There are many reasons why a dog will drop a retrieve article, or even refuse to pick up an article and retrieve it. Some of the most common reasons are listed below: –



The dog drops the ball as it wants to empty its mouth in anticipation of having the motivator in its mouth instead.

In this situation the timing of when the motivator is shown to the dog is critical. Do not be tempted to have the motivator in clear view. Either hide it behind your back until the dog has placed the retrieved article in your hand and then let the dog see and have the motivator, or keep the motivator in a pocket or bumbag and quickly produce it once the dog has given you the retrieve article. Some dogs get frustrated with the time it takes to take the motivator out of a pocket so be aware of this and adapt by hiding it in or under your clothing instead (eg up a sleeve, in a waistband).



The dog becomes distracted by something in the environment that causes it to loose its concentration, relax its mouth muscles, and drop the ball – or forget that it was supposed to retrieve something and instead go and investigate the distraction. 


These distractions can be: -



  • The sight of another retrieve article
  • A dog or human moving (particularly when they are running)
  • Any movement as the dog is picking up the article
  • A passing car
  • Seeing another member of its pack – human or canine
  • Unhappy visual associations with the object – perhaps the dog saw a similar object when it had a fright, was told off when it was a puppy, was attacked by another dog when it played with a similar object etc.



  • The voice or commands of the Helper, the Handler, the Handler or noises in the next lane
  • The voice of any another human who sounds either anxious or excited
  • Family or friends voice in the distance
  • The sound of the public address system at a show – either spoken or music
  • Distant bangs such as a child’s balloon bursting, gunfire, or thunder
  • The gas burner of an overhead air balloon
  • The sound of a flyball box being triggered
  • A football match nearby - if the dog loves chasing footballs
  • Birds - if it enjoys chasing them


(I often use the analogy of a dog “reading a newspaper” when explaining this natural dog behaviour!)

  • The smell of a treat on the floor left either by a previous dog or by itself earlier on in the session
  • The scent of the material used to make the retrieve article – rubber, leather, canvas, wood, its stuffing etc – that the dog may have bad associations with due to being told off (either by humans or another dog) for touching the substance in the past
  • A bitch coming in season
  • The scent of a dog it had an altercation with in the past and had bad associations with that dog’s body odour – this dog’s scent may also be on the retrieve article
  • Nearby food stalls such as chip and burger vans
  • The scent of a family member trying to hide from the dog’s sight so as not to distract it visually (try hiding down wind of the dog if you want to “hide”!)
  • The scent of where either it or another dog has relieved itself
  • The track of an animal that may have crossed the training area before the humans and dogs arrived (such as a rabbit, squirrel, rat, fox etc)



  • Another dog’s saliva on the article
  • The taste of the substance that the retrieve article is made out of
  • What the article has been washed in to disinfect or clean it
  • The ball slips out due to the excessive salivation in the dog’s mouth as it pants or runs (see Stress)


SIZE or TEXTURE of the article- eg

  • Some retrieve articles are too big or heavy for the dog to carry comfortably – this needs to be taken into consideration when choosing the retrieve article that you want to train the dog to bring to you.
  • Some dogs have very sensitive mouths and are uncomfortable holding manmade objects, particularly when they are running and jumping. Try soft textured items such as gloves, raggits or grabbits.


The above examples are not a complete list of things that can distract a dog when it is retrieving – there are many more depending on the environment, the dog and its likes and dislikes.  It is up to the Handler and Trainer to watch the dog carefully and try to manage the training situation so that the dog is able to succeed. 

Some of these distractions can be added to the dog’s training schedule later on so that it learns to be able to cope with them while it is retrieving.  However, dogs are not machines and are capable of being distracted – allow for this and learn from the experience so that you can either avoid the situation next time or gradually train the dog to cope with the distraction.


As you can see from the above, the choice of retrieve article, particularly those just learning to retrieve, is very important.  Experiment to find a medium sized article that has the right texture, taste and smell that the dog enjoys carrying.  Try to choose something that the dog has very strong happy associations with so that you get a good “start” to the training session. 


Do not feel obliged to use a standard retrieve article (eg dumb bell, ball, gundog dummy) if your dog has built up bad association with it in the past when being taught to retrieve. 


Some dogs like a new article each retrieve (eg the inner cardboard tube of a toilet roll, next a treat box, then a squeaky toy etc) while others enjoy using one or two articles over and over again.  In the early stages of training, find out what suits your dog best by experimenting should the dog refuse to play the Game again.  

By understanding and carefully watching your dog you will come to understand why your dog drops the "ball".


This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


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