How to stop ball obsession

Discussion in 'Dog Behavior Problems' started by bellapup, Mar 29, 2009.

  1. bellapup Well-Known Member

    From what I've heard, this is kind of a common problem.

    When at home, it's pretty easy to have Bella stop. However, at the park it's harder because other people are willing to throw the ball for her. I'm worried that as the heat begins here, if Bella can't learn to stop chasing the ball, we'll have to keep park excursions short so she doesn't overheat.

    My other concern is that she doesn't play with the other dogs as much anymore because she's so obsessed with catching balls. When we get to the park, she brings a ball to me. If I don't throw it, she'll grab the ball again and drop it in front of someone else. If they don't throw it, she'll try another person....and another and another until she finds someone to play with.

    I've done the whole 'drop it' and 'leave it' thing...but it still doesn't prevent her from eventually finding someone to throw. I want her to be at the park getting socialized with other dogs, not people.

    Is there something I'm not doing right or something else I can try to get her mind off the ball short of not letting her go to the park or taking her out after a short time?

    I know I can't force her to play with other dogs, but I don't want her to keep getting ball after ball and forget to get drinks or refuse water because someone's got the ball for her.

  2. snooks Experienced Member

    You might need to rewire her brain to stop a huge ball obsession. :dogtongue2: What breed is she??? For example my ACD was such a herding brained dog that she never ever would give up or leave me alone unless the balls went away. When the balls were up I could pet her and she would actually socialize and act like a dog. If there was a ball she would just pester you to death no matter who to throw it throowww it trrooWWW ITTT!! Picking it up and repositioning it just so to make it look enticing, putting it in the dishwasher, pulling all the books off a shelf to stuff a ball behind them. It was actually really amazing. So balls only came out when I wanted to play ball with her.

    At a park that would be tough esp if she's a ball thief. :doghappy: You could try and train a leave it or have reserve toy she likes better to redirect her on to. I have a squeaky tennis ball that my current dogs go nuts for over any other ball. Both also do a very nice trade ball for treats. So option two I would try getting a solid take it, leave it, give, trade, and mine starting with bits of food Treat pockets can be very useful for teaching the take it, give, and trade type of stuff. Some dogs may NEVER leave a ball but most you could work around with other distractions. A whistle works well for me too but some folks get really gritchy if you bring a retriever field whistle to a dog park. :dogtongue2:
  3. heidii New Member

    I WISH my dog was ball obsessed. Maybe you should start doing agility with her since she sounds like she has high drive and energy to burn!
  4. splitz831 New Member

    I wouldn't be too worried about overheating or not socializing if I were you. As long as she is out there and not attacking other dogs if they also go for the ball she is learning how to be with other dogs. As for the water thing if she was really thirsty she'd stop.

    I have a bernese mountian dog and worried about overheating in the summer becuase he is black and mostly fur but the vet said dogs are made to release their heat, they know what to do to remain comfortable.

    I say let her play she's happy and that's all you can really ask for
  5. fickla Experienced Member

    I agree that it's going to be very hard at the dog park. There is always going to be a sucker for Bella that will throw the ball so she is going to find a way to reinforce herself.

    I honestly wouldn't really worry about it at the dog park. Not all dogs want to continously wrestle with other dogs, some enjoy just hanging out and observing, others just want to chase their ball. My corgi doesn't really play with the other dogs at the dp a whole lot, he just likes to explore and run after other dogs running. And I think my current pup is also going to be one to hang back, sniff, run, and play with balls rather then the other dogs. As for socialization, she's getting that! Bella's learning how to be around lots of other dogs and have toys around dogs. For playing till exhaustion, yeah she probally will. She's a border collie and will likely play forever. If you want you could take periodic breaks to bring her back to your car to drink away from the excitement.

    If you really want to work on it, I would just start training a really really good recall, one where she will come to you even if someone just threw a ball, and a really good leave it. It will take a lot of work
  6. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    I wouldn't worry. A ball-loving dog is busy and content playing fetch...which is a good thing....a dog who was bored with toys might take to picking tiffs with other dogs. Mudflap is nippy initially with new dogs that get in her face(she's just telling them to back off, which she's entitled to). But bring out a toy and have her fetch, and she's not so concerned about the dogs crowding her. I don't have to worry about her nipping the wrong dog, and she's still socializing but perfectly content to ignore them to chase a toy.


    There's no doubt in my mind that Zekers is ball-obsessed. But, he is an extremely timid dog and isn't likely to approach a dog or person of his own volition. Playing fetch helps him relax and completely takes his mind off of everything around him. He's still aware of the dogs and people around, but he doesn't care because he just wants to play fetch with me(or whoever else throws the ball). Someone else throwing the ball is great for him too, because he becomes muuuch more comfortable with them. I'd rather take him somewhere around people and dogs with a tennis ball with him comfortable than take him in without one and have his confidence level much lower and his stress level much higher.

    Also, think about your definition of obsession.
    Is it:
    -a dog who will abandon all other things to do something (play fetch)
    -a dog who prefers one thing over all others(play fetch)
    -a dog who is neurotic without something(ball)
    -a dog who is distructive and anxious without something(ball)

    If Bella fits into the first two, you have nothing to worry about. If you'd like, you can ask people not to throw the ball for her, or just not take a ball at all. Or, restrict fetch to one area of the park for you and her alone. If you're concerned about overheating, take breaks and go far from the play group to rest and drink.

    With Zeke one of the self-control exercises I did was sit-stays with a thrown ball. I started by placing him in a sit-stay in front of me and tossing the ball up a few inches and catching it...tossing and catching it...tossing and catching it... Then I would bounce the ball, bounce the ball, bounce the ball.... Then I would gently toss the ball a short distance behind me, using body blocks and a gentle, "Aaah," if he tried to race after it. After looooots of work, I can now launch the ball and he will maintain a stay. For a dog like Zeke, it's taken a LOT of work to attain this. He fits in somewhere with the third category, and it is very hard for him to keep a sit stay when a ball is thrown. He isn't nuts without a ball, but his demeanor is very different when he has a tennis ball to play with.

    If Bella isn't this ball-crazy, you could probably start with bouncing the ball or even tossing it gently rather than starting with tossing it in the air. For Z I had to start with the slightest movement of the ball.

    Don't really think you have anything to worry about though. Good luck, and hope this helps. :)
  7. snooks Experienced Member

    I meant to add that the color of her tongue is a good indicator of overheating. The less pink and more purple the hotter she is. When their tongues get more blood rich in an effort to cool the get redder and then slightly purple. You can always dip her paws and wet the outsides of her ears with water or her body with a water bottle. Any confusion or lack of coordination and that is the first sign of heat stroke and needs medical attention. Google and know the signs and u'll feel better.

    Unless ur repeatedly having a ball thrown full out she'll regulate as she stops to persuade the next sucker. :dogtongue2: You can always ask for a down stay for periods too, I used to do that during agility in SE TeX in summer b/c big dogs like Goldens didn't dissipate heat as well as our smaller classmates. They were dying to go go go but always willing and did rest on their own when they got hot.

    She may not be playing WITH the dogs but believe me she KNOWS they are there and is interacting a lot with them even without approaching. Just like in agility where there was no interaction allowed between all those unleashed dogs a new dog would create a brief ripple even without direct contact.
  8. bighoneydog New Member

    Hi - new to the forum but just thought I'd add my 2 cents worth...

    I agree with everything Snooks and Tx_cowgirl said...I think a bit of healthy obsession with the tennis ball (as long as it's under control, ie. the dog will give up the ball when asked and is not displaying behavioural problems without it) is actually a good thing, especially if you want to do training activities with your dog - shows a dog that can be motivated!!

    My Great Dane, Honey, is "ball-obsessed" too in that if a tennis ball comes out, she will prefer to chase that and play with that, over playing with other dogs in the park or being cuddled by humans - or even treats! She gets very fixated on it and gets the most excited I've ever seen her, as she's waiting for you to throw it. We do control how often she retrieves it as she tends to gallop all out and skid to a stop to lunge and grab it - and we're worried about too much stress on the giant breed joints, etc - so we tend to only do about 2-3 throws at a time and then stop. Also, it teaches her to reign in her excitement and control it, to calm down on command...so she can be rewared with another game later.

    The key is that when we say "No More" (our universal word for end of a game) - she will stop harassing us to throw the ball and will trot off to sniff things or play with other dogs. Then after 20mins or so, when she's a bit rested and cooled off, if we call her and show her the ball again - she'll instantly be back, bouncing around, desperate to chase the ball. But her "obsession" is under control. She is also fine if we go for a walk without the ball.

    I think the thing that helped was when we first started to take the ball, we were always very consistent about enforcing the "No More" rule - and that we would not throw the ball again, no matter how much she bounced around us. So now when she hears that word, she "switches off" and calms down. I see a lot of friends (usually with collie types) who really struggle with this because they were never consistent - they would resist a bit but then after their dog barked and jumped around them for 2 mins, they would go "Oh, alright!" and throw the ball again. Rewarding the wrong behaviour - small surprise that they end up creating a dog that hassles them constantly to throw the ball. They now get really irritated and say that they feel like a slave to their dog and can't stand the barking...when I think they just created the problem for themselves!! :dogrolleyes:

    I think like all behaviours, it's about a healthy balance and teaching the dog self-control.

    Hsin-Yi
  9. bellapup Well-Known Member

    Wow...thanks for all the feedback! And welcome, bighoneydog.. :)

    Snooks, you hit it right on the head with the herding. Bella is part heeler and part springer spaniel. Both intelligent and high energy dogs. I know lots of other heelers that are just as ball obsessed. The worry is when she snaps at other dogs that come sniff her when she's focused on the ball. She's never bit any of them, but she just sounds so mean! Unfortunately, we can't bring treats into the dog area because of the other dogs who may sniff it out and become food aggressive. Otherwise I'm sure Bella would be an angel because she LOVES treats. Good tip on the tongue too...I always thought it was curl (ie the more curl, the more hot).

    Fickla, I think I'll try the recall thing...I know it'll be hard for her, but that might be just the thing.

    Tx, I'm not sure exactly where to rate Bella..definitely the first two. But when I get the ball, suddenly her face gets all serious and her muscles tense to the point that she's slightly shaking. We also can't eliminate all balls from the park, because they belong to the park. I don't even bring Bella's personal ball anymore.

    The last couple of times we went to the park, as we were leaving and I went to put her leash on her collar, she plopped in the middle, and then again as we were walking to the car. She didn't plop like she fainted, she just layed down on her tummy. She'd never done that before...that's why I got worried.

    I'm also wondering if she's not getting enough food. She weighed in at 34.5 pounds today. Could that be making her overly exhausted? She gets about 3.5 cups a day.
  10. fickla Experienced Member

    Every dog has different metabolism rates and different needs for food intake, so it's hard to say from just a weight. But I would say that 3.5 cups sounds like more than enough! My corgi weighs only 24lbs and eats only 2/3cup per day.

    But you just have to go on looks. If you can feel her ribs easily and see a bit of a waist, then she's probably ok. You just don't want to easily see them jutting out of her! It's best to be on the thin side rather than the chunky side anyway in terms of health benefits.

    Good luck on the ball thing. It's not an easy thing to train with all of the distractions and other reinforcment in the dog park. If you are training her to leave a ball, one thing I do with the dogs in my class is to have somebody bounce a tennis ball in the middle while owners walk by. Then I do a recall, with somebody holding the dog back, a ball in the middle of the floor (not bouncing) and the owner then has to call the dog past the ball. (Somebody guards the ball just in case the dog doesn't leave it.) Then you can call her past somebody bouncing the ball. And finally, I work on having the dog right next to somebody bouncing the ball while the owner walks away and calls (it's harder to leave in that case since they don't have any momentum built up).
  11. bellapup Well-Known Member

    I guess I should clarify about the food thing. *L* Part of the problem is that the cats seem to think Bella's food is quite tasty, so I've adjusted accordingly with the food. She's actually lost weight from the last vet visit. I definitely don't want a chunky Bella, and I haven't upped her feeding since she doesn't look boney...just thin. I can feel her bones, but can't see them.

    Since my last post, I've been making Bella leave the ball at the park and I'll step in front of it and point away. She's gotten to the point now that she'll leave the ball albeit reluctantly, and sniff the other dogs, or even play a bit. I'm hoping that eventually I'll show her that she gets to play with the ball when I want to, and not when she wants to.

    I do feel better about her wanting the ball though. Thanks for the tip, fickla. I'll see if I can get an assistant to do the bounce thing. :)
  12. glinda New Member

    I have a pitt bull that is ball crazy. Well really anything that is round that she thinks is a ball. She won't eat or drink , I have to take it away from her. Then she will sit and watch where I put it. She will sit and shake wanting a ball. She of course eat a tennis ball, but today I took her to a small fair and she wanted the ballons I have to break her but don't know how. tricks to swap will not work with her

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