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!

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