The Simple Act of Fetch

Linda McVay, CCS CDW

Enough already!
People love to play fetch with their dogs, it's not only a great way to exercise FiFi but it's fun to watch those amazing mid-air catches and the aerobatics that our dogs effortlessly offer us. The athletes in the NBA, NFL and MLB can only dream of achieving the level of athleticism that our dogs offer us freely everyday. Sometimes though, another less than desired set of behaviors hitch a ride with all that fun. I'm talking about jumping, barking, being mouthy -- and my personal favorite, keep away, or as I like to call it "Can't touch this." Here are a few rules to take Fetch from just fun to an amazing training tool that loses none of the joy inherent in the original game. This major change requires very little effort on your part! Yep, you heard me, commitment, patience and a few simple rules are all you need to begin the transformation from crazy "throw ,throw, throw it now!" dog into, "could you please throw the ball for me" dog. Practicing fetch with the rules in place will not just make your life easier at the dog park or during play sessions but easier every day of your life as you interact with your dog. Beginning Fetch with Your dog 1. When the ball comes out, your dog needs to sit. That sit should be an offered behavior, not a requested one. You want your dog to control her own impulses and to do that she needs to practice offering the behavior. Controlling one's impulses is a learned behavior, so start slowly in environments that are familiar to her. Keep the exercise short and fun. Once your dog sits, mark the behavior with a quick "YES" and throw the ball. (Be prepared to wait at this step, especially if your dog has earned the ball by barking at you. Try putting the ball behind your back and taking a step toward your dog.) 2. Your dog needs to drop the ball upon her return. If you go to pick up the ball and your dog darts in to grab it, immediately stand up and ignore her. No verbal reprimand is needed. Shutting down any type of attention from you is enough of a punisher for your dog. Keep trying to use the above technique until you are successful. 3. If your dog jumps or whines, wait and ignore her. No eye contact, no "uh, uh." Both of those are attention and are rewarding to your dog. Offer her nothing until the quiet sit happens and then immediately mark it with "yes" and throw the ball. So how does this simple training game help you in your everyday life with your dog? Teaching your dog that even when the environment around her is extremely exciting, the only way she will receive any reward such as the tossing of a ball, the arrival of her work to eat puzzle or freedom to greet her favorite people, is when she offers quiet excitement and you are the one she looks to receive the "go ahead." These three simple rules will work to teach your dog to control herself in a highly exciting environment and that the greatest reward will come not when she's "crazy dog" but when she's "calm dog".