How to Train Your Dog to Release a Ball

Easy
1-10 Days
Behavior

Introduction

Your high-energy dog is wearing you out. He has so much energy that it's simply not realistic to think that walking him is sufficient to burn off his extra bounce. A friend suggested playing fetch with him. Genius! The dog covers lots of distance running after the ball while you rest against a wall.

However, all did not go smoothly because the dog was so thrilled, he caught the ball and ran off with it, refusing to come back. And when he did eventually return, he was so enamored of his new toy that there was no prying it from his jaws. What to do? 

Defining Tasks

Teaching a dog to release a ball on command is a great skill to acquire. Not only does it make fun games such as fetch possible, but it's also a useful command in situations where the dog picks up something dangerous. 

Many dogs prize objects such as balls highly and can be possessive about them. The art to getting the dog to obey willingly is to have him realize that play doesn't finish when he relinquishes the ball, and instead of losing his toy there's everything to gain in terms of fun. 

Getting Started

Teaching a dog to release a ball can start in puppyhood. This is simply done by mastering the art of 'toy exchange' where you offer the pup a different toy in exchange for the one he is holding. The attraction of novelty and having something that you find interesting is almost always too much for the pup to resist and he'll let go of one toy in order to take another. 

'Release' is taught in a similar fashion with an adult dog, but this time you're going to put the action on cue. To do this you need basic items such as: 

  • Two balls
  • Bite-sized treats
  • A treat pouch or bag for easy access. 

The Take and Give Method

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Step
1
Understand the idea
Some dogs hold onto the ball because they are possessive about it. They think that if they give the ball it will be taken away, so they are reluctant to relinquish it. A good way around this is to teach the dog that if he lets go of the ball then he gets it straight back again, hence making it less traumatic to give up (temporarily) the possession.
Step
2
Exercise the dog
First, burn off some of the dog's excess energy with a good walk. This helps stop those internal 'jumping beans' from getting in the way of his concentration.
Step
3
Keep things low-key
Sit down or relax with the dog next to you. The idea is to create an atmosphere where a game of ball is the last thing on his mind and he's chilled enough to listen to you.
Step
4
Give the dog a ball
Hand the dog a ball. Again, keep things low key so that he doesn't immediately get hyped up and run off with the ball. (If he does run off with the ball, ignore him. Don't chase after as he will learn running away with the object is a great way to get you to play chase.)
Step
5
Hold your hand out
Now the dog has the ball in his mouth, thinking how nice life is. Hold out your hand, palm upwards, under the ball as if ready to grasp it if it drops. Keep you hand sufficient distance away that the dog doesn't feel threatened or pressured. Wait patiently for the dog to let go of the ball and drop it into your hand.
Step
6
Praise, reward, and return
Shower the dog with praise for being so clever. Make him feel really special...then give him the ball straight back. Surprised, the dog may drop the ball again pretty quickly, at which point you repeat the praise and hand back the trophy. When the dog is doing this fairly automatically then start adding a cue word, such as "Give" just before he opens his mouth.
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The Treat Exchange Method

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Step
1
Understand the idea
OK, so your dog values the ball so highly that he's not going to release it of his own accord. The answer here is to tempt the dog with something he prizes more highly than the ball...in this case a tasty treat.
Step
2
Give the dog a ball
Have the dog sit in front of you and give him a ball to hold (or a toy). Show the dog a treat and hold it in front of his nose.
Step
3
Reward dropping the ball
The dog wants the treat so he drops the ball in order to free up his mouth. At the moment of release, say "Give" and then reward him with praise and the treat.
Step
4
Give the ball back
Now give him the ball back. Let him play with it for a short time, then offer him another treat. Keep repeating this cycle of giving him the ball back, showing a treat, and then rewarding him for dropping the ball.
Step
5
Phase out the treat
Once the dog gets the hang of the game, start to phase out the treats. Start by giving the "Give" cue, and out of anticipation the dog will drop the ball. Skip the treat this time, and only give a food reward every other release. Gradually reduce the number of treats and increase the number of repetitions the dog is expected to perform before he gets a reward.
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The Two Balls Method

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Step
1
Understand the idea
This method is simplicity itself. Work with two balls instead of one. When the dog is already holding a ball, get him to release it by offering or throwing a second. Most dogs will release the one they are holding in order go chase the second. If the dog runs off while still holding the first, then make a point of only throwing the second ball after he has dropped the first.
Step
2
Give the dog a ball
Offer the dog a ball and let him mouth it for a short time. Ask the dog to "Give". If he drops the ball give him lots of praise. However, if he holds onto the ball, produce the second ball and show it to him.
Step
3
Have the dog 'sit'
Instead of dancing around you with a ball in his mouth as he eyes up the second, ask the dog to 'sit'. Now repeat the "Give" command and make a point of showing him the other ball in your hand. Act excited, as if the ball you are holding is the most interesting ball you've ever seen. This is often enough to encourage most dogs to drop the first ball.
Step
4
Reward the dog
If the dog dropped the ball, throw the second one as a reward. This way he learns that releasing the ball is actually a wise move as he gets a game of fetch and still ends up with a ball in his mouth.
Step
5
Refine the release
As the dog gets better and better at releasing the ball, gradually extend the amount of time he is expected to wait in a sitting position before you throw the ball. This helps reinforce that he must actively release a ball in order for the game to continue.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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