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I adopted my dog, 8 year old (Nova Scotia duck tolling) Retriever about 8 months ago. She's super smart and learns new tricks really quickly, but I haven't been able to figure out how to teach her to fetch.

Currently when I throw the ball for her she runs after it, grabs it and then drops it on the ground and barks until I throw it. She will happily bark for hours, non stop (not a second between barks) until I throw it. Ever so often, the first time I throw it for her, she'll bring it back to me (about a foot away). When this happens I praise her like crazy and then throw it for her. The next time she'll bring it 3 feet away, then 5 feet away and then she won't bring it close at all.

Things I've tried:

  1. Waiting her out. this doesn't work because eventually the dog park closes and she's still barking... then we go home and she hasn't exercised anything except her voice.
  2. Going to get the ball from her, but walking back very slowly, so that she realizes that it's way faster and more fun to bring it back to me.
  3. Using a citronella bark collar to discourage the barking. This doesn't work because it doesn't spray her every bark, and even when it does she doesn't care.
  4. Luring her with other balls. This doesn't work because once she finds a ball that she's into she only wants to play with that ball. She also values this particular ball over all other things..such as entire blocks of cheese and fresh meat, her booty (she hates being humped or jumped on but would rather guard the ball than risk losing it to another dog to tell off the humping dog)
  5. Luring her with treats. see #4
  6. Calling her over using her recall command. I'm still working on this skill, so I don't want to ruin it by calling her when I know she won't come. The few times I've tried this any she has come, she leaves the ball before approaching me.

Any Suggestions on how I can get her to bring the ball back and/or not bark until I throw it?

Several people have suggested that I just not play ball with her. However, the only fenced dog park nearby is right behind a tennis court, so there are always balls, and she always wants to play. Also, playing fetch is the only serious exercise she gets. I've been working on her recall since I got her but its not good enough to take her anywhere off leash. I'm also teaching her to walk slack leash, because I have to stop when she pulls, her daily walks don't provide her much exercise either.

  • Have you tried teaching her to drop the ball in your hand instead of on the ground? That way, she could not "cheat" by dropping the ball where SHE wants it to be. Also, is there any chance you could find a place for agility-practices? – Layna Feb 11 '15 at 11:08
  • @Layna I've signed her up for agility classes. :) that's a great idea. – Veg Feb 13 '15 at 23:10
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I think I can give you some help here. You need to teach her how to fetch from the ground up. I had a dog growing up who would do this, minus the barking. She might bring it to within 12' of me when she fetched it, but then she'd either run off with it or not even go fetch it. I now have a Jack Russell who will fetch till she passes out. It's something she does naturally and it took very little effort from me to get her to do it. The good news is that whatever your dogs level of motivation to fetch, they can be taught to do so.

I'm going to be talking about clicker training in the rest of my post. You can find articles and videos all over the internet. Karen Pryor is one of the first people in modern times to organize a system, so you could start on her website for a basic understanding. You should get a basic idea, so you know what I'm talking about from here on.

What you need to do here is break it down into baby steps for her. Firstly, I'd charge the clicker with her and get her used to the idea of the clicker being a bridge. Once she knows that a click equals a treat, she'll look out for the click and not the treat. Hold any object, including your hand, out for her to touch. The ball in question would be fine. As soon as she sniffs it, click and treat (hence forth know as CT). Do this repetitively. You'll want several things to work on at any one time. Do 2-3 reps of one behavior and move on. Keep your sessions to 10-15 minutes. Once she's started hammering the ball to get you to CT, then hold back till you get a better version. Maybe she touches it with her nose and you don't CT, so she does it again. You still don't CT, so she rolls it with her nose in frustration. You CT. Build on this till you can get her to pick it up in her mouth, then call her over to you. You can eventually, get her to drop it in your hand.

She now fetches. This is the principle of a fetch, whether it's 6" or 600'. I hope this helps. Things to keep in mind are that you always do baby steps, always keep the sessions short and variable, if she struggles move back to something easier and quite her on it, and have fun. Eventually, you phase out the CT and there are articles on this as well.

Lastly, you can teach the "quite" command the same way. Let her bark and the second she stops, CT. When she's doing it reliably, then add in the verbal cue. Eventually, she'll stop offering that behavior, though with a naturally vocal dog, it may never end. My Jack Russell is full of whines, grunts, and other sound effects that never go away. Good luck.

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6-inch Fetch

Have you tried just working on having her put things in your hand separately from fetching? For example, start in a really small room or area and ask her to sit / down / etc. and then put the ball (or anything else) between you and her and release her. When she gets the ball and puts it near your hand, you and reward with treats / tug / etc. Keep doing this until she's regularly putting the item back into your hand. Accuracy is up to you. For our dog, I require that she put it in my hand even if I'm the one who accidentally dropped it. You can eventually put this on cue (get it, bring me, fetch).

Then start slowly increasing the distance to 1 ft, 3 ft, until she's bringing things back to you. Don't forget to use different objects and to use a cue or she might just start bringing things to you for fun. Work different distances in different areas too. Just because she can fetch at 6 ft in your living room doesn't mean she'll be able to do the same at the park.

Two-Ball Game

Another game you can play is the "two-ball" game. You can find videos online, but it's really just throwing a ball, and then throwing another one in a different direction when she comes back. By randomizing the direction, you can motivate her to come back to and wait since she won't know which direction the next ball is going to happen. It also shows her that bringing the ball back doesn't end the fun.

Barking

As for barking, tollers are known for barking and if she already is barking, it's going to be an uphill battle. Don't expect changes over night. The best advice I have for know is just to make sure you never give in to her barking. You can wait until she's quiet and then start a game. You might wind up with a dog that sits and begs quietly, but that's an improvement over barking.

  • The two ball game and ignoring her barking are not effective options, as mentioned in the original post...The 6-inch fetch game seems more promising. How do i get her to pick up the ball when we start playing the game? – Veg Feb 11 '15 at 23:15
  • Don't use her favourite ball, if you really can't get it to work, you can always send her to day care 1-3 times a week. It cost more but it definitely tires the dog out. Other option for exercise is running/biking/rollerblading with the dog, winter is a problem. Worst case scenario treadmill. 6-inch fetch should teach her the idea and then you can go outside and try longer distance. Again, don't use her favourite ball. Use it as a reward at the end of the session. Some dogs are just not into fetch so don't beat yourself up for it – Huangism Feb 12 '15 at 14:10
  • She won't pick up or interact with any ball that isn't her current favorite though...and she doesn't always have a ball she wants to play with in the moment. As mentioned in the original post, running/walking (and definitely biking/rollerbladding) isn't really an option right now because i'm training her to walk slack leash and she isn't good enough at that to not pull me yet. – Veg Feb 13 '15 at 1:35

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