I’ve Hidden the Ball Thrower. A Cautionary Tale.

This is a story about my own dog, Cocker Spaniel Pickle, and the ball thrower.

I’ve hidden the ball thrower.

Pickle loves to chase the ball. He jumps to catch it and he would carry on till he dropped (though I can’t image Pickle ever dropping if the ball kept being thrown).

Although the dog loves it, the ball thrower really may not be a good thing unless used very sparingly. People with ball chuckers seldom use them sparingly, like five throws then put it away.Play with ball thrower

Why isn’t it a good thing? Dogs LOVE it.

Unfortunately they can become obsessed. Too much and they can even become adrenaline junkies. They are never happy unless a ball is being thrown for them.

A lovely walk can become nothing more than chasing a ball, fetching and dropping it to be thrown again. The richness of the countryside becomes lost to the dog. He should be using his wonderful nose to explore the environment and all the dogs, other animals and bugs that have passed his way before him.

Unnatural.

Would a dog, freely out in the environment alone without humans, be doing anything quite so relentlessly repetitive?

Anything repeated over and over can be addictive and causes stress of a kind, even if the dog does LOVE it.

It’s almost like the dog is a clockwork toy (remember clockwork?) and with a key we are winding him up until he is over-wound.

Pickling

My Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, would chase a ball all day given the chance. However, if there is no ball, he is happily  ‘Pickling’. He does what instinctively comes to him which is running about, tail wagging, exploring with his nose. He may chase a pigeon or dig up a vole.

He’s a working dog, and needs to use his brain whilst exercising.

The day before yesterday someone took my dogs to the field with the ball thrower for Pickle. He threw the ball for him, over and over.

Over the past two days the fallout from that extended ball play on Pickle has been very evident. (I do myself play ball but it is for a few throws only then I stop. Adding some training and brain work goes a little way towards fulfilling his genetic needs).

Pickle never stops.

He brings the ball back, drops it where it makes it easiest for the person to pick up. He runs off in anticipation of where it might land before it leaves the ball thrower.

The day before yesterday after the lengthy ball play, Pickle charged back into the house ahead of the other dogs. I was sitting at my computer. He leapt into the water bowl, digging out the water all over the sitting room floor. Dripping, he charged all over the furniture and then jumped into and knocked over the larger water bucket the dogs drink from.

Any self control was simply impossible.

For a good hour he paced and he panted. Each small noise set him off barking.

Isn’t ball play meant to tire him out and make him calm? Isn’t a tired, physically worn out dog a good dog? Fat chance! It’s the opposite.

Pickle was on alert for sounds for the rest of the day. The next morning he was still high, getting vocal and excited for his breakfast, perfectly illustrating how stress chemicals remain in the body.

So, I have hidden the ball thrower.

No ball thrower yesterday and no ball thrower today.

Pickle has been out in the field with me several times, Pickling. No balls.

Afterwards he comes in, has a drink and settles.

Today the neighbours wheeled their wheelie bin down the passage. After just one token Woof Pickle settled again. No vocals before breakfast.

It’s taken three days to get him back to this.

This is such a classic example of trigger stacking and the importance of the right kind of exercise that I have written my story about Pickle this time.

If anyone reading this with a highly wired or stressy dog uses a ball thrower to chuck a ball repeatedly for their dog, just try something.

Try no ball throwing for a few days. Just allow freedom to explore and to sniff. Your dog may find ‘doing his own thing’ very hard to start with, but persist.

If the dog chooses to run, he can chase things he himself chooses to chase.

A less stressed dog will result in a dog being able to cope with all sorts of things life throws at him, whether it’s encountering other dogs on walks to being less destructive or waiting patiently for his dinner.

PS. Dangers to be aware of if your dog loves ball play. 

Barks at Inanimate Objects. Stress is the Trigger

 

Jester suddenly barks at inanimate objects. Why?

Something tips him over.

He looks about and he looks up. He spots a burglar alarm box high on the wall of a house or a security camera, a clock, a satellite dish, a street light or even the moon.

Barks at inanimate objectsJester barks uncontrollably.

He is a twelve-month-old Labrador Border Collie mix. He’s friendly, gentle and cooperative. His young owners have been very keen to do the best for him right from the start and in so many ways their love, training and hard work has paid off.

They give him plenty of brain games and enrichment in the house.

The problems started a couple of months ago when out. Jester began to bark at (silent) burglar alarm boxes on houses. Yellow ones and blue ones initially. This is interesting, as yellow and blue are the two colours dogs can see clearly.

Gradually the barking has spread from alarm boxes to other things.

He barks at inanimate objects; what triggers it?

The behaviour is often triggered by something sudden. A sound or sight that alarms or arouses him. A distant dog may bark, for instance.

He then immediately starts looking upwards like he’s searching for something to redirect his arousal onto. Where he first used to latch onto burglar alarms (blue or yellow), it can now be other things like street lights, fire alarms, lampshades and even the moon when he was particularly worked up.

We first need to deal with this at source by reducing Jester’s arousal and stress levels in every way possible. There are a few things to put in place that, when added together, should bring results.

Football in the park.

One key thing they are doing, with the best of intentions and because Jester loves it, is to kick a football for him in the park for about an hour a day. Instead of walks being something he’d be doing if alone – sniffing, exploring, meeting dog friends and mental activities – he is being pumped up. He loves it. Like any other addict, an adrenaline junkie can never get enough.

They will also work directly on what they themselves do when he barks at inanimate objects. As soon as something triggers the ‘looking upwards’ behaviour they will give him something else to do that is incompatible with looking up and barking frantically. He can’t, for instance, sit and look at them, forage for food or perhaps catch a ball, at the same time as looking up high and barking at something.

If they leave it too late and he does begin to bark, they should immediately redirect his energy onto a different activity like running in the opposite direction and then go home to calm down. That walk is now doomed.

This kind of ritual can easily become a learned behaviour, a default in response to arousal. It gives him some sort of relief. 

When he’s out on walks and more relaxed, they will encourage him to look at these things calmly, whether alarm boxes or a particular street lamp that gets him going – then to look away again, using food. The Labrador in Jester means he is very motivated by food!

Human-generated excitement.

Every day his arousal/excitement/stress levels are being topped up with human-generated excitement.

It’s like when he can’t cope with over-arousal he has to find something to redirect it onto. It can be general build up of arousal simply overflowing or something identifiable that sends him over. His ‘stress bucket‘ overflows.

Walks and play should be such that they reduce Jester’s arousal levels rather than increase them. I suggest putting an end to the football and instead allow him lots of sniffing and exploring time. Let him choose what he wants to do. He will need to go cold turkey on the football and so will they! This will mean sacrificing some of their own fun unfortunately.

It’s outside the house where the behaviour occurs. But then, most of the stressors happen outside the house. There are a number of things to work on or avoid altogether when out in order to help Jasper overcome this.