How to Train a Puppy to Release a Ball

Easy
1-2 Weeks
Fun

Introduction

Has your puppy turned a nice game of fetch into a feisty game of keep away? Does she seem more interested in running away to chew the ball then drop it for the next toss? Do you have to wait until she is done with the ball before you can retrieve it for another hopeful throw?

These are common problems, especially for puppies that are new to the game of fetch. The solution is to train the command “Drop it!” or implicitly make dropping the ball her job before she gets another toss.  Luckily, it is easy enough to do, provided you follow a few simple guidelines.

This guide offers some helpful advice to identify reasons why your puppy may be more interested in keeping the ball than handing it over. In addition, we offer three easy methods to train your puppy to release a ball when you want her to.

A real game of fetch is right around the corner! Read on to find out how.

Defining Tasks

No matter which method you choose to train the release, the first step is to eliminate any ways that you might be inadvertently training your puppy the opposite of what you want.

First, stop chasing after your puppy to get the ball. If you are guilty of this mistake, join the club. It is almost an instinctive move to go after a puppy that refuses to let the ball go. However, from his perspective, you are just playing a game that is way more fun than giving up a ball – the game of keep away!

When you play keep away with your puppy, you are rewarding him for NOT dropping the ball, probably the last thing you want to do.

Another common mistake is to yell at your puppy as she approaches with the ball. Yelling commands at your puppy does not yet understand will not help her understand. In fact, it is more likely than not that her interpretation of your frustration is her coming close to you with the ball, so, she runs away. 

Instead of getting frustrated, focus on the power of rewarding the right behavior, and you will find that your puppy will learn that releasing the ball when asked is the most rewarding choice she can make. 

Getting Started

Depending on which method you decide to use, you will need to get some gear ready for your training sessions.

The Trade Method

Have a bag of very small pea-sized treats ready to “trade” for the ball. Don’t worry, over time you won’t need the food motivators. Our step by step instructions will show you how to fade treats once the behavior is well understood.

The Two Ball Method 

Use this if your young canine is very excited about chasing the ball. Chances are, a new throw is the reward you can use to teach her that only releasing the ball will get a new toss. Two identical balls are the ideal equipment for this method.

The Tug Method

A soft and inviting tug toy is an excellent choice for training your furry friend to release a ball. He can’t hold a ball and play a quick game of tug at the same time! This will only work as a technique if he already really enjoys a tug. 

The Trade Method

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Step
1
Start outside
Start outdoors in a secure fenced area so that your puppy will be safe. Start your session by rewarding her with a few treats for some known behaviors, just to let her know you have the treats and are ready to dole them out for good behavior.
Step
2
Wind her up
Get her wound up to chase the ball by being exciting and fun. Then toss the ball at a distance short enough that you know she will run to get it.
Step
3
Run away
Turn away from her and start jogging away so that she will come after you with the ball in her mouth. When she catches up with you, say “Drop it!” in a fun tone, while simultaneously offering her a treat. She will drop the ball to eat the treat. Repeat 5 times.
Step
4
Delay the treat
Over the course of the next 10-20 tosses, you can start to delay the treat so it is less of a bribe, and more of a reward. Try not to say “Drop it!” unless you are confident she will, in fact, release the ball in anticipation of the reward. In addition, you can start running away less and facing her more.
Step
5
Practice
Over time, she will learn that the only way to get her reward is to drop the ball when asked. Continue to practice both during fetch and at other times when she is playing with the ball.
Step
6
Fade food rewards
Once she understands “Drop it!” and is reliably releasing the ball when asked, you can start to decrease the food rewards, just do so gradually. Make sure to use praise, pets and other reinforcement to continue to make sure that releasing the ball is better than holding on to it.
Recommend training method?

The Two Ball Method

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Step
1
Ball drive
Some dogs have a great deal of natural ball drive. With this type of puppy, you have to put the ball away between games just to keep it in one piece! If this applies to your pup, you can use this knowledge to train him to release the ball reliably.
Step
2
Toss
With one ball in your pocket, toss the other ball and make sure your puppy knows you are as excited as he is to play a game of fetch. He will immediately go running after it because he loves that ball!
Step
3
Better ball
As soon as he gets to the ball, run away from him excitedly so he will take chase with the ball in his mouth. When he catches up to you, turn to him and show him that you have ANOTHER ball! This one is even better! Get him excited about it until he drops the other ball to check it out. Then throw the new ball – your excited puppy will chase it, leaving the old ball for you to pick up for the next toss.
Step
4
Repeat
Repeat this game several times until he starts to anticipate the game and you don’t have to run away to get him to come bounding up for the next toss. Tease him a bit with the new ball until he drops the other one. Then, reward the drop with a toss again and continue to repeat.
Step
5
One ball
After practicing the two ball game for several sessions over a few weeks, your puppy is probably ready to release the ball and play a normal game of fetch. Stand there and wait for the release, but instead of throwing the new ball, get the original ball that he has dropped, and give it a toss!
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The Tug Method

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Step
1
Tug monster
Most dogs will give up a boring old ball for an interactive game of tug of war. If you have a pup that enjoys this game, a tug is a great way to teach her to release the ball during fetch. Start outdoors in a secure area with your ball ready to go, and the tug conveniently hidden from view so as not to be a distraction from the ball during the toss.
Step
2
Tug it!
Get her excited to chase the ball by playing a little keep away before giving it a short toss. When she returns with the ball to taunt you by chewing it and hoping you can be enticed to play a game of keep away, bring the tug out instead and invite her to play.
Step
3
Keep it short but fun
Chances are she will drop the ball to play tug. Make it a good and vigorous, but short, game of tug. While she is engaged with that, get the ball so you are ready for the next toss.
Step
4
Let her win
Let her win the tug every now and then to make sure she continues to enjoy that fun game. Otherwise, just end the tug game with a “Drop it!” and stop putting tension on the tug until she lets it go.
Step
5
Delay the tug
Repeat this fun version of fetch over the course of many sessions until it is clear she understands that only releasing the ball will get her the reward of a tug. Start to wait for her to actually drop the ball before offering the tug. Using the command “Drop it!” is optional, but good practice.
Step
6
Replace the tug
If you want to transition away from the tug at this point, you can since your puppy should be releasing the ball on her own. Just make sure that you always reward the drop with a reward such as praise, pets or another fun toss of the ball.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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