I’m happy with Lyra’s work at home. She’s cute, engaged and learning well. We’re at that fabulous point where I train her several times a day, simply because it’s so much fun for us. As often as not, “training” is sitting on the floor while we play silly games and practice a few tricks.
While I’m thrilled with what she shows me with no distractions, I’ve come to accept that she’s not going to simply “outgrow” her fascination with movement and other dogs. It gets better all the time and we’re having more luck working in public. But…she is easily riveted by movement, and watching/chasing other dogs trumps everything I have to offer.
I’ve strongly emphasized tug over playing ball with Lyra, even though I know that playing ball would probably be a very powerful motivator. A tug toy is much more usable – balls can be very distracting to others, especially in AKC events. With prior dogs I’ve allowed ball obsession and have come to regret it later on.
With Lyra I avoided the issue by playing tug 90% of the time and only throwing a ball that had a rope attached (which I then tug). I’m glad I took this strategy because I like what I’m seeing with the tug toy, but to get her through her obsession with other dogs, I’ve decided to use the ball.
I’ve got a plan.
I need to decrease the value of the other dogs/movement and simultaneously increase the value of what I have to offer.
Lyra can work for a tug toy in the presence of other dogs – as long as they are not running/chasing, so this is our starting point.
First prong of approach: Continue to practice obedience for a tug toy with other dog in the area. In this case, I look for environments where the working dogs are reasonably calm and well focused on their owners. If I find myself in a situation where she cannot function, I either move further away or leave. After allowing a nice acclimation time where she can watch from a distance, we begin working for a tug toy. I was very pleased with her the last time we worked on this; she progressed to the point of working off leash relatively close to the action.
Simultaneously, I’m adding the movement of other dogs chasing balls. Here’s what I’m doing:
At home, I take Lyra into the training area with another one of my dogs. All of my dogs are completely focused on me or work, so they will not engage Lyra – that’s perfect.
Each dog has a ball. First I throw Lyra’ ball, preferably very far so she gets a good run. After she’s on her way, I throw a ball for the second dog; not too far and not in the same direction as Lyra. By the time Lyra sees that the other dog also chased a ball, they are both back for the next throw and there is no more motion. Rinse and Repeat.
Next, I alternate which ball is thrown first. If I throw the other dog’s ball first and Lyra stays focused, I throw hers right away in a different direction. If instead of going for her ball she chases the other dog, I use that information when setting up the next repetition. The ball will be thrown a shorter distance (for the other dog), and I’ll try harder to keep her on her toy. This is the stage she is at now. When we started, I was successful about 75% of the time. Today I was successful almost every time (see video below).
Next I’d like to progress to the point where she can stay focused on me while waiting her turn, even if the other dog is off chasing their ball. When that is possible, I’d like to be able to throw both toys in the same direction and release both dogs together – if she can focus on her ball while running with another dog, then the future looks bright.
My third plan of attack is to ask my friends with ball obsessed dogs to allow me to work Lyra while they work their dogs. I have to select the dogs carefully, because it’s quite likely that Lyra will chase them a few times. She won’t hurt them but she is irritating and it’s important that they not engage her. I did this once yesterday and she was fantastic!
If all of these steps are successful, then I’d hope to have a dog that can function in public when working for her ball.
The next step would be to get her doing all of the above steps for a tug toy, and finally, to get Lyra to work for a tug toy while others dogs are chasing balls. Eeek!
I want to show Lyra that chasing other dogs does not work for her; they will not engage her and they don’t want to be bothered. She still enjoys the chase, so I also have to work hard to raise the value of her toy – simply allowing her access to a ball seems to be accomplishing that goal.
I”m glad I have a plan. Hope it works and will keep you posted. This video is our current stage.