Picture can be found HERE
A man and his dog go out to a field with ball in hand. The dog excitedly waits for the ball to be thrown and burst with joy after the ball as it sails through the sky and bounces along the ground. If the dog is fast enough, it is caught before it even has a chance to bounce and the dog careens back to his owner to deposit a slimy mess at their feet.
The sequence is followed again and again until the man’s arm is tired and the dog’s tongue hangs from his mouth with a goofy grin spread across his face. They go back home where the dog sleeps away the good exercise it just received.
Seems simple, right?
Ranger isn’t one of those dogs. He’s lived with us for almost 10 months now and although his interest in toys has improved greatly, fetch just isn’t his game. Sure, he’ll go after the ball and bring it back a few times…until he smells something interesting on the ground, or wants to roll, or sees a butterfly lazily making its way across the sky. And those are only the reasons that I can explain. Sometimes everything looks perfect and he runs right past it and off in the corner.
Not talking about me, are you?
The weather here in NS seems to change every five minutes so nice weather needs to be used for as much physical exercise as possible. Lately we’ve been hitting up a nearby baseball field that has been allocated for off leash use. It’s usually empty (I’ve never turned up and there is another dog) and Ranger has the enjoyment of running full tilt through the snow, rolling around, and sniffing great things.
This week I decided to work on our fetch skills. Fetch gives a bonding experience between owner and dog while working on basic obedience. Since Ranger seems to have an idea on what fetch is all about I didn’t feel it necessary to work backwards through the chain of behaviours and instead work from where we are.
I needed to make sure:
– dog is excited to chase the ball and is focused on me
– ball isn’t thrown too far which allows for more distractions
– make sure to encourage the dog through chasing the ball and bringing it back
– reward each ball return to me (Ranger is VERY food oriented so we used his veggie biscuit treats)
– stop before he gets bored (this is the hardest for me since I tend to push)
By allowing Ranger to move freely throughout the area as a warm up, I decreased the amount of distractions in the environment. Ranger had ten minutes (could have been longer if he needed) to check things out, wee on EVERYTHING and create some violent snow angels.
Near the end of his free time, I started playing with the ball myself. Throwing it in the air from hand to hand while making weird noises drew him into the game. Once I was sure I had his focus I started throwing it for him following my rules outlined above.
Ranger was interested in playing, but I found that I could keep him interested if I threw the ball a shorter distance and allowed it to bounce off the ground a few times. At the end of the first session, he got distracted and ignored the ball. I called him back to me and we went to where the ball was laying. Ranger has a solid “pick up the…” for most of his toys so once he saw it I repeated the command and he passed it to me.
Since Ranger knows specifically what I am asking, I rewarded only with verbal praise only. The ball was thrown a very short distance and when he happily brought it back to me he received a jackpot of treats and cuddles.
We did another short session right at the end of our time before the mini blizzard moved in and he was great. Like any command, we will slowly build up in the 3Ds (Distance, Duration, Distraction) but for now I am just happy he’s bringing it back.