Lab loses interest in fetch

dana.hanson writes to me:


I have a 3 year old rescue lab who I would consider very ball motivated. Because he has some dog aggression issues (which we’re working on, but that’s a whole other episode), for exercise I take him to the park to play fetch, rather than go on long walks because we live in a very dog-heavy area. Loose leash training is really helping with the aggression, but I want to mix his exercise up too. We go to an “island” of grass at the edge of the park where we can be in our own area and other dogs do not pass very nearby. So for the most part, it’s just us with none other than natural outdoor distractions. When we first got Jake, he would play fetch non-stop for over an hour — I think he would have played all day if we let him. However, lately he has begun to lose interest in the ball after 5 fetches or so. He will either not chase the ball at all and start wandering around sniffing, or he will chase the ball, drop it 10 yards away and start wandering around. Either way, the ball ends up 10 yards away. Since I have begun your training techniques with him, I intersperse fetch with 5 or so minutes of sit-stay or down-stay exercises, with the ball as a distraction and then the reward after 5 or so reps. This sparks his interest again, but it is short lived, and the ball ends up 10 yards away again. If a dog DOES happen to pass by (no closer than 20 yards), I have been putting him in a down-stay and correcting as soon as he perks up or lunges. When the dog is out of sight and Jake is calm again, I give the release command and throw the ball. Again, interest sparked, but short-lived and ball is 10 yards away. (This technique seems to be correcting the aggression though.)

So I find myself in a quandry. I don’t want to go get the ball for Jake and try to get him to fetch because (a) I want him to know that fetch is MY idea and this is what we’re doing right now, rather than my fetching the ball on his terms, and (b) I want him to get the exercise! At the same time, I cannot get his attention redirected to “get your ball” and bring it back to me after he has disengaged, so he gets no exercise unless I go get the ball and resume fetch (which doesn’t usually doesn’t work anyway). I’ve tried putting the ball away and ignoring him for a bit, but this doesn’t work either. And again, fetch needs to be MY idea and My game on MY time, not his.

SO, to make a very short question extremely long, how to I get him to go get his ball and bring it back to me after he has disengaged from the game? In short, how do I get him to play the game MY way and not his.

As background info, our set up during fetch is this: Jake wears a harness connected to a 50 foot rope, which is attached to a tree. This is insurance against his taking off after a dog. I stand near the rope and can grab the rope if my voice commands do not stop him in his tracks. (I’m no dummy — we’re not 100% on recall and I won’t risk it.) I do not want this rope to be attached to a collar, pinch or otherwise, because Jake often kicks the ball further than the 30 feet I throw it. If he kicks it too far, I don’t want the rope yanking his neck when he goes after it and hits the end of the rope. Along with the harness, he wears his pinch collar with a tab on it. This allows for any corrections necessary during training or dog encounters.

If you have any advice or can direct me to other posts, I would really appreciate it. Sorry for the long question, and thank you!



Hi again,

I just wanted to add that I have read the entire Secrets book as well as the “Becoming the Alpha Dog,” “Loose Leash Training,” and “Fixing Aggression Problems.” I just started using your techniques yesterday, and Jake is an entirely different dog. Today at the park I had him running right next to me — I was darting all over the place and he was right there the whole time! Even more amazing is that all kinds of dogs walked by our “island” and he didn’t even break stride!! 2 days ago, he would have started yelping and whining, reared up on his hind legs, and tried to take off after the dogs. THEN, after this leash session, I brought him to about 15 feet from the road where dogs were passing by, did a down-stay, and… NOTHING!! He just sat there!! I had to give him ONE correction when he started whining, but that was it. I can’t believe it. So THANKS!!

Still having the same issue with Jake leaving the ball 10 yards away though. Any help would be great.

Adam replies:

Hi, Dana:

Thanks for the kind words. Can you please post a picture of your dog?

As for the ball issue: If I’m understanding correctly, it sounds like you’re using the ball as a distraction (to tempt him)? I believe this may be killing his ball drive, and/or confusing him.

What I recommend is to never correct the dog (at this point) for chasing after the ball. Get creative and use other things as a distraction.

In addition, use the ball-on-a-string or the other “drive building” exercises I describe in the book, to increase his ball drive.

Remember: Drive works on a curve. Take the ball away BEFORE he loses interest, and tease him with it… then put it away. Even if he loses interest after four or five throws, then you should be putting it away after two throws– but not before you tease him with it and get him excited about it.

Then, the next time you bring it out, he’ll be just a little more excited for it, and a little more, and a little more… each day. Frustration builds drive.

– Adam.

Dana.hanson responds:

Thanks for the advice! I’ll work on it. Here’s a favorite picture of Jake. I would gush about how beautiful he is, but I’m sure you hear/see that all day! 🙂