Eye on the Ball

I have a little collie mix, Tetley. She’s great at agility provided I have a ball in my hand. If I leave the ball at the side of the ring, or hide it in my pocket, she slows down or tries to find where I’ve hidden it. With her ball, she goes like greased lightning. Without it, she goes on strike. What can I do?]

A. Tetley is a very, very good trainer. She has taught you to carry her beloved ball whenever the pair of you do any agility. No ball? No agility. Tetley needs to learn that her ball must be earned…
Small Beginnings Start with one fence. Command Tetley to jump. After she jumps the hurdle, not before, she gets her reward. When she can do that, you can build up to two, three, or four fences. She will start thinking ‘What do I have to do to get my ball?”

Battle of Wills The first few times will be difficult. Tetley may rather have her hair dyed pink than lose sight of her ball. She may have a tantrum. Be patient and work through it. Tetley may pout and be unenthusiastic to start with but when she realizes that she will be rewarded with her ball she will start making an effort. In the beginning, keep Tetley interested by rewarding her frequently. Later, you can adjust your expectations. She will have to do more work to justify her getting her ball.

Keep Guessing Continue to use Tetley’s ball in training, but keep her guessing. Is it in your hand? Is it in your pocket? Is it under the A-frame? Does someone else have it? Tetley will really be surprised when you retrieve her ball from the top of the car. Sometimes Tetley can have a game with it after a few jumps, sometimes in the middle of your run, sometimes at the end. You decide where and when.

Other Motivators Experiment with other motivators. Does Tetley like treats, tug toys, a Frisbee? The advantage of having a range of rewards to choose from lies in their differing value to the dog. So if Tetley was stunningly excellent, she gets her cherished ball. If she was simply good, she gets a treat.

Out of Sight Tetley will be learning that thought she can’t see her ball, it will be coming. All she has to do is be eager. The faster she goes, the sooner she gets her ball… from somewhere.

Your Ball Think about your feelings and Tetley’s ball. How do you feel running without it in your hand? Is it a bit of a crutch for you? Do you feel naked and useless without it? Change your attitude to yourself to something more positive.

Stick With It and you will have a dog that is as motivated in the ring as she is in training. She will know that a reward is on its way and will be on her best behavior to hurry it along. …]

Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
Visit Mary Ann at http://www.aslanagility.com/

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4 Comments on “Eye on the Ball

  1. Good Morning

    Yes i agree with Mary Ann,s advice as well. I have had 2 Border Collies and trained them as well the same way with teasers like balls and ropes but with this Border i have now he is different. I have to be come the centre of his focus in the ring and i am finding that keeping him on lead where ever we go and playing with him when he gets it right and rolling around with him, after two weeks now he has stopped lagging and watches me more now.
    Even when we go walking with the other dogs he is on lead and he is now coming to me and jumping on me to let him go and play with the others and i do let him go when i want to and some time i do not let him go. He pulls on his lead and jumps around but i will only let him go some times.

  2. I want to affirm that Mary Ann’s advice really works. Once a behavior is learned, rewards have to become unpredictable or the dog becomes the “leader” and thinks he gets to call the shots. Ironicly, the more motivated by a reward my dogs are, the more I have to never give it to them if they ask for it and only give them when I say so.

  3. Hello,
    I have a mixed Australian Sheppard that loves treats.
    The problem is that when the treat is not in my hand she goes extremely slow and unwillingly.
    She doesn’t like any other things like balls or tug toys.
    What to do?
    Thank you,

  4. I do not do allot of agility but i do obedience and i have a border collie that i have the same problem with. We live on 60 acres and he loves running around with the Quads feeding the horses which i do not let him now unless he is on lead with me . He is not let off lead at all now when we feed the horses. He works very nicely on the farm but most times in the ring he has no enthusiasm and he does not want to be there. Some times he works very well. He is not a dog that motivates with food or balls . So that is why i have now gone to on lead with me at all times. I have now also started to do a jump together which our body touches and i can use in the ring as encouragement. This is also a slow patient process. I hope it works and i have yet to see if it works