Fetch! How difficult can it be? I have tried two different ways of teaching Ray to Fetch with a tennis ball. The first way is probably simply the intuitive way. You throw the ball and when your dog grabs it, he gets a reward. Eventually he will learn that bringing it back to you will get him the reward a little faster. The theory is great! The second way is to take the whole Fetch routine and train your dog sort of backwards. i.e. teach him to give you the ball first and slowly work backwards through the routine. That theory is also great!
Ray continually surprises me with how fast he grasps a concept, especially when food is involved, but playing Fetch with him is an exercise in humility, frustration and (if anybody is watching) pure embarrassment! The thing is, he’s not even close to understanding what I am trying to achieve. At best he will chase down the ball, play with it for a few minutes, and then wander off with his nose to the ground. I would then go over and pick up the ball and throw it again. Ray would then either totally ignore me or stop and just stare at me.
Just recently, I made it my mission to teach him to play Fetch and was prepared to dedicate a whole afternoon to it if necessary. Teaching the routine in reverse seems to be the recommended approach but that entails Ray holding the ball in his mouth so that I can trade food for it. When it became obvious that he did not want it in his mouth, I resorted to the intuitive way and threw the ball.
Ray was standing near me and watched the ball on its journey across the grass, and then looked at me. I gave an excited “Fetch it Ray”, “Go fetch it Ray”, “Fetch the ball Ray”, but he just looked at me and then turned his head towards the ball and then back at me. I ran across the grass “C’mon Ray, let’s get the ball”, and jumped up and down in uninhibited excitement “C’mon Ray, get the ball”. Ray did not move but just gave me his quizzical look. His head tipped to one side; his eyebrows occasionally went up and down independently of each other, and he blinked.
Anybody who has seen this look knows exactly what Ray is thinking, and it is not exactly complimentary! “Poor Colin! Why does he have to run around, throwing the ball, and making himself look silly? It’s a shame they can’t do anything to cure it.”
I picked up the ball and, just as I was about to throw it, Ray sauntered over to me. In my naivety, I actually thought that at last he was getting the idea and wanted me to throw it for him which of course I did. Ray watched the ball, and then watched me! I remember one of the trainers at the Oakville & Milton Humane Society explaining that you must make what you want to do, much more exciting than what he wants to do. Just how difficult could it be to make something more exciting that just standing around?
I ran across to the ball “C’mon Ray”, and picked it up. Then I galloped around the garden “C’mon Ray”, “Let’s play ball Ray” and then I threw it across the garden “Get the ball Ray” and chased after it like a mad man hoping to see 75lbs of fur suddenly fly passed me………….. but no. He was standing where I left him and was watching me.
He then went into his down position without taking his eyes off me. Perhaps I was nothing more than entertainment and he was getting himself comfortable so that he could really enjoy my next performance? I shook my head and started walking towards the house when he caught on to the idea, or at least so I thought.He suddenly leapt into action and charged at full speed towards the ball. He then leaped over it and, without missing a beat, disappeared behind our very large Maple tree. It was then that I saw the squirrel!
Perhaps he was baffled by my variety of terms used to try and get him moving? Perhaps if I could just stay in sufficient control of my excitement to limit vocalization to simply “Ray….Fetch”?
I really hope that none our neighbours were watching as I suspect that they would not have understood the scene that was played out in front of them! I could well imagine something like “Hey ….. I see Ray has taught you how to play Fetch!”