Saturday, January 21, 2012

border collie visitors

We have Imp Ben staying with us right now. He belongs to Diane our herding instructor. He is from Bobby Dalziel's Joe X Pippa.  He is a lovely dog with a great temperament. He's learned our house rules quickly and is fitting in very well. He hasn't had a single accident in the house and is quiet all night...what more could I ask for from a puppy?!  Goose enjoys him. They must relate to each other with some sort of sheep herding connection. Ben has been to the grocery store and the park and did great with both. He is also learning how to wait before leaving his crate and he already knew "lie down and learned "sit" quickly. We may have to bring him back soon though because we are taking Jitter from our flyball team for some training and I don't think we are quite ready to handle 5 dogs right now. There might be a bit of an overlap though, so we will see how that goes.

My Thoughts on Ball Obsession in Flyball

In flyball we obviously want the tug to be the highest value thing..the ultimate reward for a job done well. The ball on the other hand is something we want them to be willing to put in their mouth in order to get the big reward. We don't want them to savor the moment of getting the ball out of the box, but rather the box should be something that they want to get away from as quickly as possible. Dogs that tend to spit balls early are faster than those that chomp on the ball all the way back and don't spit for the tug. I will never understand why some people YELL at their dog to drop the ball and TUG! Or those that wave the tug in the dogs face while the dog is chomping the ball until it's time to run again. The dog in these examples did not get a reward.

New people to flyball often think of flyball as a sport that is great for dogs that love tennis balls. I think it's more of a sport that is great for dogs that thrive in overstimulating environments, love to be with their handler and willing to work hard to tug.

The key parts of starting out a puppy are building tug drive, building value for being with their handler and dealing with very distracting things. Until you have a dog that can tug with enthusiasm in the presence of balls rolling, dogs running, people running, loud noises and other flyball craziness, you are not ready to introduce other parts of flyball, especially the ball retrieve. In training for flyball I find the ball to be an afterthought in the early stages of training. It doesn't hurt to do flat recalls with a puppy with balls rolling everywhere as a prevention for ball obsession.

This early training needs to be happening at home as well. Lots of tug building activities and most importantly lots of time spend interacting with the handler. I don't agree with the idea that tennis balls should be restricted. It doesn't make logical sense to me as a method to reduce the value, but I do think that the dog shouldn't be encouraged to find value in chomping any toy including a tennis ball my himself.

If your dog is already obsessed with tennis balls. It might be hard to fix, but at least you know that your dog finds SOMETHING valuable and has drive. It's just for the wrong thing. I've come to realize that it's not helpful to use "leave it" with balls on the ground because people don't tend to train a solid enough leave it so that the dog WANTS to leave it. It's more of a replacement for "NO". I haven't found that pool noodles are helpful.

Here are some ideas:

1. Teach a SOLID recalls. Extremely solid. You should be able to bet $100 that every time you call your dog he will come to you in all situations. With the ultimate challenge being his ability to recall to you past a ball on the ground or several balls being scattered on the ground. 

2. Teach a solid "drop it" command using the technique HERE . This will help with the dog to drop the ball quickly and possibly go for the tug (depending on tug drive). It doesn't help with balls in the run back though. Also to teach "drop it", when the dog brings the ball to you (if he doesn't bring it train him in a small enough area on a leash so that he does) grab him by the collar and put your hand on the ball without tugging and wait patiently. As soon as he releases it, throw it again as a reward. Repeat

3. Toy exchange game. Take out 2-4 toys (no balls to start) and spread them around the training area with no other distractions to start. Pick up one and start flipping it around and act like it's the coolest thing ever. As soon as your dog comes over and starts playing with it and tugging drop it and run to the next and do the same thing. Keep switching to the next toy so that your dog learns that the most fun toy is the one that you have.  Eventually add balls into the mix when your dog is reliably going for the toy that you have rather than the ones on the ground.

4. Use the ball as a reward in your training.  Instead of keeping balls away from the ball obsessed dog, use a ball as a reward for the behavior that you eventually want - enthusiastic tugging. With the dog on a leash and a ball in your pocket, tug with the dog with no balls in his view. When he is tugging to the level of enthusiasm that you want (this shouldn't take more than 30 seconds), say "OK" or other release word and place the ball on the ground for him to get.

Refer to # 2 on this list to get the ball back from him. Put the ball back in your pocket or hide it with easy access and repeat. If the dog tugs for 3 seconds and then looks for the ball, he doesn't get it. ou decide when he gets it.

You can advance this game by releasing him to a ball you throw or several balls to choose from and eventually without a leash. Eventually you will find that when you say "OK" and throw the ball, he will chose the tug over the ball. It takes time though.

If the dog is already doing box work, you can play the same game. Require that your dog tugs with you and then release him to get the ball from the box when you are happy with his tugging. In this situation tugging after the ball would be ideal too. Make sure he can't reward himself with the ball, by having the box loader put the ball in just as you release the dog.

5. Premack. This is similar  # 4, but only works if you use something that is currently more valuable than the ball. With the dog on a leash and lots of high value treats, click/treat when the dog looks at you. When he is doing this reliably, put a ball on the ground and wait for him to look back and you and reward him with a click/treat. After doing this for a few sessions, after you click/treat for orienting to you, say "OK" and let him get the ball if he wants. And then wait. While you are waiting you are holding his leash and not moving or saying anything at all. At this point he has to decide between standing there playing with the ball by himself without moving more than a few feet or looking at you and getting a treat. After a few times of trying this, he will likely find the ball less rewarding in this situation than the high value treat. As he gets more reliable with this, start lowering the value of the treat or use a tug instead of food and increase the value of the ball by giving him a long line, taking the leash off in a small area, throwing the ball etc.

6. Ball on a short rope.  Add a short rope to a tennis ball and play fetch with your dog, when he brings it ball, play an exciting game of tug. play keep away with this toy. While holding your dogs collar, put this rope/ball toy about 10 ft in front of you. Push your dog behind you and race him for the toy. You win the first two times and then on the third one let him win and play a fun game of tug. When you get the toy from him pretend that he is trying to get it from you and you are keeping it away from him. Tease him with it and then let him get it. Sometimes chase him or sometimes turn around the run away while he has it. Everytime he comes to you play with him. Never swing it in his face, but make him think it is a valuable resource that he is getting as a reward. Once he LOVES this toy, start putting plain tennis balls in view and slowly add more and have people roll them around. Continue to play tug drive building games in the presence of balls, expanding to a tug with a longer ball and less rope.

7. Self Control. Teach your dog impulse control. I use Susan Garretts game "It's Yer Choice".   to teach my dogs to not steal food. It can be expanded to teach them not to steal toys or basically that they have to "work" to get something they want. They chose to either do what you want them to do and get their reward or neither. In this case you can require that your dog does a basic command (nose touch or sit/stay) and gets a ball as a reward or if you want him to leave the ball practice this game and give him a very high value food reward for choosing to not go for a ball.

8. Balls in the Crate. I'm not sure how well this works, but I've that some people have had success with filling the dogs crate with balls with the thought that eventually he will be annoyed by them rather than excited about them.

These thoughts are based on my reading and experience I've had with ball obsession. I'd love to hear other peoples experiences and especially if you've tried any of these things and if they work. I currently don't know of any dogs that have been completely cured of ball obsession.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Resource Guarding and Crate Loving

Today was a snow day! We went herding with Goose and had a great time. He is so much more confident and could probably trial if we put enough time into his training. It's difficult because of the price for training and the driving distance. Perhaps we will get our own sheep when we move to New England. We're just doing basic outruns, but he is very confident and honest. I enjoy going because of the pretty drive and the experience of being on the farm. Since Goose is our only herding dog, we took Indigo, Pax and Georgia (Amy's dog) to the field for a run after herding. Amy took this amazing photo of Indigo. It's one of the best I've ever seen of her.

With a break from dog sport competing. We've had time to work on basic manners training and problems. Pax has a few issues. He doesn't like to be left alone without other dogs to cuddle with and he has been doing some resource guarding. We are working on him being left alone by doing Susan Garretts crate games and just generally rewarding him whenever he chooses to go in his open crate. The plan is to slowly wean him from being near us while he is in the crate. We will start to do that once we know he loves the crate. First we will keep him in the crate, but near us while we are home and then we will move the crate downstairs into the dog room. I know it's been working because for the past few nights I've invited him on the bed to cuddle and he instead chose to go into his crate! We keep a container of stinky salmon treats and drop them in anytime he goes in. Crate games is a great place to start working with dogs that don't like to be left alone.

The resource guarding was created by us and our lack of attention to a building problem. We have always fed the dogs all together outside when they eat raw food. They each get a bowl and it's never been a problem for them to all eat their own food. We noticed a few times that Goose started stealing Pax's food and apparently it happened a lot more and we didn't notice. At some point, Pax started getting annoyed, which is understandable. He started barking and defending his food. We let the problem go even longer, which was not smart of us. A few months ago we realized it's a problem and it affected the relationship between Goose and Pax negatively. Now they can't eat near each other at all (other than treats) and Pax has started guarding people and beds from Goose as well. 100% our fault. Anyway, now Pax eats inside and the border collies eat outside. Pax reacts to Goose through the glass door when Goose comes running toward the glass for his next piece of meat out of his bowl.

We have been working hard to fix this problem using classical conditioning.  Here are some instructions. Resource Guarding with Other Dogs We personalized it. Every time the dogs eat we stand near the back door with Pax. He watches Goose (who is outside) take his first piece of meat, which is fine with Pax and doesn't cause a reaction at all. Then as Goose is coming back for another piece and we see the initial signs of Pax getting stressed we immediately surprise Pax with a delicious treat. We are now at the point that when Goose comes running toward us, Pax looks up for a treat. We still haven't worked on the guarding of people or beds, that is next.

We also need to work on jumping up on people and "stay" for all dogs and lunging at roller blades for Goose. There is always something to work on. Despite that, I really want a puppy. I don't need a puppy, but I want one!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Questions from a reader. And my answers....

 1. I have a 4 year old Westie.  He is a chaser, we are slowly working that out. I too have found that desensitizing him has done nothing. He goes down and gets his ball without chasing, but often chases on the way back from the box. In the left lane, that split second of turning off the box and losing sight of the dog in the right lane sends him in to a craze. What he typically does is cross over and shake the ball he has in his mouth. Once the other dog acknowledges that, he then after some herding makes his way back to me. We have tried gates, loud noises, everything. All of that does nothing. If I don't get a hold of him and quickly, he will run back down the lane after the dog.

 2. Do you have good method at teaching tugging?  Currently he is super food motivated. I am working on tugging.  If I really get him amped up, he will tug, but he still isn't really latching on, more rather gumming it. And if a ball rolls by, he is done. He is way in to the ball, not more so than chasing other dogs, but more into a rolling ball than tugging with me.
In my opinion ball obsession and chasing are the two hardest problems to fix and this guy has a little bit of both.  
Here are some ideas for this type of chasing: 

1. Don't ever give him the opportunity to chase. Chasing and getting access to the other dog is very rewarding.  From this point on, don't ever give him the opportunity to practice the chasing behavior. After awhile the chasing becomes a habit, force him to break the habit! 
If he is more likely to chase with multiple dogs running, run him with one other dog until he is reliable. Run him against the slowest dog on the team. Use gates along the whole lane including the run back, removing them one by one over the course of several weeks. Do head to head box work with you and him completely enclosed in gates. If you don't have gates, get a few people to block and make sure they understand the rules and are quick. Make sure the blockers know that they are in charge of forming a barrier around the dog being chased and ignore your dog. They should not allow access to the other dog at all.  No one should be yelling at him. With these precautions,  he should never get full access to the dog he wants, but he still might try to chase. If he does, calmly pick him up and put him in his crate until his next turn or at least a few minutes. Letting him run again is a reward. 
 2. Build positive associations with moving dogs. starting outside of flyball practice try doing some control unleashed  & premack type training. I would use LAT (look at that) with moving dogs, click/treat for attention to you, relaxation protocol, parallel games, Give Me a Break (GMAB)
 - LAT: go to a spot where he is under threshold and reward him for orienting toward running dogs. 
-GMAB: teach him the basic rules of the game in a non distracting environment. When he knows the game, go to practice and set up gates around you and your dog near the flyball lanes ( as far away as needed to keep him under threshold), making a box around you. Put a chair in the box. While standing, ask the dog to do a behavior and click/treat at a high rate with about 10 treats. And then release the dog to go do whatever he wants and  you sit down. As soon as the dog looks back at you, get out of the chair and repeat with another request for a sit/lie down and click/treat. Do this for short sessions several times during practice.
3. Work at the point just before he tends to react. If he always goes and gets his ball and brings it back over jump 7 before chasing, set up a short course (2 jumps in both lanes) have someone else release him and you stand right in front of the last jump on his way back and reward him before the point that you expect him to chase. You could even remove all the jumps and have someone else release him and then reward him just after the box and slowly move down the lane until you are far enough back to release him, adding the jumps back in later. It really isn't necessary to use full runs to work on this. More running makes the dog have to think more and a more tired dog is more likely to chase. If he chases on the flat during recalls, work there. Try separating the lanes as far apart as you can. Also try staggering the dogs, alternate between releasing him first and releasing the other dog first.

4. Build value for you and a solid recall. When I say "solid recall". I mean that you want your dog to run fast to you.  This is where the tugging comes into the picture. I'll have to do another post on building tug drive and a few recall games, but here are a few quick tips.  Start training at home and then add distractions slowly. Ask him to sit and then say "ready set TUG" and run away, dragging the tug. Push him away from you, play keep away. Throw the tug, push him back behind you and race him for the tug. You win the first two and then let him win. Once he gets the tug, run away and get him to chase you.  Always end the game when the dog is most excited about tugging. Never wait until he decides to end it. Try the tug exchange game - get two tugs and leave them on the ground, run and grab one and act like it is very exciting. When he comes over, play keep away, pushing him away and teasing him and then let him get it. As soon as he is tugging at his peak, drop the tug and run and get the next one. Keep tugging sessions very short (30 seconds).  Try using a ball with a small rope on in and play fetch, tugging with him each time before and after you throw it. Also read these articles
5. Play games that will desensitize him to motion. Even if it hasn't worked before, it might work eventually with the right methods it might help. 
- Focus on the Handler: get one other dog that you can rely on to go fetch a ball and bring it right back to his handler and two tennis balls. With plenty of space in front of you, and the other handler holding his dog, throw the ball 10 feet in front of you and release your dog to go get it and give him a cue to bring it back and put it in your hand. If he can't do that, keep working on it. If he can on the second round, do the same thing but just as he is getting back to you, have the 2nd handler throw the ball for their dog and release to get it. Alternate who starts first and keep it under the point of chasing. 

- Get out Game: I'll have to post a video of this one. With no other dogs around and your dog off leash, throw a treat to your side and say "get out" as soon as he gets it, say "get out" again throwing it in the other direction. Keep doing this, throwing in a request to come right to you every so often. In the next session, add another dog playing the game  nearby, slowly getting closer and adding more dogs playing the game. 

- Three boxes: set up a box in between the two normal flyball lanes and put the chasing dog in the middle. The thought is that it will blow his mind and he won't be able to choose someone to chase.

- Chase games: without jumps, have someone hold the chasing dog and a non-reactive dog near the box. The holder releases the non-reactive dog first and then the chasing dog. The handler of the first dog should run much further (to 60 feet) and the handler of the chasing dog to 15 feet. In between 15 and 60 feet, have people prepared to block the chasing dog.

Final Thoughts - 

1. Allow the chasing dog to experience other dogs and being off leash and running unless this is dangerous. I think this often happens to dogs that aren't exposed to a lot of motion and never have the opportunity to interact with other dogs off leash
2. Some people have had success with slamming pool noodles on the ground, Ecollars or water guns. I have had sucesss with water gun, but never with pool noodles. Be careful with Ecollars as you may end up with a dog that never wants to walk into the building again.
3. If he does it right, respond appropriately. give him a HUGE payment.
4. Talk to your vet about medication. Your dog might benefit from some psych meds
4. This takes a lot of patience and could take many years to fix.

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Years Eve with the Dogs!

The last few years we have spent NYE at home or maybe went over to a neighbors house. When I heard about the idea for a NYE flyball tournament, I knew I would go. We even arranged for Ben's parents to come and watch Finley. It was expensive and we ran all three dogs, but it was worth it. There was a small group of us and our team came in last, but we had so much fun! There was a dinner, this bungee bean bag game, champagne and lots of time to talk and watch the dogs run.

In preparation for the tournament Amy and I had a dessert making party. She made candycane cookies and I make caramel chocolate peanut truffles, which happened to be gluten free!

The dogs overall didn't perform well and after watching video of Pax's box turns and striding, I'm glad there is a long break until the next tournament, because we have a lot of work to do. Some of the starts and passes were off. It was especially entertaining to watch drunk people try to run a dog. And the ridiculous things that people were saying after midnight. Oh and we got a hotel room, checked in at 2 am, went to bed at 3 am and woke up at 10:30 and then went out for a nice leisurely breakfast. Best New Years eve in a long time.

Chocolate Caramel Peanut Truffles

Recipe from  Sara Moulton, Sara Moulton Cooks at Home, Broadway Books, 2002
Picture of Chocolate Caramel Peanut Truffles Recipe 


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped peanuts, for coating


Place the sugar in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring just until the sugar has melted. Continue cooking, swirling the pan often, until the sugar is dark golden caramel. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour in the cream. Return the pan to the heat and simmer, stirring, until the caramel has dissolved.
Remove the pan from the heat and, while hot, stir in the chocolate peanut butter, salt, and vanilla. Let stand for about 5 minutes or until the chocolate and peanut butter have dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover the bowl with plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours.
Use a small spoon to scoop out the truffles and form into 1-inch balls. Roll the truffles in the peanuts and transfer to a tray covered with waxed paper. Chill until firm, about 1 hour. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


2011 was a great year for our dogs!

Indigo, who is now almost 5 years old....
1. Debuted in agility and did well in hoopers, tunnelers and jumpers
2. Ran solidly in flyball on our teams new A team, mostly for Jeff and was part of the new club record of 16.4
3. Broke her time record in Friday night racing with a 3.70, in UFLI singles with a 3.832, making her the 23 fastest dog for the year and the 5th fastest border collie. Just this past weekend she ran her best time with a pass of 3.80.
4. Earned her ONYX in NAFA and TFE-I in UFLI
5. Ran with her sister Ezri in doubles 8.017, making them the 14th fastest pair for the year.
6. Make the top pointed NAFA dogs with 156 spot
7. Tried lure coursing and did well (for a border collie)

Goose, who turned 4 in November.....
1. Continued to run well for Ben in flyball and was also part of the new club record of 16.4
2. Broke his singles time record in UFLI with a 3.740, making him the fastest border collie for 2011, not bad for a herding dog that we got at age 1.5!
3. Is now the 24th fastest dog of all time and the 5th fastest border collie of all time
4. Earned his FMX in NAFA and TFE in UFLI  and was the 245th highest pointed dog in NAFA
5. Ran consistent 3.8s and 3.9s in the pack over 10" jumps.
6. Also tried lure coursing and did well (also Pax would have a different opinion)
7. Oh and most importantly got a name change to a way cooler name that is a much better fit. 

Pax, who is almost 2.....
1. Debuted in July in Friday night racing and ran a 3.72, but spit his ball on most runs
2. Ran in singles in August and September in UFLI with a best time of 3.773, making him the forth fastest whippet this year and the 7th fastest whippet of all time.
3. Earned his TF-I in UFLI and FDCH-S NAFA
4. Ran solidly on our Divison 1 team in start position, rarely making a mistake.
5. Started agility training with Ben and is on his way to learning contact and weaves.
5. Tried NOTRA and ASFA lure coursing. He placed 2nd in the lure coursing trial.

Here is what I posted for the New Year last year...

my commitments to my dogs in the new year

1. I will not get another dog. I have my hands full at the moment with 3 dogs and a baby.

I am frequently tempted to add another dog to the pack. Its a bit of an addiction actually. I will satisfy my need for new dogs by continuing to have a foster dog in the house.

Mission Accomplished. Check!
2. I will teach them all to have a reliable recall.

With multiple dogs living in the city a RELIABLE recall is essential (or should be). Indigo and Epic have a very good recall, but it needs to be better. Especially when someone else has a chuck-it and we don't. And while I am calling them, that other person throws the ball. Its WAY more rewarding for them to chase the ball and ignore me.

I am currently signed up for Susan Garretts Recallers class and have seen major improvements. I'll consider that done.

3. I will take Epic for herding lessons on a regular basis.

I took Epic herding on Friday and it was a joy to see how much he enjoys it. He is usually a little bit nervous and unsure of himself, but when working sheep he is confident and content. It makes me happy just to watch him work.

Thumbs down. I have hardly gone herding at all. I am going this week. It's hard with flyball practice every weekend. Poor Goose.

4. I will spend more time training them individually at home.

Indigo enjoys learning new tricks and they all enjoy working for food. I need to do this more often.

I didn't do any trick training, but I have been doing more training with the recallers class. Still not as much as I should have done. 

5. We will debut Pax in flyball and Indigo in agility.

Pax is progressing very nicely and will hopefully debut sometime this summer. Indigo is still learning weaves, but will be able to enter some sort of agility trial this year.

 Pax did debut in flyball and Indigo did learn weaves, but her contacts haven't been solid enough to do standard runs in agility. I'll say this one is 1/2 done and I'll leave it up to Ben to see what happens this year. r

Plans/Goals for this upcoming year

1. Move across the country and join a new flyball team, hopefully with 1-2 of our dogs running on a team that gets into the 15 second range. 
2.  Travel back to Victoria for another UFLI tournament there and hopefully qualify for UFLI nationals
3. Go to CanAm and run on a regular team
4. Clean standard runs in agility with Indy in which she hits her Aframe contacts
5. More oval racing and lure coursing with Pax and try straight racing
6. Try Indigo and Goose in a CAT
7. Find a new herding instructor in Massachusetts and take Goose several times before we move.
8. Pax speed up and run in the 3.6 range. Ya never know....