How to Train Your Small Dog to Release a Ball

Easy
1-5 Days
Fun

Introduction

Nothing ruins a great game of fetch more than a dog that refuses to drop the ball. In fact, some dogs secretly love “keep away” more than they love fetch. 

If you have found yourself chasing after your dog, yelling at him to no avail to “Drop it!”, then you have been had! In fact, your dog probably thinks you love the game of keep away as much as he does. After all, you keep playing it.  

Teaching your dog to release a ball is fairly easy in most cases. Our guide below offers three simple methods to teach your dog to drop the ball, every time. 

Defining Tasks

Although the command “Drop it!” is often used in fetch, it can and probably should be used for asking your dog to give up just about anything. It is a good emergency trick to have in your back pocket in case you need your dog to release something in a hurry – like something they should not be chewing on in the first place. 

Key to understanding how 'drop it' works is to see that your dog is enjoying what he has in his mouth. If you ask him to “drop it” and always take that thing away without giving them something as good or better, then your dog has very little reason to ever give you anything. 

If, however, you always give your dog something of equal or greater value, then they know that releasing the object is going to be rewarding. Keep this in mind as you use this command when playing fetch or in other cases and you will have a dog that reliably releases on command. 

Getting Started

When training your dog new things, it is always advisable to start in a familiar place indoors. This is so they will not be as distracted and will give you better focus on the task at hand. After they have gained some skill with any new behavior, it is a good idea to start practicing it in new places, adding some distraction to the mix.

Keep your training sessions short and fun for best results. If your dog enjoys learning new things, he will learn faster and bring more enthusiasm to each training session.

Each of the methods below offer a different way to train your dog to release a ball, depending on what most motivates them.

  • The 'Bait and Switch' method works best for food motivated dogs.
  • The 'Two Ball' method works best for dogs that are already pretty addicted to fetch.
  • The 'Ignore' method works best for attention hogs. 

The Bait and Switch Method

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Step
1
Starting point
If your small dog is very motivated by food, this is a great method to use to help them learn to drop the ball. First, sit near your dog with some food rewards on the ready. Toss the ball around until your dog is interested and goes to get it.
Step
2
Treat exchange
When your dog has the ball, say “Drop it!” in an excited tone, and then offer the food reward. Most dogs will drop the toy in exchange for the treat. Let them have the treat. Then pick up their ball and throw it again. Always let your dog have the ball back after they successfully drop it.
Step
3
Pause before treat
Repeat the above step several times. Add some time between when you say “drop it” and offering the bait to get them to drop it. By doing this your dog will eventually anticipate the treat, and drop the ball before you offer the treat to them.
Step
4
Treat after drop
Wait to offer a treat until after you give the command and your dog drops the ball. Repeat 20-30 times to really ingrain this behavior.
Step
5
Practice
Practice this behavior often with other toys and in new and more challenging environments.
Step
6
Fade food rewards
As your dog masters this trick, you will no longer have to give a food reward. Instead, you can use praise and pets.
Recommend training method?

The Two Ball Method

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Step
1
Fetch addict
For some dogs, fetch is so rewarding that they just love to chase that ball and do not need any other motivators. This technique takes advantage of natural retrievers' ball drive to reward them with another ball. Start by tossing a ball your dog will go to fetch.
Step
2
Better ball
When your dog comes back with their ball, hoping to play a little keep away with you, show them you have another ball, and imply that it is the better ball. Many dogs will fall for this trick, and drop the ball in their mouth to get a look at that better ball you have!
Step
3
Ball drop
While your dog is running after ball 2, pick up ball 1. Repeat the first two steps until your dog is worn out!
Step
4
Change to one ball
Once you have played this two-ball game several times, your dog will have a muscle memory built in that they need to drop a ball before you will throw another one. Start winding up like you have another ball, when your dog drops the ball in their mouth, pick that up and throw it.
Step
5
Refine
Over time, you can improve your dog’s ability to drop the ball for retrieve games by raising your criteria to wait for the ball to be dropped right at your feet before you will pick it up and give them what they want – another toss!
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The Ingore Method

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Step
1
The power of ignoring
Many dogs can’t stand being ignored, especially during a fun time outdoors. When you chase a dog with a ball in their mouth, you are actually rewarding them since “Keep Away” is a fun game known to most dogs at birth. The first step of this training method is to act like you do not care about the ball they have.
Step
2
Patience
When your dog eventually drops the ball on his own, you can get the ball at that time.
Step
3
Ball in the hand
Make a big deal about the ball and how fun it is and then give it a toss. This will reward your dog.
Step
4
Time will tell
Over time, your dog will figure out that holding the ball offers no value. Only dropping the ball results in a fun game!
Step
5
Good times
Remember to keep your training sessions fun and playful so that your dog will look forward to the time they spend training with you!
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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