My Dog Won’t Bring The Ball All The Way Back

Failing to bring the ball back is a really common issue with dogs, though the root cause may differ from dog to dog. When first teaching Nyx how to fetch, she would never drop the ball at my feet. She would run, grab it, and drop it somewhere in the yard. Any attempts to grab the ball would result in her snatching it up and taking off running.

Here are the common reasons why your dog is not returning the ball back to you:

  • Your dog thinks the game is chasing not fetch
  • Your dog thinks returning the ball ends the game
  • Your dog doesn’t understand what you want
  • Your dog is possessive of the ball
  • Your dog doesn’t want to play or is tired
  • Younger dogs don’t know how to run and carry the ball.

With a look at the causes of why your dog doesn’t bring the ball all the way back to you, you can get ready to try to figure out the main issue. We’re going to explain the most common cause in this article. Even if you can’t figure it out, you can usually teach your dog a solid retrieve with a few easy training sessions. And we’ll cover that too.

My Dog Won’t Bring The Ball All The Way Back – Why?

To learn how to teach a dog to drop a ball at your feet, you must first reflect on the possible cause of the behavior. With the insights you gain here, you can potentially troubleshoot the issue and come up with a great solution.

Dogs are unique individuals with preferences, likes and dislikes all their own, after all. They also tend to have their own agendas and are not usually masters of human language. So, there are usually a lot of reasons why dogs won’t bring the ball all the way back to you during a game of fetch. These reasons include…

Your dog wants to play a different game

For most dogs, there is just nothing better than a rousing game of chase.

You can see this when playing with multiple dogs at the same time. They tend to run after the toy, grab it and tease the other dogs into chasing them.

Hunting dogs like pointers have the urge to chase rather than return with the ball. It’s their high prey drive. Retrievers are different. They are used to retrieving shot birds and returning them to their hunter/owner.

To get around this problem, dogs just need to learn that there is a time and place for everything. They can play chase, just not while playing fetch. Separating the games tends to help reinforce the rules of each. With this approach, everyone walks away with what they want, making for truly rewarding training sessions.

Your dog doesn’t want the game to end

If your dog associates bringing back the ball with the game of fetch ending, they may avoid that action in order to keep the fun going. They could drop the ball far away or simply fail to drop it when requested. Anything but bringing it right back to you, as they likely see that as the cause of their game ending.

You can overcome this challenge by switching up how long you play and when you take the ball at the end of the game. Randomly vary these factors to leave your dog guessing and halt the negative associations.

With time, your dog will stop trying to keep the game going with a failure to retrieve and simply enjoy the activity. 

Your dog may not understand your request

Try as they may, dogs are not great at understanding exactly what we are telling them.

When dogs do not bring the ball all the way back, they may not really understand your request.

To overcome this problem, you may need to show your dog what you need from them and then reinforce big time when they finally do it.

It is so important to mark the moment that your dog finally grasps the concept and shows their understanding. So when that happens, throw the biggest reward party in history, full-on with dancing and praising and treating galore!

Your dog is possessive of the ball

Some dogs prefer to guard and hang on to the ball rather than give it to you. They think it’s fun when you move to take the ball away from them and they run away.

How do you handle a possessive dog? Trade a treat for the ball and use positive reinforcement during that trade.

How to Teach Your Dog to Bring the Ball Back

So now you know why your dog won’t bring the ball all the way back, it’s time to focus changing your dog’s behavior so they do bring the ball back to you.

Training a solid retrieve can feel like an exercise in frustration at first. Your dog may not even come close to bringing the ball back, making it difficult to mark and reward the behaviors you want. You can get around this by playing a game that is one part impulse control, one part fetch.

Step 1

  • You will want to play this game inside your home while sitting about a foot from your dog, facing them.
  • Roll the ball to your dog, and then immediately ask for it back and grab it from their mouth.
  • Act fast as you give your leave it command and grab the ball back.
  • Offer praise and a reward for a great leave it to reinforce the behavior from your dog.
  • Slowly increase the distance until your dog is retrieving from across the room and bringing it back to you.

At this point, you can head outdoors to try out what you’ve both learned.

Step 2

Dogs do not have the easiest time applying what they have learned to different situations. So when you go outside, you will have to start the training process from square one.

Resist the urge to feel discouraged.

Your dog will likely pick up the activity much faster this time around as long as you follow the exact steps you did inside.

For this step, choose an isolated area of your yard and repeat the fetch activity without room for your dog to fail.

Slowly increase the distance as you did before to improve the retrieve in your own yard.

Step 3

If you ever want to take your dog somewhere else for a game of fetch, you will have to repeat your training steps in a variety of locations.

Start with quiet, isolated areas, like a friend’s yard, to prevent distractions.

You want to set your dog up for success every step of the way to avoid setbacks.

With each success, slowly add small distractions and reward big when your dog ignores them in favor of completing the task at hand.

Step 4

If your dog continues to make you wonder, “Why does my dog drop the ball away from me,” then you might be dealing with another problem.

This could include anything from a fear of having to go inside or desire to play something else that can make your dog fail to return the ball.  This is where understanding the underlying cause comes in. For most dogs, however, they simply get over it once they see the rewards that come with playing along.

Step 5

You can phase out the treats or playtime as your dog starts to appreciate the fetch as its own reward.

Keep the praise coming, however, to boost the motivation and drive of your dog throughout each game.

Varying the Intensity of the Retrieve to the Delight of Your Dog

Keep the game of fetch from growing stale by changing it up once in a while.

You can vary the intensity of the retrieve by using different types of balls and other toys. You can use herding balls, for example, to increase the difficulty of the retrieve. These balls require a lot more thought to return, as your dog must push them with their shoulders or nose.

Training dummies, flying discs and tumbling fetch toys can all liven up the game as well. With even a few of these toys, your dog will delight in the various ways to play fetch with you.

Although it can take a little while to teach your dog to drop the ball at your feet, your efforts will undoubtedly pay off in the long run.

With every activity you teach your dog to complete, your shared understanding and bond deepens. Your ability to clearly communicate with your dog also improves, making the training process more approachable for you both.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this problem happen in puppies as well as mature dogs?


Both mature dogs and puppies tend to drop the ball early while learning how to fetch.

You can encourage a great game of fetch by going through the training steps with dogs of any age. Puppies and mature dogs will pick up the rules of the game pretty quickly with the right instruction.

Why dog drops ball too early?

Dogs can drop the ball early for a variety of reasons. They may not want to return the ball in case that means it is time to go inside. Or they may not understand your request in full. You can work with your dog to see if you can identify the problem or eliminate with great training techniques.

Why does my dog drop the ball away from me?

Dogs drop the ball away from their owners due to misunderstandings or a low drive to play that game. Not all dogs are born with a love for fetch. Some need to build up a strong positive reinforcement history to see the value in this activity.

How come my dog fetches but won’t drop the ball?

Many times, your dog fetches but won’t drop the ball because they do not want to go inside.

If dropping the ball at your feet results in going indoors, then your dog may never want to do that again. You can entice them to let their fears go and practice a solid retrieve with the right training steps.

Author - Marie

With 2 Border Collies (Nyx and Bandit) and a Red Heeler (Ruby). With no livestock, Marie spends most of her time outdoors with her dogs, letting them release all their energy as farm dogs. They are fiends for fetch - even in the snow. Marie has started formal flyball training with Nyx, with the other dog likely follow. Marie is also interested in joining dock diving, sheep herding, and agility activities so that her dogs can burn more energy. All three are adept trick dogs with the ability to wave, shake hands, roll over, sit pretty, walk like people and much more. She has much to share with this community of outdoor dog lovers.

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