Working With Toy Obsessed Dogs
Is your pooch fetch obsessed? Does your dog love playing fetch so much that they are constantly bringing you the ball? Do they love playing tug-o-war so much they want to tug everything in your hand? Does your dog run around with the toy and not bring it back. Or drop it away from you and not bring it in? While all these can be problem behaviours, they can also be a useful tool when training your dog.
A high play drive is a great way to motivate and reward your dog during training. There are many useful ways to incorporate your dog’s play drive/toy obsession into your training sessions or daily visits to the park. This week we will focus on just one of the many behaviours they may display and how you can incorporate it into your daily activities with your dog.
Does your dog love playing fetch so much that they are constantly bringing you the ball?
While this can be lovely. Having an enthusiastic dog who is quite happy to exercise themselves by constantly retrieving the ball. It may become annoying if you are working in the garden at home and the ball is being constantly dropped in what you are doing or being barked at the throw the ball. What I like to do with this one is make them work for the reward of the ball being thrown. Like we work for money, they need to work for the toy. These can turn into great mental exercises for your dog. Getting them to think about how to get the toy. Instead of a repetitive mind-set of always fetching the toy, and focusing on you and what you are asking them.
Asking your dog to perform a command or trick before throwing the toy.
While it may sound so simple, it can be one of the hardest things your dog may learn. I always recommend working in short sessions where your dog is set up to succeed. Finishing on a positive note and keeping consistent, persistent and patient.
Step 1 – Start with a basic command/trick your dog already knows.
I generally use sit, to begin with. If your dog does not know or is not competent yet in any command/trick. Proceed to teach them before continuing on.
Step 2 – Be prepared.
Have your *‘release word’ in your mind., the toy ready and work on a lead in a low to free distraction environment, like your backyard. Release word – can be anything you want, like free, go, go get it, fetch. Keep it short and something easy to remember.
Set 3 – Once you are prepared it’s now time to get started.
For some of us. Our first step may be to ask your dog to perform command/trick in the presence of the toy. If your dog is already at this stage you can move onto step 4. While holding the toy, ask your dog to sit. If he sits successfully on the first time you ask the command. Proceed to use your release word before throwing the toy and repeat. If they do not sit for the first time you ask. Put the toy aside and put them into the sit. Then move on and try again. If they are struggling to perform the command/trick. You may need to take a few steps back to re-establish the command/trick. Using the toy as the reward for completing what has been asked of them, gradually bringing the toy back out to see if they are ready to move up to the next step.
Step 4 – Your dog is reliably performing the command/trick in the presence of the toy.
You are now ready to start moving the toy slowly across the ground while they are holding the sit. Remember baby steps may be required here. If your dog cannot handle holding position while you place the toy off the ground then start moving the motions before placing the toy.
Once they have held while moving the toy, release them and throw the toy.
*When you are starting to teach your dog to hold position I always recommend to start working with them on the lead, so that if they go to break or break you have control, which will be helpful for those extreme toy obsessed dogs who need to stop thinking always of the toy and start focusing on how to work to get the toy.
Step 5 – Building up holding the sit while increasing the distance and type of throw of the toy.
Once your dog is getting the idea of holding positing while the toy is being moved along the ground, you can now start increasing how far you roll it, how you throw it and how far you throw it. Remember baby steps, gradually increase the distance and type of throw. Using the release word when you are ready for them to get the toy and be prepared to prevent them from going after the toy if they break. As they get more reliable, the less you will need to control them and the more you will be able to push them.
If at any point during this stage they struggle, take a few steps back and gradually build up to that point again.
During this stage, you should also start being able to ask them to do this in different environments and gradually increasing the distraction level.
A key point to remember – If at any stage they start barking at you for the toy, flatly refuse to throw the toy. Only then throw it once they are quiet, even if it is for a brief moment. Sometimes it may be worthwhile putting the toy away and trying again later. Depending on the dog it may be worthwhile making this a step 2.
And, as always have fun!