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So I've decided to start Moss, my 21 month-old boy, in agility this fall, with the goal of getting him in my instructor's beginning agility group class in January-ish. He has primarily done stockwork and a little bit of basic obedience and manners training. He also knows a few tricks. Moss is a bright, athletic boy that I think could have a great future in agility. He's well socialized and very well-adjusted.


He is also out-of-his-mind obsessed with toys, something I've never had to deal with (to this degree) before. I've probably encouraged, or at least not discouraged, a lot of it because it's only a problem when I'm trying to use the toy to teach him something. He doesn't try to drag the toy out of my hand (he's too polite for that), but will circle me, stare only at me while I'm holding the toy (instead of focusing on what's around him), and just gets really excited. I'd like to find a way to temper this manic behavior and channel it into something positive. I'm just not sure how to get there.


Are there any tips, tricks, or games that y'all might know about that can help him to learn better focus and to get him to work WITH the toy instead of obsessing over it? haha.


The goober-head himself:





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What about using food rewards instead of toys?


In order to use the toy, you're going to have to teach him to think with the toy around. Start with simple thing he knows (sit, down, etc) and he only gets the toy when he's listening and responding. If he starts getting obsessive, the toy goes away. When he's settled down, and back to "thinking" mode the toy comes back out and you start working again.


I'm trying to work on calm focus with Kipp. It has been drilled into him with SAR work that it is fine to go up and demand a toy through barking (his bark alert when he finds a victim in training). But I've just started at home training that I want him to be calm and think. So he needs to lay quietly to get the frisbee while we're playing. It took him about 2 minutes to start to grasp this concept - I want the frisbee, I lay here without barking until I get released. These dogs are smart. They learn quickly when they need to!

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There is nothing wrong with toy drive and the same goes for food, even the more "obsessive" toy drive. It will be a fantastic asset in agility. I would try to create interaction in the toy. i.e. try turn the obsessions for say retrieving into tugging. Just anything that involves you a bit more than fetching a ball. Saying that I taught many of my agility obstacles with a tennis ball and it worked just fine. I would play small sessions with your boy who may I say is stunning :rolleyes: Encourage him to tug and don't let him circle. Keep working on tricks in small doses as it does help them focus on working with you.


You can play anything that needs control. So practice sit stays and release to a toy. Develop that through wicked distractions like dropping the toy infront of him. Teach a leave it just by shaping which teaches control as you could be swinging it around infront and they can't touch it till you say so.


You may have to relaly figure out how he works. He may be obsessive at first because of the pent up energy so might need a run first. Or vice versa you may find he works better at the beginning and gets more obsessive towards the end. So us ethat to your advantage and keep your sessions short. But I would just go out and just play, tug, retrieving a tug toy and sit/down until you throw it again or resume tugging. Give him a behaviour to do instead of circling, it may take some pratice before he can control himself but he will get there.

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Get some paper, a pen, and put all his toys in a big pile. Rank them from 1 to whatever based on how obsessed he about each one. Starting with the lowest-value toy, work on "leave it" and other games. Maybe practice tricks and use this toy as a reward. When he can successfully work and think around that toy, exchange it for the next highest on the list. Eventually you should be able to get any trick in his repertoire with any toy as a reward. The real test is teaching new tricks using high-value toys as the reward.

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Moss is gorgeous!


Quinn is also toy obsessed, though he'll take food too which was really helpful for training things like contacts. You may want to check out the DVD series Obedience without Conflict by Ivan Balabanov. He does shutzhund with the typical high, high drive dogs you see in that sport. I love the way he uses the toy (tug) as a reward. He uses all that motivation for the toy in a way that gives you a ton of control. The dog learns to focus on you rather than the toy, even though he is dying for the toy. It isn't a calm focus though, but a very intense one. Quinn had an absolute blast training in obedience with that approach. I think you could easily translate the method to agility. Just a thought. The DVD's are pretty price or or at least they were a couple years ago.

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As a very good trainer one told me "control the toy, control the dog". The dog should be actively looking and listening to you before they ever have access to the toy.


It's about changing their focus. One of my dogs get very focused on her ball or Frisbee. After a while of me standing there not doing anything, she looked at me like "What?!". She had to do a short successful obedience session, then I threw the ball.


Control the toy, control the dog.


Good luck.



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