Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Grand Rapids, MI
I think ball drive is a bit different than retrieving/fetching. It's not the same as simply interacting with a toy. At least when Nikon is doing these activities, his behavior is a bit different. As a puppy, he would chase down and "fetch" balls, but I would not say he had a lot of ball drive. If the ball was not being thrown, he really had little interest in it, and his interest was all "reactive" (meaning *I* had to work hard to keep the ball moving or he just didn't care).
When we started Schutzhund, we basically spent the first 5 months of training developing his ball drive. Now, it doesn't matter if the ball is moving or what I am doing. If the ball is out, he is crazy for it. He will bark and throw behaviors at me trying to win the ball. He's gone from being "reactive" to "proactive".
The main thing we did was just tease him up. No obedience, no outs, no working on tugging or retrieving or anything like that....just teasing him with the ball to get him excited about it. The easiest way is to back tie the dog on a harness or have someone else be a post and hold the line, so that you can control the ball and the dog.
The ball you use should be special, meaning he only gets to have it when you take it out to work. Also, keep the sessions short and put the ball away while he's still intense, not when he starts to tire out or lose interest.
As to what Oksana is saying, I have found that once the drive is there and the dog *understands* how the toys work, the drive carries over. It doesn't matter if I have a ball or a tug or a dumbell or a washcloth....once I "turn on" the dog he is motivated to work with that object.
One thing I see people do wrong is use way too much obedience. It took me months before I was able to somewhat fluidly use the ball/toy as part of obedience training and use it effectively. The first several months, we separated obedience and drive building. My dog will work for food so I used that until I could use the toy right. It's almost like learning a choreographed dance! But once it fell into place, the dog learned and caught up very quickly. I still use food when introducing a new behavior, because it's not always appropriate to have the dog really hyped up in drive.
I sometimes use a tug but for the most part prefer the ball. We have less targeting issues, no "chewing" on the ball like many dogs do on a tug, the ball is super easy to tuck in my armpit or under my chin, and it's actually easier for me to tug with a ball than with a tug. If you use the ball, like Jason said you will have to do some work initially to make sure the dog targets the ball. Most of them want the string or the knot. At first, just hold the string in your fist about an inch from the ball. If the dog does get the string, take him off the ball (no game). Nikon went after the string at first but with some deliberate work, that lasted all of about five minutes, lol. Now if he misses and gets the string he will instantly adjust down to the ball rather than the other way around.