It’s frustrating, isn’t it? You play a game of fetch with your dog, but they act all uncooperative and drop the ball away from you. Why do some dogs do this? And why do other dogs bring the ball back? How can you get your dog to do the same? Here are all the answers to these questions, along with additional tips and suggestions.
So, why does my dog drop the ball away from me? Dogs will typically drop the ball away from their owners as they haven’t yet learned the rules of the game or understand what their owners want. Though it could be, that they sense the end of the game and want to stop playing or continue with the ball themselves. They may just be tired.
As you can see, there are several different reasons behind this frustrating behaviour.
So, a lot will depend on your dog and the context.
It could even be that your dog hasn’t, or doesn’t, return the ball for any one of these reasons at different times.
So it can be a little confusing to work out why.
Nevertheless, let’s delve into each reason further to help you get a better understanding of why they do it.
Then we will look at how you can start to teach your dog to return the ball to save yourself from all the effort, frustration and perhaps more importantly, prevent these very searches in the future!
Why Doesn’t My Dog Give The Ball Back?
There are surprisingly numerous reasons as to why your dog may not give the ball back to you, ranging from not understanding, being tired, or being possessive. It could also be your dog is too young, he wants to play something else, or he doesn’t want the game to end.
Your Dog Doesn’t Understand What You Want
It could be your dog simply doesn’t understand what you want him to do.
Even though dogs are intelligent animals, sometimes they may not get what we are asking them for.
Or perhaps your dog isn’t bringing the ball back to you because he doesn’t know that’s what you want.
Your Dog Is Tired Or Doesn’t Want To Play
It might be your dog just doesn’t feel like playing, or he’s tired. No one wants to play if they’re tired, and that includes our canine friends.
Of course, if your dog is suddenly acting much more lethargic than usual, you may want to get him checked by your vet.
Many underlying health conditions first show up as excessive tiredness or fatigue.
Your Dog Sees The Ball As His
Your dog may think the ball belongs to him. Some dogs are more possessive than others when it comes to their food, toys, and territory.
Perhaps your dog wants to hang onto the ball and guard it rather than relinquish it to you. He may think it’s great fun when you try to take the ball away from him, running away in glee.
Your Dog Is Too Young
Some very young dogs might not be able to run far enough, or they may not know how to carry the ball.
Puppies should ideally be introduced to the idea of fetch by 8 to 12 weeks of age. Younger than that and they won’t be able to carry the ball or understand the concept.
And if you wait too long, your dog will find it more difficult to understand and you’ll have to train him (see below).
Your Dog Wants To Keep Playing
Sometimes your dog won’t bring the ball back to you because he associates bringing it back with the end of the game.
If he wants to keep the fun going, it’s natural for him to hold onto the ball or to drop it away from you.
This is also sometimes why dogs won’t drop the ball when you ask them to.
Your Dog Wants To Play Something Else
Some dogs love playing chase, and there are certain breeds (like hunting dogs) whose instinctive urge is to grab the ball and run.
These dogs love teasing other dogs (and their human families) and trying to get them to chase them.
Dogs with a high prey drive will often be driven to pursue the ball, but not necessarily to bring it back.
Your Dog Is In Pain
Sometimes your dog may keep the ball because bringing it back is too painful.
Hip dysplasia is one example of a health problem that could cause pain – your dog may fetch the ball but find it easier to lay down and rest afterward.
Why Do Dogs Bring The Ball Back?
Some dogs bring the ball back because their instincts are to retrieve things and bring them back to their owners. Hunting dogs have a natural instinct to bring a ball (or anything else they’ve caught) back to you.
So what sets your dog apart from those who are actively doing what you want yours to do.
Let’s find out!
It may give us some clues as to resolve the issue…
A Dog’s Instinct Is To Retrieve The Ball
Some breeds are natural retrievers, with an instinct to hunt down prey (or a ball), catch it, and bring it back to the hunter or owner.
Here are some breeds that are more prone to bringing the ball back to their owners:
- Golden Retrievers
- Irish Setters
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
- German Shorthaired Pointers
It’s In Their DNA
Dogs have a powerful instinct to chase and retrieve that comes from their wild ancestors. A wolf will bring back prey to their den to feed their young or their pack.
Even in non-retrieving dogs, they still have an instinct to chase. It is deeply embedded in a dogs DNA, and they will want to chase and retrieve.
If you notice a dog shaking its head back and forth once he’s caught a ball, this is instinct in action: the movement is how he would break the neck of a small animal.
Tennis balls, for instance, have a slightly furry texture that mimics the fur of a small prey animal. Some people believe this is why dogs love tennis balls so much.
As you know, once he’s caught the ball, he just might not always give it back.
Bringing The Ball Back Feels Good
For some dogs, bringing the ball back to you feels good to them because they know it’s what their owners want.
Dogs generally want to please their owners, so a good game of fetch can be very satisfying for them. If they know its expected or demanded of them.
Some experts say that a good game of fetch can stimulate the reward center in a dog’s brain.
These centers have been shown to be active when a dog anticipates a reward.
How Do I Get My Dog To Give Me the Ball?
You can do one of several things to get your dog to bring you the ball, depending on why he isn’t bringing it back to you in the first place.
If Your Dog Doesn’t Understand What You Want
If you suspect that your dog doesn’t understand what you want him to do when you ask him to bring you the ball, you may need to show him what you want and then reinforce the behavior that you want to see.
Once your dog finally understands what you’re after and brings you the ball back, reward him massively!
Shower him with affection, treats, and praise so that he knows he’s done well.
If Your Dog Is Possessive Of The Ball
If possessiveness is the problem and your dog wants to hang onto the ball and protect it (even from you), you may have to trade the ball for a treat.
When your dog lets you make the trade, give him lots of praise and cuddles to reinforce the wanted behavior.
If Your Dog Is a Hunting Breed
If your dog’s natural instinct is to give chase and hunt, you can help your dog learn to return the ball to you by separating the games of chase and fetch.
Play chase games with your dog, but without a ball involved.
When you want to play fetch, never chase your dog. Separating the two games can help your dog avoid confusion as well as follow his natural instincts.
In this way, the games will be more rewarding for both of you.
If Your Dog Wants To Keep Playing
If your dog equates bringing the ball back to you with the end of the game (and therefore won’t bring it back), the solution is simple.
Try varying the length of time that you play and when you take the ball away to signal that the game is over.
If you vary these variables randomly, you can keep your dog guessing and avoid negative associations.
Eventually, your dog will stop equating the end of the game with a failure to retrieve.
He’ll be able to simply enjoy the fun without feeling he’ll know when the game is over.
Other Fetching Tips And Suggestions
You can train your dog step by step to bring the ball back. Once you’ve done that, another good tip is to keep the game interesting for your dog by changing some of the variables.
Training Your Dog To Bring the Ball Back
Here’s how to train your dog to bring the ball back to you. Know, though, that this may take time, depending on your dog’s natural instincts (see above).
For best results, make sure your dog knows the “leave it” command first.
Step 1: Roll and Fetch
Play this game at home so that there aren’t too many distractions:
- Sit across from your dog, facing him, about a foot apart
- Roll the ball towards your dog and then ask for it back right away, grabbing it from his mouth (ask for a ‘leave it’ command while you do this)
- When your dog leaves the ball, offer him lots of praise and rewards
- Do this several times, increasing the distance slightly with each session. Eventually, you want your dog to retrieve the ball from across the room and bring it back to you
- Time to head outdoors!
Step 2: Roll And Fetch Outside
When you go outside for this training, remember you’ll have to start at the beginning again. There are lots of distractions for your dog outside – especially with his strong sense of smell.
Here’s what you do:
- Find an isolated part of your yard or a park. Choose a spot with as few distractions as possible
- Repeat the steps that you did in Step 1 above, starting with being one foot away from your dog
- Bear in mind your dog will probably pick this up faster now, but you’ll still need to contend with distractions, so be patient
Step 3: Roll And Fetch In Other Locations
This will help improve your dog’s ability to fetch in other locations outside (perhaps with more distractions).
- Choose a quiet and isolated area – it could be a friend’s yard or a quiet field
- Repeat the same steps as above
- Slowly add in distractions, and reward your dog with each successful fetch and retrieve
Step 4: Phasing Out Treats
Over time you can phase out the treats once your dog sees that successful fetching and retrieving brings its own rewards.
Remember to continue to praise your dog, though, to keep his motivation going throughout the game.
If You Still Have Problems
If you have tried the above training method and your dog still isn’t bringing the ball back to you, there might be something else in play, such as:
- A fear of having to go inside
- Wanting to play a different game
If you aren’t sure what the underlying cause is, consider contacting a dog behaviorist to help you.
Keeping Things Varied And Fun
Another tip is to keep variety in your games of fetch so that your dog doesn’t become bored or complacent.
An easy way to vary the game is to use different types of balls or other fetch toys.
You can try herding balls to make the retrieve more challenging – your dog will have to push it with his nose or shoulders.
Other fun toys to try include:
- Flying discs
- Tumbling fetch toys
- Training dummies
Your dog will love discovering different ways to play fetch with you, and the more you play, the deeper your bond will become.
If your dog does not bring the ball back, do no despair.
Besides, it’s a common thing that many owners experience. Particularly with certain breeds and ages.
Nevertheless, in time, with the right approach and with a little practice, effort and consistency, you should be able to get your dog to return the ball – just as you see in other dogs!
Check out my other dog related guides:
- Why Does My Dog Drop His Food On The Floor Before He Eats It?
- My Dog Wants To Play After Eating [Why & What To Do About It]
- Why Do Dogs Bite Each Other When They Play? [Is This Okay?]
- Why Does My Dog Drop His Toys On Me? [5 Reasons Explained]
- Why Does My Dog Drop His Toys Off The Bed? [7 Reasons!]
- Why Does My Dog Bring Me Random Things?
- Why Does My Dog Bring Me His Bone?
- Why Does My Dog Take His Treats To Another Room?
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.