Why does my dog always want to play ball?


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Behaviourist Steve Goward offers some training tips to a Your Dog reader, who's dog gets overexcited and begs to play...

(Q) Our female 23-month-old Cocker Spaniel keeps jumping up and barking for us to throw her ball. We have tried ignoring her, not talking, and turning our backs. Nothing seems to work.

(A) Behaviourist Steve Goward says: Barking due to excitement and frustration is natural and at some point this behaviour has been rewarded. Successful outcomes are repeated, even if you are no longer rewarding the behaviour, making it difficult to extinguish.

I would preference test her toys and find which are high value and which are less exciting. Find a place where she doesn't exhibit the unwanted behaviour. Play fetch with low value toys and start to build up some self-control by delaying your throw just for a second or two. Don't wait too long as her frustration levels will increase and you will get the old behaviour. Gradually increase the time that she waits for the toy and change the location where you do your training and increase the value of the toys. Build on this self-control and start asking for known behaviours like a sit or a down before rewarding her.

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If all toys are too exciting then you can do the same exercises with food. A simple self-control exercise game you can teach your dog is to get them to remove their nose from your hand for a treat. Hold a piece of food in your fist and as she steps back or moves her nose away quickly open your hand and say ‘Yes' to reveal the treat. Repeat, varying location and rewards, and she will learn that to get something she must move away from it. Use low value food to begin with to reduce frustration and gradually increase to improve her self-control. This game is not suitable for dogs with any resource guarding problems.

Once she has the concept of when rewards will be delivered and the ability to control her own actions she will be far easier dog to work with in the future.