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. 

Don’t Want Their Females Fighting

Females fighting – nipping things in the bud before they escalate to something worse

Rosie

Rosie

I have just been to another family that really pulls together where their dogs are concerned.

They have a situation with two females – a Labradoodle and a Rottie, both a year old.

The two dogs got on very well to start with, but as they reached maturity what was a bit of bullying from excitable Rosie, the doodle, became rougher as she jumped on the more placid Missy.

Predictably there came a time when Missy had had enough and she retaliated. It escalated to growling and snarling with each dog held back on leads as they reared up on their back legs. Now, to make sure there is no chance of their females fighting, the two are kept separate except on certain walks which have to be fairly carefully managed.

It’s a large family with members ranging from their twenties down to three years old. The older teenage girls do most with the dogs. Labradoodle Rosie belongs to the seventeen-year-old who had worked hard with her, teaching all the basic training cues.

Things aren’t so good now for Rosie. The dogs have just the fairly small kitchen area and utility room. The more peaceful Missy lives in the kitchen with people coming and going and Rosie spends all the time she’s not out on a walk alone in the conservatory. She doesn’t seem to expect to come in, but she occupies herself by chewing things. She goes out into the garden for short periods, but due to her digging and eating things they don’t leave her out for long.

Missy

She’s a clever dog and she is very bored.

The people don’t know what else they can do. She does have two quite long walks every day. One walk is Rosie alone with her 17-year-old person. The walk is largely spent chasing a ball thrown from a chucker to tire her out, but she doesn’t come home from this walk tired out and satisfied.

I have asked them to leave the ball thrower at home. She doesn’t need it. There is a belief that the more you can tire a dog the better it will be. It can be the opposite – see here. A hyper dog anyway, she needs activities that stimulate her brain and allow her to unwind a bit, not the opposite.

Her second walk is interesting and works better for her. They take both dogs. One daughter has a head start with one dog followed by the other dog some minutes later. They meet up at a field with a pond. The dogs run around off lead and the situation is controlled with the ball chucker. At the first hint of any trouble they throw the ball into the pond and Rosie, who loves water, runs in after it. Missy hates water and thus the dogs are parted.

They walk home together and all is fine.

After the walk, having been hosed down the two dogs are left briefly together in the utility room. Someone watches them through a window. After a shake-off one dog will usually lie down. It takes a very short time before the other dog jumps on top of her and the conflict starts. They are immediately parted and Missy returned to the kitchen.

I see this couple of minutes as a window of opportunity – a time when both dogs are briefly sufficiently calm and already together. They can build on it. The girl can stay in the utility room with the dogs after the walk. When, having shaken off, one lies down, she can ask the other to do the same and reward them both. She can work on a short ‘stay’ before letting Missy out into the kitchen in a controlled fashion. Over the days the duration of the ‘down-stays’ can be extended.

Instead of waiting for the conflict to start thus daily further rehearsing the behaviour, they can be taught a desirable behaviour instead.

When the family has made some progress I will be going back. We will take things to the next stage. It needs to be carefully stage-managed.

Meawhile, the girl has considerably more work to do with Rosie if they are to get these two dogs back together in harmony. While Rosie is so frustrated, stressed and bored, she will lack the self control required. Because she seldom goes into the kitchen, she is understandably extremely aroused when she does so and in the totally wrong state of mind required for getting together with Missy. Both must be calm.

The girl is going to swap the dogs over for a short while each day and give Rosie some quality time in the kitchen – doing ‘clicking for calm’ and other games that require some brain work and some self-control. People will be coming in and out of the room which is necessary for her continued socialisation.

Finally, there is the big question of whether both dogs would be more likely to get on if they were spayed. People have strong feelings and reasons of their own regarding neutering their dogs which I respect and must make their own decisions. I have suggested they have a chat with their vet.

Once the dogs do have one full-blown fight there is no coming back from it – particularly in my experience if it is females fighting. It can’t be undone.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rosie and Missy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly if aggression of any kind is involved, as the case needs to be assessed correctly which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get My Help page)