Sep 2, 2008

Scamp and Zeus's ball tips

These fellas will chase a ball ANYWHERE. We have over ten ways to throw a ball and teach a dog manners and impulse control while we're at it. Scamp and Zeus came from the same home, have the same ball drive, are quick to learn new ways to get the ball, and will show some manners in order to achieve their respective goals. We introduced the hula hoop to them, and made an agility jump out of a broom pole and two plastic chairs. Doesn't get more inexpensive than that, and these guys have learned some new skills.

Here Scamp is being asked for a sit prior to getting the ball thrown for him. Fortunately, he's not a grabby kind of guy, something we always have to be aware of. If Scamp won't sit after being asked the first time, well, we'll just move a foot or so away, and repeat the command as if it's being asked for the first time. Not quite the same as saying, "Scamp, sit, sit, sit, sit etc" which is likely to produce a sit on the 4th or 5th "sit". We appreciate the bum being firmly on the ground after saying it once. The dog gets clear on what's being asked of him also, making for good communication between our two species. We'll also combine the verbal cue with a hand signal. Ultimately, with consistency, you'll have a dog who is likely to sit every time he sees a ball in your hand. He's gotten the message that it's the fastest way to get the game going. Scamp has.
Zeus flies over our makeshift agility jump, completely focused on the yellow round prize that I've tossed over the pole. I ask first for a sit, making sure that he is facing the jump and is far enough away from it to achieve good clearance. Yes! Great jump, Zeus!

If Zeus would have shown fear of this odd looking contraption, we would have slowly introduced him to it. We want Zeus to succeed. We might do this by starting out with Zeus stepping over the pole, no chairs nearby, on the ground, or even letting him approach the pole on his own, placing treats by it to encourage him, or whatever motivates him to approach. We're cheerful and praise a lot for each step of the way. If Zeus is just a bit cautious, we might lower the pole between the chairs and encourage him, watching for cues from him if he is comfortable with each new step. To paraphrase what some wise man said about us humans, and this applies so well with dogs, "it's not just about the destination, it's also about the journey."

Scamp flops into the pool on a hot day after some enthusiastic ball play. We play "long" ball, as I point to the far end of the park and say "long", "wall" ball, as I point to the shelter building that the ball is going to bounce off of and say"wall", "air" ball, as I point in the air, "sit/stay" ball, as he learns to gradually sit and stay for longer periods of time as he gets more familiar with what will get him the ball the longer that we play this game. I vary all of these as we play; for each game, I have a verbal cue and hand signal, and he has to sit prior to me throwing the ball - every time. Now Scamp is offering sits, sometimes quickly, sometimes I'll wait, just holding the ball, until he sits. I also ask him to "out" or "drop" the ball, showing him that I have a ball in my hand ready to throw as soon as he outs and sits.
Of course, this doesn't go the way I'd like it to every time. It's very reciprocal. The dogs teach me patience and they get to learn impulse control and manners, which will go a long way in every aspect of their lives. As will my patience training - dogs are really good at teaching patience. Thanks, guys.
And thanks to Sylvia Spiro, who captures the spirit of our buddies so well.

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