Training to fetch utilizing instincts and pack desire

Over about the last year, several people have tried to teach Lindsey’s dog, Lady Bird, to retrieve. As well as fun, our daughter hoped it would be a way to burn some energy off her beloved Australian shepherd.

Two days before this photo Lady Bird cared nothing about retrieving. A little training utilizing her instincts now has her fetching very well.

Since I have “a way” with dogs, a couple of times Lindsey had mentioned it was my job to get Lady Bird trained. Well, a  week ago the probably three-year-old dog that came from a shelter would chase anything thrown, then just stare at it before trotting off.

Now, Lady bird is fetching tennis balls with as much enthusiasm, and style, as some Labs or golden retrievers…we’re talking charging out and back, holding the tennis ball until it’s taken from her mouth, then prancing up and down with an obvious “throw it again, throw it again,” look on her face.

The proverbial light bulb clicked on in both of our heads last Saturday afternoon. I noticed Lady Bird in our backyard, tossing the ball in the air, then trying to pounce on it as it bounced around. If she inadvertently knocked it a few yards she really charged after it.

So I took the ball, slammed it down and watched as she pursued it until it was caught. The next time I did it, I started running away and calling to her excitedly a split second after she had the ball in her mouth. Bingo. Her desire to chase, especially a member of her “pack,” kicked in and she caught up in a hurry.  I eventually ended up on the ground with her, lavishing the dog with praise and petting. (It helps that she may be the most affection-craved dog I’ve ever met.)

We repeated the same sequence with the same result a few more times. After three or four throws it seemed obvious she’d figured out that if she brought the ball back she’d get lathered in love and eventually get the joy of chasing it down again.

We stopped after a few more throws to keep up her enthusiasm, and I made sure she couldn’t reach the ball inside to keep it special. Early the next morning, when her energy and enthusiasm were both high, we went out again and she again retrieved like a pro.

The next day I bought a tennis ball launcher to give me more leverage in my throws. She did probably a dozen 60 to 70 yard flawless retrieves at a park this morning.

No doubt she’s got the hang of it, and Lindsey has found a way to exercise the dog on days she doesn’t want to take Lady Bird on a five mile run.

It was all a matter of utilizing her instincts to chase the ball as prey or an animal to be herded, to run with members of her pack (me) and a big desire to please the pack leader.

And her pack leader certainly enjoyed the chance to train a good dog while pleasing his daughter.