Help me help my elderly rescue dog.
June 3, 2015 11:28 AM   Subscribe

My recently rescued elderly dog is ball-obsessed. More specifically, she is obsessed with playing with balls right near the edge of my couch. This is a problem. How can I fix this problem?

I've rescued a wonderful bonded pair of Boston Terriers. One is a 13 year old female in generally good health, the other is a frisky little 3 year old boy. We are settling in pretty well! Except for the elderly dogs ball obsession. Due to a barely perceptible slope to my floors, all balls end up behind the couch. The old gal seems to enjoy and exploit this (though maybe not? Maybe its coincidence? ), and the incessant whining for the lost balls is driving every human in the house completely batty. Can you help me to help her remain calm?

Here is our couch situation. That is a 5.75" opening from floor to the underside of the couch.

Here is what the old gal will get herself into when she reaches her breaking point.

The pups have been here for two weeks. When Old Gal has access to balls indoors, she plays fairly calmly with them. When she has access to balls outdoors, she runs like a madwoman, and overexerts herself very very quickly. She has a heart murmur, and this overexertion results in literal hours of extremely difficult breathing. We cannot allow her to run after balls outside for this reason.

These dogs are not crate trained, and Old Gal in particular responds to being inside anything resembling a crate (even a gated off kitchen!) with ceaseless, terrified whining and crying.
The young dog doesn't know many commands yet, but is quickly learning. He is super trainable. Old Gal - not so much. Two weeks in, she still won't even sit on command.

I would like for her to have balls indoors. I would like for the balls to not roll under my couch. I have tried:

* stuffing pillows under the couch - she pulls the pillows out, and then plays with her ball at the couches edge

* hanging a blanket on the couch so that it blocks off the opening - she plays with the ball on and around the blanket and eventually, the ball rolls under.

* keeping no balls in the house - I have a toddler, so this isn't easy. Also, she really is happier when she can chew on a ball.

* Offering alternative chew toys - She is disinterested in anything that isn't round. Plus all other toys get stolen by the Young Fella, and then there are dog arguments.

* Offering balls larger than the opening under our couch - she cannot get her mouth around them, and therefore isn't interested in them.

* I have never let her see me retrieve the balls, under the assumption that she may therefore learn that whining results in her getting the balls more quickly. No clue if this is misguided or what.

Any ideas and advice are appreciated. From keeping balls from getting under the couch, to behavior modification for old dogs, to magical anti-whining spells. Thanks, all!!
posted by waterisfinite to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hmm. Can you get some kind of foam, like cushion-stuffing foam, and maybe attach some strong Velcro to it and to the bottom of the couch, so that you can attach it so your pup can't pull it out? Maybe attach it a couple inches back from the edge of the couch, so that she can't grab it as easily?
posted by sarcasticah at 11:42 AM on June 3, 2015

I have one potential solution to the "Offering balls larger than the opening under our couch" conundrum:

Chuckit! Kick Fetch Ball

This ball has deep grooves running around it like the pattern of the seams on a baseball that allow a dog to pick up a ball much larger than their head and chew on it. It seems to be virtually indestructible. It's a huge hit with my pup and with all of her friends at the dog park.
posted by goHermGO at 11:42 AM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Very cute! Yes, do NOT let her see you retrieving the balls, although at 13 she may already know that Humans Are Good at Reaching Things.

How about modifying the couch? Those look like screw-on legs, so you can probably get a taller version so she can get herself out more easily. Bonus is that a roomba or vacuum will be easier to get underneath.

Alternatively, get a piece of wood (like a 1x4 or 2x4 or anything you have handy), preferably tall enough it blocks off the majority of the opening. Then, use string or a rubber band or hair ties around the wood and the couch legs to form a barrier across the front. It'll block both the dog and the ball(s).

You could rig up a better fastening system (like some eye-hooks in the wood for the string/etc) or really just prop it in so it doesn't slide backwards. You could stain it, etc, to make it match your decor.

Check on it a couple times once installed to make sure it isn't walking away, but it'll probably solve the losing-balls problem.

As far as crates go - don't force her into it. Treat it heavily with stinky delicious stuff (if she's food-motivated) or toss her ball into it. For example, every time you walk past it, throw 2-3 high-value treats or one ball into it. It has to become a safe/nice/unthreatening place for her before you can start shutting her in.

Also seconding the Chuck-It! Kick/Fetch and Throw/Fetch (shaped like a NFL football) balls.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:43 AM on June 3, 2015

I think you're going to have to physically block them. I am not an interior decorator, but perhaps some plywood covered with fabric that matches your couch would look nice.
posted by desjardins at 11:43 AM on June 3, 2015

My inlaws put a baseboard that just fit - wedged under the couch to prevent something similar.
posted by ReluctantViking at 11:44 AM on June 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Tuck or tie pool noodles or a piece of wood in around under the edge of your couch to keep them out. It doesn't look the best though if you get a dark color it's hard to see and it keeps them out. Other option is to get risers for your couch so she can get in under there easier then no need to cry.

I can sympathize as I have two terriers and their favorite thing ever is put all the toys under the bed game then the crying because they were stuck please get their toys game, which usually happened at 2am. We ended up solving it putting the base on the floor so no gap to go under Terriers are bred to go to earth after prey, so the urge to go under stuff and to chase things under things (and to go through holes) is a mighty strong one.

You could probably use clicker training and targeting to train the dog to distract her, it would also help with the sitting, terriers can get a very "what's in it for me" mentality. There are lots of good YouTube videos on this & most dogs pick it up really quickly.
posted by wwax at 11:45 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

My dog does this, too. Like seriously, play anywhere else in the damn house and you'll be fine, but nooooo gotta play with the balls right up at the edge of the couch.

A few things have "worked" to varying degrees of success. I define "worked" as "he stops whining about it pretty quickly."

-always having a secret extra tennis ball within arm's reach to fling away and distract him

-ignoring him and only retrieving balls when he is quietly and calmly curled up with some other toy somewhere

-sticking plastic bags just inside the undercouch gap. My dog is terrified of plastic bags for some reason. He gives them a fairly wide berth usually so if he sees one under the couch he'll back a few feet away to play over there.

So far nothing has completely fixed this but he's definitely gotten better about not annoying me when he does lose a ball.
posted by phunniemee at 11:46 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you move the couch forward a foot so she can get behind it? In my house, the floor slopes so the balls will go back to the wall and that allows the dog access. (Life has been easier since we moved the couch to a different wall entirely.)
posted by metasarah at 11:49 AM on June 3, 2015

If aesthetics are not that important, it seems to me that multipack sets of Kleenex, Puffs, etc. laid flat would fit into that space.

You would be stocking up on a lot of tissue, but I think it would be more difficult for her to grab onto, either with her mouth or paws.
posted by invisible ink at 11:57 AM on June 3, 2015

Dogs enjoy getting things stuck under objects, watching them fall down stairs, watching them roll down inclines. They're basically furry toddlers.

Your situation and my ball obsessed dog is why I bought a sofa with less than an inch clearance from the floor! I would see about getting some sort of 4 inch plus strap/webbing that you can tie tightly around all four legs that blocks entry under the sofa. If it's black, you probably won't even see it after a while. Something like this?
posted by cecic at 11:59 AM on June 3, 2015

I would get a new couch. Some people say my priorities are messed up. I say, "Who's a pretty puppy??"
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:25 PM on June 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Came here to suggest pool noodles or baseboard or similar construction material you can cut to fit.

When I was a kid, my mother did this with a couple crates of books from the library yard sale. She duct-taped them into blocks that fit into the clearance space, and just made a line of them all the way down the front of the couch.

We have a very similar couch, and there is nothing sadder and more annoying than when I ask GIR where his GreenBall! is and he attempts to shove his 90lb self under the couch.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:30 PM on June 3, 2015

Also, storage boxes. You just have to make sure they really will fit, so buy one first before you commit to 20 of them.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:33 PM on June 3, 2015

Came in to suggest storage boxes, but see Lyn Never has beat me to it. Rather than buying one to see if it'll fit, just take a measuring tape to the store with you, and measure pre-purchase.
posted by easily confused at 1:13 PM on June 3, 2015

We did pool noodles and just suffered the aesthetic consequences. You could wrap them in a dark or matching fabric and make it look a little better if you wanted.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:19 PM on June 3, 2015

Response by poster: Guys, I'm having a phenomenally emotionally fragile day for non-dog-related reasons, and coming here to find that this is A Totally Normal Dog Game is so, so, so reassuring.

Thank you all. I have a husband who cares a lot about our house looking nice, so I think I'm going to research new legs for the couch and possibly building and staining something out of wood.

I've just ordered that ball, too! PLEASE little baby Jesus, let this all work.
posted by waterisfinite at 2:04 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Even something really low, like 1-2", under the edges of the couch will keep the balls from rolling all the way under. Maybe a couple of pieces of heavyish wood molding (as long as the dogs don't move them).
posted by amtho at 3:16 PM on June 3, 2015

I was thinking a few of those big plastic underbed storage containers could close off the space but be hard for a dog to move. I bet a place like the Container Store or Bed Bath and Beyond has similar-shaped things but of nicer-looking (or less conspicuous) material. (here's one?)

In the "raise the couch" department, they make little feet that you can add to furniture to raise it. Many varieties - e.g. here are some wooden bed lifters, but they come in many colors/materials/heights/shapes.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:16 PM on June 3, 2015

You can build a frame out of 1 x 2 or 1 x 3 and set it up so balls are guided out from under the couch. You can put a hole in a tennis ball, and put a piece of rope through it, making it not roll. I have bought these, and every single one is buried in the woods.
posted by theora55 at 6:56 PM on June 3, 2015

I was going to say pool noodles (cover them with dark fabric to make them more aesthetically pleasing) but what about bricks? Enough to completely fill the space back to the wall?
posted by lemniskate at 7:43 PM on June 3, 2015

Concurring with a wood frame, maybe with some U-bolts to secure it to couch legs. However, how about making it 6-12 inches deep from the front lip of the couch? This way the balls roll under the couch in a dog-satisfying way but she can still reach and hunt the balls in a way that's interesting for her.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:00 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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