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explaining a particular behavior

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Hi everyone! I am new to the forums and to border collies! We have a 5.5 month old BC, a family pet, thoroughy enjoyed by my husband and I and our two young boys. I am new to dogs and training but I am loving it and clearly our little Mako is too. There is one behavior he has started to display, clearly innate, and I would like to know more about it so I will know how to work with it. We play fetch everyday (partially because he wouldn't have it any other way!). He is obeying a few commands during the game and now races back with the ball on a regular basis. Lately, part way through the game, he will start after the ball, but stops before he gets to it, and he returns to my side. As I walk toward the ball he stays close to my legs, if I stop he stops, if I move slowly so does he, if I move quickly so does he. He is very intently watching the ball the entire time, except to cast an occasional quickly glance at me, watching for my movement I assume. When we get to the ball he waits for me to pick it up and the game of fetch is on again. This is not a trained behavior but I find it very interesting that he is so very intent and focused while he is doing it. Can anyone tell me more about this behavior.


Thanks in advance,


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He's young, but my first guess is that he is looking to you to tell him what to do. He's reading your body language and is trying anticipate what you what want him to do. I'm by no means an experienced trainer, but I usually find that expecting the behavior I want get a lot of positive results. Whisper may well be reading my mind, but it's more likely I am communicating to her via body language what I want and I don't even realize I'm doing it. More experienced people will likely have more useful things to say, but that is my first thought.

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And, if your youngster is offering a desirable behavior, put a name to it and reward it! If he heels naturally, tell him it's a "good heel" and reward. If he sits by your side, tell him that's a "good sit" and reward him.


I may have it a bit confused, but there is an entire approach to training which I think is called "shaping" that utilizes the dog offering a behavior, and you putting a name and giving a reward to it. I am sure others more familiar with this will chime in with better advice/recommendations.


Meanwhile, I think it's excellent that your youngster is looking to you for guidance and direction, and cuing off what you are doing. Sounds like a nice pup - or maybe he's just trying to get you to fetch the ball for him this one time, and you're just not learning very quickly! :lol:

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Rewarding the behavior that the dog does on his own is called CAPTURING the behavior. SHAPING is taking tiny steps that in combination will produce the desired behavior. Any good book on clicker training will define all these terms and give examples better than I can. You can also LURE the dog into a behavior and mark and reward the behavior when the dog gets into the desired position.


As far as the retrieving goes, it sounds like Mako is training YOU to retrieve the ball for HIM! They all do it ha ha. Don't go and get the ball for him and throw it again. Encourage him to get it. If you only throw the ball when HE has brought it to you he will catch on faster. You can walk with him to the ball, but get him to pick it up and give it to you! If at first he doesn't pick it up and give it to you, the game ends. From your description of Mako I think he will get it really quickly.


Good luck and have fun!


Kathy Robbins

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Thanks so much everyone! This is such a fabulous resource. (I especially appreciate it since the basic obedience class we signed up for, has been stormed out twice! Hopefully next week we can get started!) I think that "capturing" is exactly what I am going to do with this behavior. He will only do it once or twice during a game of fetch, and I will have to be careful that, as you say, I don't become the "fetcher"! This is such a great resource.

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