this (same issue so probably the same answer) how do I make sure she responds when I recall her when she has the ball?

  • Do you have a lake or lagoon or pond nearby where you are allowed to swim your dog? – andrewbuilder Nov 30 '17 at 20:58
  • @andrewbuilder we do but she doesn't swim (getting the belly wet is ewww) and vet recommends no swimming. – Sambovi Nov 30 '17 at 22:29
  • Ok - I was thinking that because she is a Labrador X - she will most likely have retriever instinct and a love of water - there may be a way to train her using swimming. But if swimming is out of the question... Also if you don’t mind me asking it seems unusual for a vet to recommend no swimming for any dog let alone a retriever breed, so I’m curious to know the reason for that? – andrewbuilder Dec 2 '17 at 9:19
  • @andrewbuilder she was diagnosed with Cauda Equina Syndrome a while back and swimming led to inflammation the one time we tried this summer. Plus the vet said generally speaking the swimming motions are mostly uncoordinated (if that's the word) and will do more harm than good when the dog has back/hip issues. It was true for us. – Sambovi Dec 3 '17 at 10:15
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You need to find something worth more than the ball in your dogs eyes and offer it as reward for giving up the ball.

This can be difficult, as you've already mentioned that treats don't work, and every dog is going to be different on their preferences. You'll need to play around with other high value objects.

If nothing ends up comparing to the ball, you might need to first train her to fetch another object and reward her for bringing it back with treats or even with the ball. It's plausible that currently your dog only retrieves the ball because it's her favorite thing in the world - not because she has any desire to play fetch with you.

As a final suggestion: When you're looking for other 'high value' objects to your dog, try getting another ball. A lot of dogs have a tendency to want the thing they don't already have. If you have two balls, maybe you can prompt your dog to bring/drop the original ball in exchange for the one in your hand.

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  • Bringing in another ball would hardly help. She'd totally want to exchange but I don't see how that gets me anywhere? – Sambovi Nov 30 '17 at 20:02
  • The idea of fetching something else instead is great. I'm not sure tho if that wouldn't only redirect the problem to something else? Thank you so much for your answer – Sambovi Nov 30 '17 at 20:15
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    Well, the goal behind the other ball is that she can't have it until she drops the first ball. At that time, you'll throw the second ball/retrieve the first ball. The goal is that hopefully she'd then go 'Now you have my other ball!' and bring you back the SECOND ball. Does this cycle make sense? Can be a bit abstract, but it's hard when dealing with dogs who already have decided what their #1 favorite thing is. – Jess K. Nov 30 '17 at 20:42
  • I see that cycle work while it lasts but I'll have to break the cycle in the end... I give it two times till she's figured that out :D it's probably worth a try tho. It's moments like this I wish she wasn't this smart – Sambovi Nov 30 '17 at 22:27
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This is a fairly common problem.

I would make a game out of fetching the ball. You basically want the dog to be in drive, have her fetch, take the ball away and get her to fetch again.

You can do this by:

  1. Build drive by getting her excited about the ball. My guess is that this should not be hard since she likes the ball. It is important that she is in drive, the more the better. If you have to build drive, you can show her the ball, get excited about throwing the ball, fake throw the ball...
  2. After she fetches, do get the ball back from her
  3. But as soon as you do, build drive again and have her fetch again.

Repeat these 3 steps until she realizes that by giving up the ball she actually gets it again and again.

When you are ready to stop the game, go ahead and let her have the ball for a while. Eventually, she'll learn that this game is more fun then just keeping the ball.

Hope this helps.

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  • Thank you so much for your answer. That's essentially what we did but keeping the ball is in fact more fun than playing with us. And I feel like there is some trust issue there... Like her thinking she won't get it back once we have it. Which is why we tried point 2 & 3 – Sambovi Dec 5 '17 at 23:56
  • It's hard to comment any further without a video of the interaction. My only suggestion would be to ensure ahe is in drive before she fetches. Drive as in crazy to grt the ball, barking Running back and forth and otherwise going creazy for you to release the ball. This should make retreiving the ball more exciting then just fetching it. – user508439 Dec 6 '17 at 2:38

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