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trying to teach an old dog new tricks

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We got Jack our border collie from the local dog pound last Christmas eve. He had served his 7 day maximum stay and was 1 day of being put down.

We had been looking for quite a while to get a dog as a pet and had planed on getting a Yorkshire Terrier as the first choice, However when we saw Jack he took our hearts away since you would never have seen such a sad and dejected looking dog standing in the corner of the pound with his tail between his legs.

I have not had much to do with Border Collies and generally considered them as a working dog and not a pet, Anyway my wife and 5-year-old daughter fell in love with him straight away.


The dog ranger could tell us nothing about him apart from that he is between 3-4 years old and was found about 16 km from town in a small village on the main state highway. So we did not have any of his history ie if he was a pet or farm dog.

He was very thin but the ranger said he seemed very friendly


I would have preferred to get to know the dog a lot better before we took the plunge and brought him home since it would be our first dog, however city council regulations do not cater for this so when his time is up that’s it. It took a lot of dealing and cutting red tape to get him released but we got him in the end.

I was very nervous when we first put him in the car to take him on the 80 km trip to where we live, hoping he would get on ok with our daughter and cat and be a general pet.


Right from the start he has been the perfect dog and we cannot believe how lucky we have been to get him. Jack settled into the family straight away and has not been any problem. During the day he is outside and at night he is the house. He learns very fast and when inside never leaves his basket. So he must have been previously house trained. When we are out walking the moment I call him he has always returned immediately.


The only thing is that he does not know how to have fun like bringing back a thrown ball or stick, also on the first day we got him a squeaky toy but he has never had it in his mouth yet. I would really appreciate it if anyone could give me some hints on how we can train him to do these things.

Thanks alot



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Welcome to the boards! And good on you for adopting. He looks like he really loves your daughter. Re: toys, it seems to help if you act excited about the toy. It's pretty ridiculous looking, but I showed my Allie how dogs play by pouncing on/ tossing/ chasing the ball myself. Also, a lot of dogs catch on to tug more quickly than fetch. Good luck!

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Hi NZ Rob,

I have two contrasting examples to give you in regards to teaching your lovely new bc to play.

I adopted my first bc at about 10 mos to 1 year (never knew her real age). She had been found as a stray and was at the beginning a bit aloof but became my soul-mate. She never played with toys, balls or frisbees or anything. If I threw a ball she might go over to it and sniff it to make sure it wasn't something to eat, but she was never interested in that kind of play no matter what I did. She was however a constant companion.

In contrast, a friend of mine recently adopted a dog from the pound who is about 1-2 years old (not a bc, however) and this dog also exhibited no interest in toys -- you know the kind of thing when you throw a ball at them it hits them in the nose and they look mortified. But now this dog has toys and balls etc and is even fetching and retrieving. I think the previous poster is right in that you have to make it look fun. My friend just kept at it, used the "fun voice" and eventually the dog caught on. I think this is pretty common with rescues who have never been played with before: they have no clue what fun is, poor things.

Good luck and have fun!


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Another suggestion is to let your new dog see other dogs playing with toys and having fun.

That's how my old dog (at about 8) learned to play fetch. I'd had her about a year, and had

tried to teach her to play with a ball, with no luck. Then one day we went to visit some

friends, who had other friends over, so there was a pack of about half a dozen ball-chasers,

with humans taking turns tossing. She watched them for a bit, and you could almost see

the light coming on. She started making short runs, discovered it was fun, and by the

end of the day was snagging her share.

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Hey there! Good on ya for adopting!

I agree that this does happen a lot with rescue dogs. Most have them are left outside or in the porch or whatever, never socialized, never played with. It's a sad reality, but I guess some people just don't get it. They need interaction too!

I also agree that if you "show" him how to play, he might catch on. Yes, you will look totally insane, but you'll have fun! Maybe if you and your daughter play catch with each other or sit on the ground and roll it to each other, while he's near, making it look soooo fun! Entice him to join in, jump around with the ball or toy tossing it up in the air. Generally forget how old you are!! Try it outside and in the house. My Daisy never plays with her toys outside...I don't know why, but I guess the rabbit droppings in the front yard are more interesting...she also will only play fetch for a little while, 10 throws or so and that's it. She'd rather cuddle...

You may just have a couch potatoe!!


Good Luck!

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Congrats on your great new pet and thanks for adopting. Border Collies do put on a sad face when they are in a kennel! It is wonderful that he is good with your little girl. I have one dog that is tennis ball nuts. Several that will play once in a while. Others just want everyone to STOP playing.

In your dog's case the lack of stimulation in his previous home may have made his playfulness go to sleep. You can give the dog a small treat if he takes a ball in his mouth. If he's food motivated he will be bringing you the ball soon. You may wish you never started! Good luck and welcome to the boards.

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My Daisy came to me when she was about a year to 18 months old, and like jamesqf's dog, she learned to fetch by example, running alongside another dog. Now she is a fetching maniac and has loads of fun with balls and frisbees.


Welcome to the BC Boards! Both your dog and your daughter are very lovely!

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I have a couple of suggestions for you.


1. You can try putting some treats in an old sock and let Jack sniff it. If he bumps it with his nose, or puts his teeth on it, you can quickly give him a reward that you have hidden in a pocket or hand behind your back.


He might soon figure out that treats coming from your picket or behind you are more interesting in the sock, but once he realizes that he won't get them for just standing them, he might go back to the sock and you can reward that.


Once he understands that the sock is interesting, you can toss it a short distance for him to chase. If he picks it up in his mouth, you could get it back and give him some of the treats from inside of it at that point. Or, if he just chases it and then sniffs it, I would probably continue to reward from another hand for that.


The idea is to help him to associate the activity with the rewards and if he starts to play with the sock, you can eventually replace the treats in the sock with a ball. If he will chase and play with the ball in the sock, you can make a little hole in the sock and gradually increase that until the sock can eventually disappear and you'll have yourself a ball player.


That's how I taught Speedy to play ball.


One thing that would be important is to put the treat/sock/ball away after you are finished playing with it as you start this process. It will not be as interesting to him if it's just lying around on the floor all the time.


2. Another thing that you can do is clicker train Jack. Through clicker training you could teach him to pick toys up and get him to start interacting with them that way.


3. If you can get him around other dogs playing, he could, as others have said, learn by example.

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