Canine Behavior/Behaviour of dog
I have a 4¾ German Spitz Mittel. He was Castrated a few months ago.
I got him from a Breeder about 2 years ago. He was raised as a show dog and had no socialising with people or other dogs or toys. He was very timid at first, and would not even sit (part of his training was never to sit), and was terrified of people or other dogs. He has come on by leaps and bounds, and makes contact with anyone or any dog, provided I am there. I am retired so I'm there always.
However, I have taught him many tricks, but one thing I cannot get him to do, he wont play with a ball, If I roll it to him, he just looks at it and walks away. I have been trying for the last 6 months with no success.
Can you help?
Thank you for your question. It's lovely that you've been able to devote your time to this dog and help him come out of his shell now that he's out of the show world.
As far as playing with a ball, not every dog likes balls - even some who were raised from puppyhood playing with toys will prefer other toy types over balls. If there are other toys he likes to play with then I would focus on enjoying those toys with him. Perhaps he'd like to play Tug with a rope toy or Fetch with a Stick or long stick-shaped toy rather than the spherical toys. Perhaps he'd prefer to play Nose games where you hide treats and encourage him to search the room or garden to find them all (see video links below for Nose Work games).
But... if you're determined to try to increase his interest in a ball specifically, there are a few things you can try.
Option 1: Cut a small hole into a tennis ball and stuff a few treats into it. Roll the ball near him and let him notice the smell of the treats. If the hole is large enough, he may be able to roll the ball around and knock the treats out himself. If the hole is too small to easily get the treats out by himself, then you can encourage him to come back to you (if he has a reasonable recall "Come" command) and once he returns to you, trade him the ball for a treat. As he gets more engaged with the ball with the treats inside it, you can roll the ball further from him, or just a few feet but away from him rather than toward him to encourage him to chase the ball. As he gets better and better, you can start tossing the ball rather than rolling it - at first quite close and then a bit further and a bit further as he shows increased interest.
Having the smell right inside the ball can dramatically increase the dog's interest in engaging with that object.
Option 2: Play "Trades" with him with an intact ball (no hole, no treats inside). In this exercise, you would simply present the ball to him by rolling it toward him. Any interaction he gives the ball will prompt you to mark the behavior "Yes!" and give him a treat. So at the very earliest efforts, if he just looks/watches the ball, you will tell him "Yes!" in a cheery voice when he looks at the ball and then reward him with a treat. As he demonstrates a consistent willingness to look at the ball, you will increase the criteria so that he must touch the ball.
Roll the ball toward him. If he noses it or paws it or touches it in any other way, mark the action "Yes!" and give him a treat. Repeat until he's readily touching the ball in some way.
When he's ready, increase the criteria again - now you will not mark "Yes!" until he puts his mouth on the ball. He need not pick it up or bring it to you at this stage, just touch it with his mouth (ideally an open mouth).
When he's readily mouthing the ball, you can increase the criteria again so that he must now pick up the ball.
The next step would be pick up the ball and move toward you with the ball. The final step is pick up the ball, move toward you and drop the ball at your feet or into your hand (whatever you prefer, just be clear in your body language what you want him to do so that he can learn the correct behavior).
At each stage, you are rewarding him with the cheery "Yes!" and also a treat. As he gets good at this and begins to run back to get the ball to bring back to you, the game itself will slowly become enjoyable enough that he no longer needs the treats. You can wean him off the treats once he's easily playing Fetch by only giving him a treat every other time he retrieves the ball, rather than every single time. Then every 3rd or 4th time, etc. You'll see his joy of the game and the joy of running increase and you'll know when you can stop using treats to entice him to play.
Option 3: Use a treat dispensing toy such as a Tricky Treat Ball (see link below) to help him engage with spherical objects. This toy looks like a large golf ball and has a good sized hole in it. You put his regular ration of kibble into it and show him that rolling it around will periodically dump kibbles out for him to eat. He may need a bit of help the first few times. I will often show a novice dog how to play with this toy by putting the kibble into it, then setting the ball so that the hole is on the floor so that any movement by the dog at first will reveal kibbles on the floor. Once it's set in place, I point and touch gently the ball and encourage the dog to nose the ball out of the way and find the kibbles. Sometimes I have to do that setup 2 or 3 times before the dog starts to nose the ball on his own after he gets the kibbles he just found. But once they figure out that they can get more kibbles out of it, most dogs will continue to push the ball around. This won't teach him to play Fetch, but it will increase his interest in spherical objects.
If he likes to play Tug, you can probably find a rope/ball combination toy at your local pet store so that you can hold the rope part and present the ball part to the dog to play Tug. This can help increase his comfort in mouthing and holding onto spherical objects, which may increase his overall interest in balls.
But, as I said at the top of this reply, not every dog likes to play with balls. If he has other toys he quite enjoys, then I would focus on those toys so that we're working with his innate joy. But, you can certainly try these ideas and see if he comes around. He may not. . .
NOTE: some of these toys are a rather soft material, so supervise to ensure your dog doesn't cause damage or swallow bits of the toy.
Tricky Treat Ball (be sure you choose a size appropriate for your dog)
Other ball-type food dispensing toys
NOSE WORK GAMES
Beginner Nose Work
Beginner Steps 2 & 3
Out of the Box
I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist