Thursday, July 26, 2012

ball on the wall

We had a tournament this past weekend and tried Pax running full time on the A team. He's our fastest dog in theory, but his times are very inconsistent because of his striding. I got a few 3.8s out of him in last, but mostly 3.9s -4.0. His box turn was consistently wide despite the extra work I've been doing with him.

I know it just hasn't been enough time and he's been rewarded many times by going wide. I also know that the root of the problem is not just the turn itself, but the way he approaches the box. His approach doesn't allow him to collect himself to make a tight turn. However, I know he CAN do a tight turn with his striding into the box because when I put a prop there, his turn is lovely. While I continue to work on his striding, I'm also focusing on getting him to bend more (I posted about this last week) and rotate better. His wall work has been nice, so I've advanced him to getting the ball off the wall.

I started this last night and this morning. I thought it looked pretty good for his first time getting the ball off the ball. I'll do a lot more of this and then start working the actual box.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Ball Spitting

Here is a question from a reader about training a 4 month old border collie:  

Question: .........I'm pretty sure he's going to be a spitter, as he very much prefers the tug over the ball (which is good), but how can I work with him down the road in bringing the ball? Ive started doing exchanges from ball to tug because i did that in the past, and he spits as soon as he sees the tug. he knows the 2 toy game as well. Or is it too early to worry about that? Anyways, any suggestions you have for me would be wonderful.


First of all, I wouldn't worry too much about a future in ball spitting at 4 months. At 4 months the things I focus on are:

1. TUG DRIVE especially with distractions (balls, other dogs, people running etc)
2. flat recalls against lots of different types of dogs
3. opposing recalls or introduction to passing through the stanchions
4. introduction to box work - "over & back" over a gutter or low jump
5. body awareness exercises or introduction to gutters if you plan to use them
6. introduction to clicker training and being handled by people if that's an issue
7. toy exchange
8. basic retrieve to the hand, not necessarily a ball and not a big focus.
9. Impulse control games

Between 5-7 months is when I would suggest revisiting the ball work. Here is a combination of the steps I did with Pax and Indigo.  With Pax to prevent ball spitting and with Indigo to fix it. This is in addition to playing tug with the ball and using the tennis ball as a reward in everyday life.

1.  Clicker train to put the ball in my hand. In a small space with the dog on leash (if needed), toss the ball a very short distance. Shape him putting it in your hand. Start with a click for picking up the ball then for bringing it toward you and then eventually click the second the ball makes contact with your hand. Practice this a lot!

2. Throw a ball further in a large space with no leash and have him bring it to my hand, building up to him bringing it while I'm running away with my hand out.  There is no tug involved yet.

3.  Same as # 2 but with dead ball. If he does 4 in a row correctly, take out the tug play a short exciting game of tug with him.

4. With a tug in hand, throw a ball and then turn and run with the tug hidden in front of you as you are running. Look back to see if the dog has the ball as he approaches you. If he has it and is within 2 feet of you, give him the tug. If he spit it, ask him to go get it and bring it to you and then give him the tug. If he spits it no where near you, you need to move back a few steps.  Ideally you will be able to send him to a dead ball run away with a hidden tug and then when he presents you the ball, give him the tug.

5. Using a low value tug at first and eventually moving to his favorite tug, try #4, but drag the tug instead of hiding it. It's important that you look back to see when the dog drops the ball. If it's early (more than 2 feet from you), immediately pull up the tug. Ask the dog to go get the ball and bring it to you and then give him the tug. Again, if it's too hard make it easier and slowly raise the criteria.

The mistakes I made in 5 years of training Indigo to hold her ball: hiding the tug as a permanent solution, facing her instead of running away, and most importantly rewarding her in tournaments when she didn't carry it within 2 feet of me, but did carry it barely over the line.

Here is a video of Indigo from a few days ago. I am just getting to the point of dragging the tug. The first few I was still hiding it and then I tried dragging it. On the last two she made me laugh because she tried to get the tug while the ball was still in her mouth!

Friday, July 6, 2012


Pax has been racing in flyball for almost a year now and has made lots of progress. He's more confident, has better striding and just started passing with no issues. It's nice to have him in 4th because his box turn is very variable. You couldn't pass into him easily as he is coming off the box because often he goes wide.

We tried to figure out what causes him to go wide. We thought maybe it was when he gets tired, but it's variable throughout the day. It definitely has to do with the way he collects himself between the 4th jump and the box.  Also he hits the box too far to the left and isn't able to bend his body easily.

I'm still working on his striding into the box, but I'm focusing on improving his flexibility so he can bend more easily. I want to be able to practice his box turn without using the upright of a box prop to keep his head in. Most dogs with this problem only have a tight turn when the prop is in, so that doesn't really help fix the problem.

This week I've been doing wall work and experimenting with some agility jumping. He already knew some basics from his classes with Ben, so getting him around the jump was easy. I need to work on calling him sooner so he starts bending mid-jump and we plan to add some serpentine jumps for more bending skills. For the agility jumping I'm purposely working on both sides event hough he turns to the left. Please excuse my "agility handling" or lack of. I'm not an agility person!