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My little Jack Russell X French bulldog has an obsession with footballs, tennis balls, rubber balls, ANY balls. To the extent where she will go over and steal it from the owners. She's very excitable and full of energy so it's hard to get her attention back.

It's is ok when she's on the lead as I can stop her from getting to them. When she's off the lead and she sees one she might as well not be my dog anymore. There's no way to get her attention back on me.

This also can happen with other dogs at times, but she will come back. I usually say, "No. This way" when I see her getting distracted and, depending how far away the distraction is, she will stay with me.

When she's off the lead an there are no dogs or balls, she's usually quite good and will run and sniff but come back and keep close.

I would like to get to the stage where I can get her attention and get her to come back in these situations but I have no idea where to start.

Is a long lead a good start and start with recall? Or do I need to do some more training on a short lead and get her to not care about the things around her first? Or maybe something else?

Thanks in advance!

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    It's is ok when she's on the lead as I can stop her from getting to them Don't just use the lead to pull her away, call her, mark the moment she shifts her focus to you and reward. Use high value treats! I usually say, "No. This way" when I see her getting distracted and, depending how far away the distraction is, she will stay with me. again, when she moves her focus to you mark the behaviour and reward. Spending a few minutes at a time near enough to balls to be distracted but far enough to be "reachable", and marking then rewarding the good behaviour is a good idea. – Grimm The Opiner Oct 27 '20 at 14:44
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Short answer: You cannot make your dog stop chasing balls. You just can make him chase your ball instead of any other ball.

Please don't feel disappointed, but any ball is more important to your dog than you are. That means that you won't be able to call him back to you without offering him what he wants - a ball.

The way to go is either buying a new ball for him or using his existing favorite ball. Start playing fetch with him, but introduce a new command that's only used when he's supposed to fetch his favorite ball. It should be something he doesn't hear in any other situation, so something like "beetlejuice" is better than "go get it".

As soon as he understands the new command, you switch the training around. Instead of just playing fetch with him, you do obedience or recall training like "come here" and "sit" and as a reward you play fetch with him, using the new command and his favorite ball. This strengthens his focus on the ball and it also teaches him that he gets rewarded with the ball for coming to you (instead of stealing other people's balls).

In my opinion this switch towards recall training is very important. Your dog seems to be so focused on balls that there's a real risk of him becoming a "ball junky". It sounds funny and is a common trope in comedy, but for the dog it's a real mental illness, like actual addiction or OCD. So don't play fetch with him too long, maybe just 5 - 10 throws and then stop again, no matter how much he tries to get you to continue.
The same applies to the recall training. His reward for coming to you and sitting down is one throw of the ball (accompanied by the new command). Stop the training after 5 repetitions so he can focus on something else besides his ball.

Repeat the recall training on your regular walks. It's important that he learns to come back to you not only at home but even on a walk with distractions. Just call him back to you at random times and reward him with his ball.

The next time you see him running to steal a ball you simply call your new fetch command. He should prefer fetching his own ball and stop his attempt of stealing. When you notice this working well, call him back to you and reward him with his ball instead of just luring him with his ball.

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