Controlling that ball
The ball of a tennis ballaholic is never far away.
Aholic - A person who has an addiction to or obsession with some, object or activity.
As I turn to leave my bedroom, I notice Elsa standing just outside the door. She looks strange and I wonder what's up with her; that is until I notice a tennis ball at my foot, again. Elsa is a tennis ballaholic; yep, I have to admit it, she is. I know a lot of people who have tennis ballaholics but hate to admit it. Come on, say it with me; "my dog;s name is ______, and she is a tennis ballaholic." There that wasn't so bad was it? Dealing with the affliction of the tennis ball is not quite as easy and deal with it, you must.
Drive - to strive vigorously toward a goal or objective; to work, play, or try wholeheartedly and with determination.
I could tell that Elsa had drive from the get go; she loves nothing more than retrieving. Ask her if she'd prefer a steak or a retrieve and she will choose the retrieve every time. So, with that information I must be strategic. I do not leave tennis balls just laying around; but if and when I forget, I pay for it by rolling my ankle. That is because Elsa continues to put the ball at my feet. If I'm sitting down, it goes in my lap. If I'm on the double lounge outside, she will roll it to me until I throw it. If I don't throw it she will just stand there and stare at me, I think forever.
But she is not as bad as some. She is at the moment looking out my office window with a tennis ball beside her. She has carried it around for a while this afternoon and placed it at my feet in the kitchen while I bake, over and over again. But I will not throw it; there is a time and a place and the place is not the kitchen. It will be going away shortly. She can forget about the ball if it is away; but it must be out of sight or she will just stare at it, willing it to jump off of wherever I've put it. She will stand there for a longtime before giving up. So for her sake, it goes in the garage with the rest of the tennis balls. Elsa's drive is easily controllable, the way that I like it.
Tilley on the other hand was out of control, for a while anyway. She too was a tennis ballaholic but when the ball was put away; she switched that obsession onto shadows; which she learned were a pretty reliable object. It started when she was only four months old and continued until her last day. A dog with true drive to catch and retrieve will typically do so with any object. Tilley would catch anything; Elsa is learning to retrieve other objects. It takes a few tries and then she will happily oblige. But the tennis ball seems to be the prize possession.
So how do you control a tennis ballaholic? Limits and training. You must limit the ball access and control the ball yourself. The ball belongs to me and I allow Elsa to play with it when I say. The training part is much more difficult in that she must learn to leave the ball when it is present. We are working on her "leaving it" when it is thrown and not taking other's balls. This is a tough one for her; if a tennis ball is out, it's hers. She is not possessive over the ball but she is very strategic. She knows how to wait it out. She hovers looking for the fraction of a second when the other dog let's their guard down to swoop in and nab the desired ball.
I do not allow the tennis ball to run our lives; I make the rules and I control the ball. This is essential if you want to control a tennis ballaholic. When the simple act of reaching for a tennis ball sends your dog into the "ready" mode, you know you have work to do. A tennis ballaholic needs to learn to control themselves. It can be a ton of work; all they know is to chase when they see the ball. You need to teach them that they can achieve control. Rules and regulations must be implemented to tennis ball games or the ball becomes an object of the out of control mode. When your dog is a tennis ballaholic, you can use the ball as a reward for behaviors; making it easy to train for control behaviors.
But along with limits and training you must also offer your dog an outlet for the drive. Elsa does a daily 'chuck -it' time. It gives her the chance to chase, retrieve and run. Elsa loves to run, almost as much as she loves to retrieve; she is a sporty girl. Without control being placed on the ball; the ball could easily become a huge issue instead of a controllable obsession.