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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello, my family dog recently moved in with me due to my parents no longer being able to care for him. Some background is that he is a Pekingese-poodle who is 6 years old and LOVES to chase the ball. The problem is that he rarely brings the ball all the way back to me. Fetch is his favorite thing to do but he obviously expects me to get up and walk a few feet to the ball every time he drops it. I've tried everything I can find online to train him to bring it closer, teaching him to drop it, not playing unless he moves it closer, ect. But none of it has any success. I think a combination of 2 things prevents him from learning to bring it closer. the first is that he has learned from other family members that people will still throw it despite it being out of reach. The second issue is that he is so obsessed and excited about the ball being thrown nothing but "wheres the ball going" goes through his mind. another problem is if I try to ignore him until he brings the ball within reach. he assumes im not going to play, gives up, and takes the ball elsewhere despite that he REALLY wants to play fetch.
Its hard since he is a middle-aged dog and has been so obsessed and reinforced to playing fetch this way, is there any way to teach him to drop it closer?
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
If your dog stops and drops the object before reaching you, back away while saying “All the way,” or “Bring it.” Once he reaches the spot where you were originally located, go to him and offer praise, then toss the object again.
This is a great idea, will try.


Have you tried backchaining? (starting by teaching him to just drop the ball in your hand, apart from an actual game of 'fetch')
I have but he gets so excited nothing gets through to him. In his mind there is no not playing fetch option, if I show any interest in the ball everything shuts down in his brain and the only thought that exists is "where is it going".
 

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Have you tried playing with two balls?
 
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Have you tried backchaining? (starting by teaching him to just drop the ball in your hand, apart from an actual game of 'fetch')
I have but he gets so excited nothing gets through to him. In his mind there is no not playing fetch option, if I show any interest in the ball everything shuts down in his brain and the only thought that exists is "where is it going".
Try initiating the backchaining using an object other than the ball. (ie; a chew toy, or any other relatively 'insignificant' object).

Do this while his arousal level is lower and appropriate for learning. While watching tv, for example.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Hello again, I have an update. over the last few days I tried out the suggestions above but I have run into some issues. When I tried backing up and then further requesting him to bring it closer until he reaches my original position, he will do it properly every once and a while, and I'll praise him when he gets it right but I dont think the message is sinking into him. What keeps happening is he will nose the ball at random, sometimes it will come to where I want it but a lot of the time it goes further from me. He understands he needs to move it but has no concept of where to and after a few tries of knocking the ball further from me, he usually gives up.

I also tried using another toy he is not so possessive of, the only problem is that when he starts getting into it he will insist we switch to a ball instead and will refuse to play with any other toy.
 

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What would happen if you sat down on the floor about 2' from him & just tossed the ball for him to catch? Then, hold out your hand so he can drop it in/near? Then, once he's doing that you can slowly (a few inches at a time) move farther away from him?

Also, and I'm not sure this is the situation but it might be something to think about, if he's getting so amped up about the ball/fetch game that his brain shuts off, it might not be the healthiest game to play, at least not on a daily basis. Doing the short distance toss & catch will be less intense & you can request simple behaviors such as sit, down, etc... before you toss him the ball. Try to keep him in 'thinking mode' rather than mindlessly racing after the ball.
 

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Have two balls. As he is approaching you, ask him to DROP the ball he has and then throw the second ball.

However, the FIRST thing you must teach is the Out or Drop command and you do this with food. You trade for toys in a low key place like in the house. Dog has toy, you offer food and say "drop" or "out" and when the dog drops it, you give food. Sometimes you take the ball in your hand. Other times he can drop it on the floor. AFTER the trade he GETS IT BACK. ALWAYS feed our of your hand. At first if he drops it "over there" and comes for the food, that is OK. You are teaching drop. He will go back and get the ball. IF he brings the ball to you, play with him without the drop and let him win and have the ball.

Then you do the same thing with two balls. Again, in the house. The ball on the rope is nice because you can play tug with it and LET THE DOG WIN. Then take out the second ball.. and ask for the drop (tease with ball # 2 if need be) and then let him grab the ball YOU have and play (doing this rewards for the drop AND makes the ball you have more fun than the one the dog has).

The reason MOST dogs do not come all the way back with a retrieve toy or ball is because the handler ALWAYS has them give up the ball when they do bring it back.

Here is one of the balls I use. There are many out there.
 

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I also tried using another toy he is not so possessive of, the only problem is that when he starts getting into it he will insist we switch to a ball instead and will refuse to play with any other toy.
A dog with this much desire for the ball is a GEM. With that you can teach this dog just about anything.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Have two balls. As he is approaching you, ask him to DROP the ball he has and then throw the second ball.

However, the FIRST thing you must teach is the Out or Drop command and you do this with food. You trade for toys in a low key place like in the house. Dog has toy, you offer food and say "drop" or "out" and when the dog drops it, you give food. Sometimes you take the ball in your hand. Other times he can drop it on the floor. AFTER the trade he GETS IT BACK. ALWAYS feed our of your hand. At first if he drops it "over there" and comes for the food, that is OK. You are teaching drop. He will go back and get the ball. IF he brings the ball to you, play with him without the drop and let him win and have the ball.

Then you do the same thing with two balls. Again, in the house. The ball on the rope is nice because you can play tug with it and LET THE DOG WIN. Then take out the second ball.. and ask for the drop (tease with ball # 2 if need be) and then let him grab the ball YOU have and play (doing this rewards for the drop AND makes the ball you have more fun than the one the dog has).

The reason MOST dogs do not come all the way back with a retrieve toy or ball is because the handler ALWAYS has them give up the ball when they do bring it back.

Here is one of the balls I use. There are many out there.
I tried this yesterday and today and at first, I thought it was working, but it seems his focus will now shift to any treats I have. He won't chase the ball or do anything if he knows I have his treats out. It'll work the first time I throw the ball and get him to drop it but then he realizes I have treats and just sits around staring at where I pulled the treats out and will pay no attention to me throwing a ball.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I also dont know if there is anything to this but I get the feeling he thinks I am treating him unfairly. It seems he is thinking "you ask for the ball but then wont throw it" and "you get out treats but wont give them to me" how can I fix this?
 

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I also dont know if there is anything to this but I get the feeling he thinks I am treating him unfairly. It seems he is thinking "you ask for the ball but then wont throw it" and "you get out treats but wont give them to me" how can I fix this?
I have the same problem with our dog. She focuses so much on the treats that nothing else matters at the time.
 

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I also dont know if there is anything to this but I get the feeling he thinks I am treating him unfairly. It seems he is thinking "you ask for the ball but then wont throw it" and "you get out treats but wont give them to me" how can I fix this?
He's probably just confused because he doesn't understand exactly what you want. (I'm actually feeling a little bit this way myself! lol)

Now - as I'm understanding it, the problem isn't that he won't drop the ball for you (ie - he grabs it up & plays 'keep away') correct? It's that he drops it away from you & you have to go pick it up? Exactly how far away from you is he dropping the ball? Does he pick it up & bring it back your way at all? Have you tried two identical balls? Can you bring him in closer to you for the drop if you show him the 2nd ball as he's approaching? Did you try the 'just toss it to him in close quarters'? How did that work?

I guess what I'm asking for is a little bit more of a full description of the situational problem. Also, if the treats are such high value that he loses focus on the ball, you either need to not use treats to work on this, or lower the value of what you're offering. Dry kibble, cheerios, carrot chunks - something he likes, but doesn't get TOO excited over. ???
 

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There are numerous ways to try to solve this, some of which may work, but unfortunately many will lack clarity for the dog. Bringing a ball back to you and just dropping it 'somewhere near(er) to you' is a big grey area in the dog's mind. Simply speaking, IMO it's just not clear enough.

Again, I would suggest using backchaining to provide absolute clarity. This way, the dog is required to release the ball directly into your hand each and every time. The technique, using a marker word or clicker, will likely take a bit of getting used to. It's sort of an acquired skill but once you and the dog get into the swing of things, it should become much easier for both of you.

This video overview seems decent enough.


As I mentioned before it's probably a good idea to begin the process with an object other than the ball, then once "the game" is well established and complete, transfer everything over.
 

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You need to separate the two exercises. In the house, with any toy or anything the dog has that you want you teach OUT or DROP with food. Clearly from what you are saying your dog prefers FOOD to TOY and that simply means he has better food drive than toy drive.

When you go outside with two balls do NOT have food on you. This game is about playing with the ball and about the desire the dog has for the ball. If you have two rewards present and the dog prefers one to the other then he will want the one he prefers.

So, you establish the OUT or DROP command with food and anything the dog picks up. This can be random as opposed to a structured lesson so always have food on you.

Then you go out to throw the ball. Throw the ball and then call the dog and as he is coming toward you tell him OUT and show him the other ball.. the instant he drops that first ball you throw the second ball behind you so he keeps traveling in the same direction. At first it may be a little messy because you both are figuring this out. It should get better. It is a pretty simply game and the dogs usually love it (and it can burn a lot of dog energy!).
 

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That ^ may or may not work. It's certainly something the OP can try, because it's probably the easiest and likely the fastest. IF it works. I have my doubts though, and here's why....

The dog already has a retrieve, of sorts. The chase, the pick up, and the turn / return. He already has drive. He already has an out. He already brings the ball, just not close enough. Therefore, he already has 95 % of an acceptable retrieve, he just needs to finish the remaining 5 %. So THAT remaining 5 % is the part you separate out and work on and MAKE CLEAR to the dog. Essentially, this is what's being done when you use the backchaining technique mentioned.

Added to that, the dog has 6 years of undesirable behaviour to undo. Establishing clarity of the 'new', desired end product moving forward will be a crucial aspect. Which is to say, bringing the ball to hand. Unfortunately, "close enough" is going to be a VERY difficult concept for the dog to grasp, and execute, given his history. And it's also a hard criteria for the human to define consistently.

Sidenote: the dog DOESN'T have to learn a "formal' retrieve from stem to stern, of course. But the backchaining is quite possibly the fastest and easiest way to provide the clarity needed. I've had a few of my own competition dogs who would do the same - bring the dumbbell and spit it out 10 feet away from me. I suspect all the 'two-ball' training in the world wouldn't have fixed it. At least not in terms of efficient training. It will still leave a huge margin of ambiguity in the dog's mind.

Sidenote 2: alternatively the OP can try using a a mini hula hoop, for example, and clicker train the dog to drop the ball within the circle. Eventually place the hoop in front of you, then chain the retrieve together with the drop within the hoop, then fade the hoop. At that point though, personally for all of the work involved I'd rather the dog just learn to bring it to hand instead.
 

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There are numerous ways to try to solve this, some of which may work, but unfortunately many will lack clarity for the dog. Bringing a ball back to you and just dropping it 'somewhere near(er) to you' is a big grey area in the dog's mind. Simply speaking, IMO it's just not clear enough.

Again, I would suggest using backchaining to provide absolute clarity. This way, the dog is required to release the ball directly into your hand each and every time. The technique, using a marker word or clicker, will likely take a bit of getting used to. It's sort of an acquired skill but once you and the dog get into the swing of things, it should become much easier for both of you.

This video overview seems decent enough.


As I mentioned before it's probably a good idea to begin the process with an object other than the ball, then once "the game" is well established and complete, transfer everything over.
This is brilliant. It just seems so simple. Time consuming maybe, but simple.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Apologies for taking so long to respond, I have been trying out the ideas above. He has been doing much better but the main problem I am now encountering is that he seems to forget about playing with the ball. So what has been happening is maybe like 1/4 of the time when I have to ask him to bring the ball closer, he will pick the ball up and lay next to me chewing it, It really looks like he assumes I am not going to throw the ball and gives up. I am totally unsure of how to fix this without caving in to his demand of me going out of my way to throw his ball
 
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