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Using Fetch to Manage Your Ball Obsessed Dog

Using Fetch to Manage Your Ball Obsessed Dog

This post is sponsored by Dexas International. You can trust that I have used the products mentioned here and am providing an honest opinion and recommendation. All opinions remain my own and I think Dexas is awesome.

When Dave and I first met Riia, we saw immediately that she was a ball obsessed dog. She’d scan the dog park, ignoring the other dogs and bring us anything she could think of to engage in a game of fetch.

Rocks. Tiny sticks. Leaves. 

Can’t blame a girl for trying.

Laila’s trainer at the time was with us and told us that we had to treat her obsession like an addition. No fetch. Ever. Again.

I couldn’t bring myself to banish fetch from her life. It genuinely brought her so much joy. I knew there had to be a happy medium to tame this ball obsessed border collie.

Riia is a ball obsessed border collie whom we've worked with to manage her fixation on balls and other objects.

Signs You Have a Ball Obsessed Dog

Hi, my name is Riia and I’m obsessed with fetch. There are a few telltale signs that indicate a fixation with fetch.

  • Your dog will look for any potential fetch object and shove it into your hands to initiate a game.
  • They can play fetch anytime, anywhere. Obsession can reach dangerous levels if your dog becomes so obsessed they could literally play until they die. In these cases, they are not aware of their fatigue or body temperature and could drown or overheat.
  • Tennis balls and the like send your dog into a trance-like state. It’s all they see and the only object of their attention.
  • Your dog’s body language indicates stress signals: panting, lip licking, drooling
  • They become destructive and easily bored if you won’t play fetch with them. Riia would go around licking the floor incessantly.
The Dexas off-leash collection includes the Reaction Ball, which attaches to the leash so you can play with your ball obsessed dog anytime, anywhere

Dexas recently introduced the off-leash collection to their pet gear arsenal. The newest additions include three new toys designed especially for on the go dog parents. 

Made from safe and durable materials, the toys include a frisbee, ball, and lunker-type float for water play.

The most innovative feature is the integrated key system that allows you to attach the toy to the leash and not worry about slobbery hands. 

As someone who travels often, I appreciate the dual purpose of this new line. The flying disc doubles as a water dish, and the Reaction Ball and Tumbler lunker can be filled with treats to provide enrichment.

The Dexas off-leash collection includes several toys for your ball obsessed dog.

When Fetch Becomes a Problem

Fetch isn’t inherently a problem for most dogs. In fact, it can be a great way to bond with your dog or quickly burn some suppressed energy. 

It becomes a problem when it’s all your dog can focus on. If they were human, they would likely be diagnosed with an obsessive compulsive disorder.

Fortunately, there are plenty of easy ways to manage the fixation and get your dog’s mind off tennis balls.

Treat Fetch Like a Job

Dogs with compulsive behaviors are ideal candidates for jobs! While most of us don’t have access to traditional jobs for dogs like herding, we can use a number of other activities as a form of employment, including fetch. 

Employ “Nothing is for Free” Rules

Ask your dog for a behavior for each and every toss. It can be a simple as sit, or as challenging as teaching new tricks. Wait for eye contact before making the toss.

My motto is to always be training. Take every opportunity you can to work on dog training.

I especially love using the “nothing is for free” tactic to teach impulse control. Throw the ball or frisbee and make them wait before they are allowed to retrieve it. Practice recall by calling them back before they reach their ball.

Play Hide and Seek

Hide and seek is a game I usually save for long travel days or when the weather is not ideal for longer outdoor adventures. It’s an easy game that will tire out a dog and get them to use other senses.

For fetch obsessed dogs, however, it is especially fun during hikes. Just toss your dog’s toy off the trail (when appropriate, please remember to practice Leave No Trace Principles) and make them find it as you keep walking along.

This keeps them close to you while also providing enrichment.

I like to bring the Tumbler for this occasion because it’s long like a stick and also bright orange, making it easy to spot in the woods.

I've had to use toys to manage Riia when we trail run to quell her incessant barking.

Use Fetch Obsession to Your Advantage

Rather than look at the obsession as a negative behavior, use it to your advantage. A dog who loves playing fetch can be trained to eliminate other unwanted behaviors or shape those you do want.

Stopping Unwanted Behaviors

When we ran, Riia would bark relentlessly at me for at least the first 20 minutes. It drove me nuts and I I couldn’t get her to stop.

She would run looking backwards and tripped over rocks, once falling into a ditch before I could stop her. It wasn’t rare for us to have to turn back due to a small sprain.

After a desperate plea on Instagram, several suggested that I bring a ball and have her play fetch while we ran. I brought a ball with us on our next run and gave it a try.

It worked. Rather than focus on herding me along, Riia concentrated on the ball. I’d throw it sporadically throughout our run, making her anticipate the next toss. 

After 10 or so minutes of this game, she could finally concentrate on running. No barking, no ball obsession.

I carry the Reaction Ball, which has ridges that make it bounce erratically, sending Riia off in different directions in pursuit of the ball.

Shaping Desired Behaviors

It’s not uncommon for ball-obsessed dogs to prefer toys or fetch to treats, thus training certain commands can be excruciatingly difficult.

Enter fetch.

Say you’re trying to work on recall with your dog so you can enjoy off leash trail running or hiking together. But no matter how much time you work with that 30’ lead or shove treats in your dog’s face, they just don’t get it. 

Pick up a ball though, and now we’re talking. If your dog knows that coming back to you results in chasing the ball, then they may be more likely to come when called.

Dave makes Riia offer a behavior in order for her to receive her reward (a throw of the frisbee).

Set Some Ground Rules

The key to managing obsessive behaviors like fetch is setting a few ground rules for your dog. This way, they will learn when it is ok and not ok to play fetch. You control the game, not them.

Hide Toys

Never leave toys out in the house. Your dog will see this as an opportunity to try and engage in fetch any chance they can get. Rather, put them away out of reach or in a bin with a lid. 

Better yet, teach your dog to put their toys away and incorporate some enrichment.

No Fetch in the House

Along the same lines of hiding the toys, you want to establish the rule that inside the house is not the proper fetch environment. 

Set a Timer

Start out with five minutes and increase up to 10 or so. This will teach your dog that there is a finite amount of time for playing fetch and that’s it. Use verbal cues to signify the end. I use ‘last one!’ before the final toss and ‘that’s it!’ to indicate that playtime is over.

Then I tuck the ball away, out of sight, and we go home.

Human-initiated Only

Riia will do anything for fetch. She drops rocks at our feet. Collects enough wood to build a fire. She happily goes up to strangers asking to play. Do not engage with this behavior.

Play fetch only when you initiate, not when your dog asks for it. It’s ok if they carry around a stick on hikes, but if they drop it at your feet, just ignore it.

Do you have a ball-obsessed dog?

What tricks do you have to manage the obsession?

Managing your ball obsessed dog using toys Pinterest image

Maggie Huser

Wednesday 29th of July 2020

Wow this is my border collie to a T!!! I have been incredibly frustrated with her OCD on fetch that I have even thought about giving her away. Like your dog she incessantly picks up anything and everything and throws it at our feet to play fetch like leaves, rocks and even tiny sticks. She ignores every dog and is very antisocial at the dog park because she wants to fetch. We recently put a dart board in our apartment and she will lay down and start shaking when we play because she wants to fetch the darts. Recently when I have tried to reach her new tricks I am unsuccessful with treats and even using the ball. I am definitely going to try to implement these tips and tricks you talked about to see if it helps because this is going on 5 years of this OCD behavior and it is getting hard to deal with. Have you noticed differences in your border collie after implementing these tips?

Jen Sotolongo

Friday 31st of July 2020

Oh I'm so sorry to hear that your BC is driving you crazy. I definitely noticed a difference in Riia's obsession after implementing these tips. I'd also try teaching her the "place" command ( and giving her as much structure as possible. Riia would still do the rock thing if we were, say at the beach paying attention to our other dog, she'd take advantage of the situation and go find some kind dog lover to toss her some sticks. Please keep me posted and feel free to ask any questions!