Many people that know me also know that I really have an issue with some of today's modern dog training tools.
The ball launchers are way up on my list but as a positive reinforcement trainer it's my job to find a way of training that satisfies the goals, wants and needs of both dogs and their owners and I can`t deny that for a
lot of dogs these "toys" are very motivating.
So I'm going to turn that frown upside down and look for the positive and see if I cant lend a helping hand.
Firstly if you're going to start launching balls around for your dog I think there's a few little ground rules and tips you can employ before even thinking about training.
My no.1 is to be mindful, that is of people,
the space you occupy and other dogs around you. It's not fair to be launching a ball in front of some former unsuspecting dog walker.
Be mindful that high value resources like balls can easily cause conflict between dogs, they can easily become obsessive and possessive over them.
The Video example contains distressing scenes.
No.2 it should be a dog walk, not a ball throwing session, dogs need time to do dog stuff, sometimes it's nice to sit back and smell the rose's, read the doggy Facebook post.
Your walks should be more entertaining and enriching for both of you than just a ball. Strangely, people and dogs do seem to share a connection with round bouncy objects, just because your dog will come back for more, it doesn't mean that it is appropriate.
No.3 safety, I will be the first one to scream from the rooftops, ball chasing causes injuries. I've been there trust me. Slips, sprains, tumbles, collisions. You are engaging your dogs muscles in the same way an athlete does, under those circumstances it's real easy to cause damage.
(ok this video is slightly odd!!)
So take a few precautions, don't play in ice and slippery mud or surfaces, steep inclines as well, also make sure the ball or toy is appropriate for a dog to have.
Put the ball in a sock to slow it down when it lands, or thread a rope though it, at the very least split it and try to avoid tennis balls, they wear teeth and bounce too much.
No.4 watch for arousal, I would stop at a few launches and change task, understand that this chase activity is linked with the production of stress hormones.
It's far more healthy for your dog to be seeking with things like food foraging than chase activities. Food is good for slowing behaviours down or keeping them steady, play is good for increasing speed and drive but it can come at a cost and should be used in moderation.
A good way to stop this (for the human) is to make play measurable, for example set a limit of 3 launches in a single session then switch to a lower arousal task, maybe hide and seek the ball?
Alternatively, use food to train and play in between as a rest break. It's been proven that play at the end of the session helps with retaining learning.
No.5 Don`t waste it, this little game is highly reinforcing, every-time you launch that ball you reinforce one or usually a chain of behaviours that happened before it, your dogs are always learning. You can teach so much with play if you use it correctly and use the right sort of play for your learner, this isn't a game this is a teaching tool so like anything you teach have a plan. In clicker training there is an expression
"What you click is what you get" never a truer word said! I want you to take this one from me.
"What you chuck is what you get"
Until next time, Train Smart, bond tight, have fun.