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Teaching to Fetch/Retrieve

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I never got myself into this problem before. Not sure how to fix it. It may seem a bit silly, but some of you may see this as an interesting training problem.


Golan is nearly two. Shortly after I got him, I was ill and largely housebound for most of a year. During that time I could barely get out with him into the back yard on some days. We (he, really) came up with a game. I would kick his ball (one of those big Chuckit balls with the grooves for a dog's teeth to grasp) and he would run down the yard to get it. He would then take a ball to another spot, place it, look at me, and return to a spot in the yard where he could watch the all the next moves. I would have to walk down to the ball, kick it in the other direction. He would chase it down, and repeat the above. I let him shape the game this way, without bringing the ball to me, because it benefitted me; forcing me to move and get at least some small amount of exercise. Did you know your loyal BC can be a physical therapist? :)


Okay, so now, thank God, I am back to at least walking him for longer times out in the woods and the arroyos. But he thinks that a game of 'ball' means I send the ball some distance (have now a Chuckit handle and tennis ball), he chases it, finds it, moves it a bit - and waits for me to catch up, find the ball, and toss it again. This doesn't work so well out in a big, unbound space.


So challenge #1 is to unteach the game we've played till now.


Challenge #1a is, I can't seem to use treats. I was going to teach him in the house to simply give me the ball. Offer it to him. When he takes it, place my hand and wait for him to drop it, rewarding with treats. It always worked with my previous generations of dogs. The Lab eventually really, well, retrieved. Golan generally likes treats for training commands, though he's not obsessed with them. But he is MUCH more motivated by the ball than any treats. MUCH more. So I can't use treats to tempt and reward him. So how do I teach him that it is worth giving me the ball? That bringing the ball means getting it thrown again?


Any advice how to get around the pattern we created earlier, and move forward would be greatly appreciated.

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My two pieces of advice are use a RADICALLY different ball type if you aren't already (I think you are, I'm just saying) and use two of them. When he grabs the ball, move AWAY from him while you call - or crouch down, whatever is going to get him moving to you fast. When he gets closer than normal, bring out the second ball and throw that one, pick up the first, repeat. Gradually up the ante so he's having to come closer and closer to you before you throw the second one. Eventually have him drop it in hand before the throw.


Molly and I DO have a game that's similar to the one you're talking about, but that one's played with a very different ball (Jolly ball or basketball). There was a brief period while she was trying to play with tennis balls that way, but it didn't take long of the above, and then once she got it reinforcing it by ending the game for her to figure it out.

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Here a couple of suggestions to try with Golan--


To get him to bring the ball closer to you: I would experiment with moving away from him (walk away or run away) to see if he will follow you with the ball in his mouth. This will be the beginning stage of bringing the ball back to you. You may want to try working with this skill both at close quarters and farther away to see which works best. ANY type of movement towards you should get huge reinforcement. With a puppy, I usually start in the house and close in to see if he will bring the ball to me if I back up - for which he gets huge rewards. But you may have to experiment to see what works with Golan.


Then once Golan is bringing the ball back to you, will he drop it easily? You may have to wait to find out the answer to this once you have trained him to bring the ball closer to you. If he wants to keep the ball in his mouth and is not responsive to trading for treats, he may respond better to trading for another ball or another toy. Torque did not want to give up his ball for a treat. Obviously the treat was much lower in value than the ball. So I had to use another ball to help teach him the drop it command. He knew the drop it command, but it was much harder for him if a ball was involved. He would stand there with the ball in his mouth and start to open his mouth to drop the ball and then would close his mouth again. He might do that several times. He had a really hard time giving up the ball he had in his mouth. I had to cajole him by tempting him with another ball - I played with it as if it was the best thing on earth, I bounced it a little and threw it back and forth between my hands. Finally, when he would drop the first ball, I immediately would throw the second ball to reinforce the fact that he dropped the first ball. The trade game went on for months before he felt comfortable playing with just one ball.


Good Luck.

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