Black dog with ball in its mouthPlay Ball Like A Pro

Playing ball with your pooch seems like such repetitive game, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be a fun versatile game that both participants enjoy. The best part is that it doesn’t matter how much room you have, a large or a small yard, our method adapts to any space. What really matters is both you and your dog have fun. Now let me show you how a dog trainer plays ball with their dog.

Let’s begin with what equipment we typically use. We first teach our dog how to play ball on a leash, it’s important that we make it as easy as possible on ourselves when we teach our dog something new. Use a ball that’s going to be durable and it’s best to have at least two that are identical. A pouch or pocket where you can hide the ball(s) is also a good idea. The whole idea is to make the ball into a rabbit dashing out of the hole type game, whether it be a sudden appearance of the ball or the instant delivery of a reward for a job well done.

Playing ball is best introduced with the leash in your hand as you toss the ball a short distance. Don’t worry you’ll quickly move away from needing the leash. With your dog leading, move toward the ball. Praise your pooch when they grab the ball (for dogs with lesser ball drive praise if they show any interest in the toy). Calmly give the command “Bring” as you jog backwards. Praise before you reach for the ball or say “Drop”, we don’t want to associate taking the ball with them coming to us. After our lavish petting and if your dog hasn’t dropped the ball yet then we’ll move on to the next phase.

Like every command “Drop” has a very specific meaning as well as the connotation of good boy/girl. It means to fully relinquish what you have but since like all commands it has a positive meaning we don’t want to use it when the dog grabs something they’re not supposed to have, that would just be a correction. In a calm pleasant voice issue the “Drop” command. Give a 2 second count then if the ball has not been relinquished then slowly remove the leashes’ slack in an upwards fashion. Keep your hands away from your dog’s mouth as that will make him want to hold on to it tighter. Eventually the ball will fall out of their mouth, immediately put slack back in the leash. Don’t let your dog dive for or hover over the ball, if you must give light choppy corrections to prevent your dogs retrieval of the ball. Take your time picking up the ball, this isn’t about who’s faster about getting to the toy.

Now that we got the fundamentals out of the way let’s start teaching the games. Vary the distance of your throw. Don’t fall into the same old boring distance game, do your best to change up how you release the ball, all the while making sure your dog is successful at getting/finding the ball. For lower drive dogs try to end the game before they lose interest. For higher ball driven dogs try adding a second identical ball. Throw one ball then as the dog returns to you throw the second one in the opposite direction of the first, if you time it right the dog will drop the ball at your feet while they continuously chase a ball (unless he’s a greedy pup who tries to stuff two balls in their mouth). Another game is “Get It” encourage your dog to grab the toy from your hand at the issue of this command, this is a great way to develop fun and exciting new games. To create erratic bounces try different shaped throwing toys. It’s never wrong to be creative but try to stay away from using a stick as a toy as that can injure a dog.

Here’s some extra tips and ideas. Clapping sounds similar to heavy rib patting that a lot of dogs love which can be a great way to speed up a returning dog. The more enthusiastic a dog is the faster we can tire them out. Try your best to not to bounce the ball too high to prevent injuries upon landing (it takes a lot of conditioning and experience before dogs can do those high jumps that we see professionals do). The most important tip that I can give about playing ball is to have fun, to take pride in what you and your dog have accomplished.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer