Sunday, August 22, 2010

Reader needs help with her ball-obsessed dog

A few days ago, a reader commented on one of my old posts about my ball-obsessed BC, Rooster. 

She was asking for help with her own ball-obsessed dog, and since the post was so old, I figure most of you didn't see it. 

Here's what she asked:
"Can someone help with my ball obsessed dog? I was searching the web for tips and came across this blog.
I have a mix that can run the flyball pattern perfectly, has a good box, and great speed to/from the box (usually runs consistent 3.8's) but he cannot run in competition because he chases the balls in the run back - thus interfering with the other team. We have only been able to run him when our two division 1 teams raced against each other and even then he was in the way of our A team being able to re-run their dogs. He likely won't compete again because he chases every ball in motion. Once the ball is "dead" we can catch him - but there are no "dead" balls at tournaments.
At home in the back yard, I can take 2-3 balls out in the yard and the floppy frisbees. He ignores the balls. I can even kick one past him and he stays fixated on the frisbee. For whatever reason, this does NOT translate over to our flyball practices.
Please help - it is heartbreaking to have a dog with this much potential and not be able to run him. Just to give you an idea of how long we've been dealing with this issue - he's 3 1/2 now."

Frankly, I'm as perplexed as she is! I'm thinking there's probably some work that needs to be done between what happens in the yard and what happens in flyball practice -- where you start out in a slightly more stimulating environment than the back yard but not at flyball-practice excitement level, and work your way up to that level over time. 

It would be helpful to see what the dog actually does during racing, too -- does he totally blow his handler off as long as there are balls moving around? As in, won't even look at her? 

I had a BC, Vette, who was so ball obsessed that he would run around the runback area and pounce on any ball that moved, like a cat with a mouse (except he wasn't graceful like a cat, so he'd crash into the back wall  or the ring gating a lot). We came up with a very reliable way to catch him and hold him in between races, but he also wasn't actively trying to evade me -- it wasn't like he was looking out of the corner of his eye to see where I was and intentionally keeping away from me. He was just following the balls around like a kid with ADHD, and he was really predictable in the way he'd run back with his ball from the box, so the trick was catching him right as he ran into the runback area then holding him down tight at the back wall till the next heat. We also ran him in start a lot, because there weren't a lot of balls rolling around in the runback after just the start dogs had run.

Anybody have any advice to add?


cindy ferlitto said...

May not work, but I would play ball with him in the runback. I mean, you would have to be the MOST EXCITING thing around, you and YOUR BALL. Always having another ball to toss, for him to drop, toss, drop, etc til the heat is over. You have to keep him focused on you. But you have to reward him for that with a ball, again and again and again.

Linda said...

We made a multiple-ball-tug for one of our dogs. The difference from other tugs is we made a "fan" at the end that has 4-5 balls attached at slightly different lengths; when the handler drags it on the ground, it simulates a bunch of loose balls. It has worked great :o).

Kim said...

My borderjack is ball obsessed. I had to really work on him learning to think when there was a ball around. I had to work on him listening to commands like sit, down, tricks, etc... off the lanes but his reward was the ball. At tourneys I will also reinforce this by making him do commands periodically. So I would start teaching the dog to think when there is a ball around.

From there I would have this dog run against a group of dogs BUT have many handlers in the runback to force the dog back to the handler who needs to be very exciting and probably has balls to play with the dog. The handler could be bouncing the ball, throwing in the air, etc.. anything to get the dogs attention at practice and as soon as the dog comes to her she plays catch with her dog. In time this may help the dog learn to go to the handler and play.

At the very beginning with Riot, we had people designated to "catch" Riot at tourneys. We did this for months because a loose ball will send him racing after them. We continued working on his thinking ability while we raced him. It took a lot of time but he now comes to the handler who has a ball and he do this getting on the ground and placing the ball between our legs so that Riot can end up with 2 balls. If there are 2 balls he won't go anywhere but we usually pick him up pretty quickly before he loses the second ball to rolling away and he goes after it. Sometimes he won't end up with 2 balls and we have to snatch him up quick so he doesn't go chasing balls.

We luckily found a routine that works most the of time but it took work.

Lisa Pignetti Murnan said...

Kim, your comment just reminded me of my routine with Vette. I rewarded him with a tennis ball, too -- i would let him go, run up to the line and call him, when he turned off the box i would very clearly show him the ball i was holding in my hand, then i would turn around and haul ass back to the runback area. He would chase me back, i would put the ball in my hand on the ground in front of him, and he would pounce on it. At the same time i would grab his collar and hold on for dear life (in the beginning i had a catcher-helper), then i would guide him back to the wall to wait. He would lie on the ground and happily chomp on his new ball while he waited. The worst part was if the new ball popped out of his mouth and rolled away while i was hanging on to his collar. :)

I haven't used a ball as a reward with Rooster (yet) because his box turn is really suffering as a result of the ball obsession. He doesn't chase the balls in the runback area -- he's only interested in the ball he took from the box.

Kim said...

Lisa - we can't actually show Riot the ball in our hands until he passes the start/finish line because he will spit the ball - SIGH! Luckily he is small enough that we can pick him up and make sure there is a ball in his mouth.

I really do think the key is making the dogs learn to think when a ball is around. It took a couple months to get Riot to do commands for a ball reward. He will fixate on it but he has learned to follow commands.

Kate said...

My dear teammate has a great idea, but it never worked for Emma. She is SO ball crazy that I had to catch her the second I was able to because she will turn around and grab EVERY single ball that drops out of her teammates' mouths as they return. If I am holding a ball, she'd much rather chase the moving ones.
The only thing that worked for me was to be the one with the moving ball. I always had a ball in hand when she ran, and as soon as I ran back past the judge, i would just drop the ball i was holding. I did not roll it, bounce it, throw it, etc. I just dropped it. That way, she saw THAT moving ball first and would grab it. Once she had that one, I could usually grab her pretty quickly.
It does take some fancy dance moves to get it down to a science with what will work for your dog, but keep trying!!

Belinda said...

Could you run start and your team members immediately step on the live balls? for both sides? or anchor and do the same?
I have a ball obsessed BC and what worked with that dog was not the moving balls but us having a good enough relationship to enjoy the game. Meaning he had permission to chase the moving ball as long as he did so when I told him. First he would have to drop and tug on command, then he would be 'allowed' to chase a moving ball because it was the ultimate reward (think backchain). I will be honest it took a long time to get us into a working routine but so worth it. He is now 10 and runs any position for anyone, even children, and does what he is 'told'. It takes a bit to explain that to whoever is handling him. He is very reliable when we are black and white. Good luck, hope it helps!

Wendy said...

First I want to thank everyone for the suggestions. I greatly appreciate the input!

Lisa - yes, he totally blows off his handler (who is now one of my team mates instead of me, because she has less invested emotionally and doesn't get frustrated with him) when there are balls rolling around. He does the same with me at the house when I try to work with him (unless it's with the frisbee). Once he has the ball he does a "trophy-trot" as I like to call it (tail up and prancing around). I can get him to come back if I have a tug or other toy - but if he spits the ball for the other toy he'll go chasing the ball again instead of grabbing the other toy.

Cindy - we have tried ball exchange in the run back as well. Again, it only works if we can stop the rolling ball he gives up for the one in the handler's control. We've also tried balls on a tug. Apparently they aren't as appealing as rolling balls either.

Belinda, we have run him anchor because we are worried if he's at start, he will turn around and re-run himself if he knows the rest of the dogs are going after a ball. We haven't tried him at start yet and I don't think our team trainer would be willing. We don't want to shut down or possibly injure any of the other dogs if he were to do that.

What I think we will try over the next several weeks is not having any other dogs out for a while - he knows flyball so it's only the control portion we'll work on - and have a 2-3 people sit in the run back and roll a ball back and forth to each other. The dog will work on-lead and only in the run back with his handler who will have the frisbees. Once he looks like he's staying focused on her and will stay engaged in play with her, we'll try taking the lead off. Of course we'll have to gradually increase the distraction level with other dogs, etc. and may have to go 2 steps back for every step forward. But do you guys think this might eventually work??


Tracy said...

We used to run Frances with a extra shag bucket with balls in it that acted as a sort of tack strip. We also learned the hard way that she couldn't not go in on an eary spitter b/c she'd flip a u-turn and get that ball. Maybe having a ball obsessor is why I always tell people that they don't need a "ball crazy dog" to play flyball. It actually makes it harder!

We now do something similar to Kim and Lisa's ideas about a 2nd ball. We also pulled the Precious Tennis Ball from the box - she now get a foam ball that she thinks is pretty worthless. The PTB is back with me. As soon as she is returning to me I'm running from her with the PTB visable in my hand. She'll drop that dumbass foam ball and I shove the PTB in her mouth and then either hold her collar or around her waist and let her chomp it. It took some trial and error but it works really well and we've knocked about 1/2 a second off of her time.

I'm still a shagging freak b/c if there's a pile of PTBs along the back wall she'll target those and possibly pop other people's PTB. But then again everyone in our area knows that if you don't shag your balls, Franny will slime and pop them really fast while I'm running back there.

I like your idea Wendy. You could put the helpers behind gates and/or make sure they are ready to not let him get their ball (cover it, neg. verbal marker) while his handler remains the "good time girl".

Good luck!!!

Todd P. said...

Reminds me of running Krunch, Kayla, or Brandy. My routine is having 2 balls, 1 in each hand, and shaking and smacking them on the ground as the dog comes back. For kayla we then throw the balls into a milk crate full of more balls, where she chews and flails around with her head in the crate until time to run again. Good shagging is totally needed. There can be zero loose balls in the run back. If the dog in question runs start then you shouldn't have to worry about dead or living balls, only the juicy bounty of the milk crate full of balls can call to your ADD dog.

Todd P

Anonymous said...

If the dog will go after balls on the floor that are only slightly moving, you could try the "leave a trail of breadcrumbs" technique - put a ball down for the dog to get that's 20 ft. past the line, then put another one down at 30 ft, another at 40 ft., etc., so he gets to keep moving to a new ball, but you are controlling where he moves.

Or you could try using XL tennis balls as the reward, maybe he'll like those better?

How about teaching him at home to pick up balls and put them in a bucket for some really fantastic reward, then try transferring that to practice when he's running alone, then try vs. one dog in the other lane, then with one dog in his lane, and keep adding dogs in each lane until he can put the balls in the bucket during full runs against another team?

Happily Evfur After

Anonymous said...

I have a BC who is ball obsessed and we worked through this stage as well as the stage where he thought the box was a wonderful pez dispenser and kept running back for another ball. Not to put this indelicately, but it sounds like the dog has been trained in all stages of flyball except self control. The hardest thing at this point will be to go back to an earlier stage of training and not run this dog with other dogs until this is fixed.

No team races, no side by side work and definitely no tournaments. Start at the point where the dog can handle running with a ball nearby. Recalls with dead balls around, boxwork with dead balls around, full runs with dead balls. Then try rolling a ball as the dog does a recall or full run. Have people nearby to block the dog from grabbing the loose ball. Keep working with it in small stages, gradually increasing the amount of motion of the ball. If it screws up, make it sit out and watch another dog have fun with a ball. The goal is to teach the dog that there are rules to flyball that it must obey in order to continue to play the game. The hard part will be to go through the excruciatingly slow steps necessary to teach this without losing your patience.
Woof Gang

Anonymous said...

I forgot one thing. Stop playing all games of fetch and restrict access to any type of ball until this is fixed.
Woof Gang

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