How to Teach your Puppy or Rescue to Play Ball

Put on a pair of pants with pockets. Fill your pockets with yummy treats torn into tiny pieces. You can use cooked chicken, pieces of cheese, or beef strips from Costco. Take your ball launcher or strong throwing arm and two balls.

Take your puppy to the yard, park or green belt. Walk him around for a while so he can pee or poo.  Then switch his leash to a long one so you can catch him if he tries to run off (park or green belt).

Throw the ball and say, “Go get the ball!” Say it again in your happy playtime voice. “Go get the ball!”

If the puppy runs for the ball and picks it up with his mouth, say, “Good Bruno!  Bring me the ball.” While you say this pat your thighs with the palms of your hands. This will be the signal for him to run back to you with the ball.

If your puppy brings you the ball, say “Good Bruno!” and show him a treat. He will drop the ball to take the treat. While he does that, step on the ball so he can’t pick it up (I use tennis balls). Then launch the second ball with your launcher while saying, “Go get the ball!”

Chances are he will run for the second ball. Meanwhile pick up the first ball with you launcher. Once he picks up the second ball with his mouth, pat your thighs and say, Bring me the ball!”

“Good Bruno!”

Present treat.

Step on the ball.

Repeat.

If your dog runs away instead of fetching the ball, catch him with the long leash and say, “Too bad.”

Go home and try again tomorrow.

A ball-obsessed dog like my lab mix will catch on right away. Other dogs may take longer. Never show disappointment. Never scold. Never push a dog that doesn’t seem interested.

It won’t take long before the dog will get the ball and bring it back, no reward needed except for your praise. “Good Bruno!”

My Jack Russell was three when I got her. She was definitely interested in the ball and caught on right away to bringing it back. I learned to step on the ball because she would grab it and run with it in her mouth to fetch the second ball. Then I had to fetch with her since she could only fit one tennis ball into her mouth.

The lab does not share balls. I can’t play ball with her in the greenbelt if there are other loose dogs around. She gets protective of her space and then things can get ugly with other dogs who want to join in.

Daisy the Jack Russell isn’t like that, but if a noisy truck goes by or pulls up to the strip of greenbelt between two courts she will run home and hide on the porch until the truck goes away.

I take my dogs separately to the park to play ball (it helps that the park is next door). They are both ball-obsessed and have brawled over a tennis ball.

My rule with two ball-obsessed dogs is NO BALLS in the house. They stay on the porch. The lab will chew it up to pieces, and they fight  over a dirty found tennis ball.

The key to any kind of dog training is to be consistent, award desired behavior with treats and voice, and ignore unwanted behavior.

Never scold (or hit) a dog that has come to you. Even if the dog has taken a circuitous route and rolled in some poop first, use your party voice. That is your dog’s reward for returning to you (which is what you want).

“Good Bruno!”

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