Harness the Power!
We share a serious obsession with our canine friends: a passion for flying round objects. Balls. Balls of all sizes and colors and textures incite incredible excitement from both species.
The big difference between us, however, is the fact that dogs would not be happy sitting on the sidelines simply watching the action from afar. No, no - they are sports fans in the real sense of the term - active participants! Sure, they might be thrilled with the caloric snacks, the party atmosphere and general excitement of a Superbowl Party, but we know from experience that sitting and watching a flickering box just isn't generally on their list of fun things to do.
Our Astro has a definite preference for tennis, but not the game, just the yellow round thing that flies through the air. I'm pretty sure he'd go bonkers seeing his beloved toy volley back and forth without getting caught. Keeping a ball in the air is the very antithesis of a dog's mission: like the predator in him, he wants to catch it, possess it.
Despite this difference, I believe our shared obsession with balls and games is a big reason behind the incredible and unique human/canine bond. We love to play!
If you are lucky enough to have a ball or toy-happy pooch, you have a powerful tool with which to reward him! Many a toss is given out for free to our dogs - why not require something from him in order for the toy to be made accessible?
Granting and Withholding is the Key to Good Training
Whether our pooch prefers food, praise, toys, or something else, as long as we are in control of its access and practice good timing, we can use it as a reward for offered behavior.
What would this look like in a game of fetch?
Many a ball has been tossed for free, but doing so all the time tosses away many a training opportunity, too. How about incorporating some learning into the game of fetch?
Invite your pup to touch your hand with his nose before you release the toy (see my Vimeo Channel for help on teaching this skill. Have him target your hand in many different positions: down low, up high, have him follow it for a few seconds, etc. Get creative!
Can your pup turn his attention away from the ball to offer you eye contact, even for a moment? Show your pup you have the toy, but keep it still and out of his range and wait to see if he can look towards your face rather than keep his eyes on the ball. Once he glances away from the ball, toss it! Eventually you can build up some solid eye contact which is a great foundation for focus and attention.
Through the leg
Using the nose targeting skill your pup has just learned, invite him to target your hand held behind you and between your legs so that he loops around one leg before you toss the ball ahead of you (don’t do this if he might knock you over!).
Invite your dog to spin before you toss that ball. To teach spin, you can lure him with food or with the ball. After a few reps, you will want to fade out the object and use just your hand cue.
An important part to any training is making sure that the reward is carefully linked to a specific behavior. In fact, the reward needs to come straight away AFTER the behavior has occurred, but not more than 2 seconds after. Timing is almost everything!
Words of Caution about the Game of Fetch
A dog who does a lot of spinning, pouncing or jumping (impact behaviors) when she plays fetch risks injury and overly stressing her joints. Play fetch carefully and take care of your pup's body. It's easy to fall prey to a fetchaholic dog's enthusiasm to keep playing the game beyond what is safe for her body. Keep sessions short and incorporate fetch into other activities so your dog isn't doing repetitive, high-impact moves.
If our predator dog were to play a sport involving a ball, I wonder which one would most accurately reflect who he is?