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The Cognitive Canine: The Trouble With "Fetch"

A few people in my network recently shared this article. I liked it.... there's a lot of talk here and in other groups about how to "burn energy" in working dog breeds. But creating an obsessive "fetchaholic" and encouraging that state of mind constantly is an interesting thing to think about.

I especially liked this quote....

Not all exhaustion is created equal.

It is quite possible for a person to be exhausted and drained; while it is also quite possible to be exhausted and fulfilled; satisfied.
Thoughts?
 

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I created a fetchaholic :( She gets so frentic and obsessed and now at 21 months old is only starting to be able to drop it, leave it and walk away with me. If some else is playing fetch with their dog and I catch her right away with leave it, she 'probably' will. If I'm not paying attention, she's gone and I have to go give the owner their ball back. I let her chase balls as a young puppy, it was cute for about 2 months, then I started playing fetch with her to run her and she had an intermittent front leg limp for ~6 months until she turned 1. If I get another high drive puppy, I won't play fetch with it until it's over 1.
 

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I read the article, I don't know if I agree with the basic premise. A dog with OCD fetch is created or at least allowed by the owner... there are ways to make fetch controlled with a beginning and an end so it's clear in the dog's head. To bring that "life and death" mindset out of it. Or at least to have pressure gauges in place to relieve that state of mind.

Fetch in different forms can be a really useful training tool. A dog prone to go into OCD fetch mode, probably won't be cured by off leash decompression hikes, although I certainly see their value (I go on one daily). You need to address that OCD issue, as well.

That is my primary issue with the article. A dog who gets OCD about fetch- you need to address that, at its root.

I probably do the opposite- not enough training and too much off leash mountain time, because it's what I love. So coming from the other end, there is much value in fetch and training times as well, you need both for balance! I make a point to work my dogs in some form daily, and fetch is part of that, usually.
 

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Also- I've seen dogs off leash get obsessed looking for moose, deer, chipmunks in the beautiful wilderness.

So, again, the obsessive hunting-fetching deal needs to be addressed, in whatever form it comes in. Off leash hikes also come with risks. A person needs to have reliable recall. If a dog is getting obsessed with a ball, they could easily get obsessed chasing a deer for miles.

It's all the same basic training, and the article fails to address this.
 

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The Cognitive Canine: The Trouble With "Fetch"

A few people in my network recently shared this article. I liked it.... there's a lot of talk here and in other groups about how to "burn energy" in working dog breeds. But creating an obsessive "fetchaholic" and encouraging that state of mind constantly is an interesting thing to think about.

I especially liked this quote....



Thoughts?
Another Quote:
You must observe your dog and try multiple avenues to know what the right answer is. There is nothing inherently wrong with a leash walk, a game of fetch, or a trot on a treadmill. We must observe our dogs to know what is best.
I think it can be easy to get carried away with something, when you have very drivey dog. She's not saying an off leash walk in the woods is the answer to everything anymore then throwing a ball is. Dogs look for satisfaction, you don't want to make them dependent on one single, absolute thing to get it.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I think it can be easy to get carried away with something, when you have very drivey dog. She's not saying an off leash walk in the woods is the answer to everything anymore then throwing a ball is. Dogs look for satisfaction, you don't want to make them dependent on one single, absolute thing to get it.
That's also how I interpreted the take-away message, and what I like about the article.

I'm not anti-fetch at all, I like ending the day throwing floating stuff into the lake so the dogs can swim around. I do think this author paints a pretty vivid mental image of creating an obsessive dog without other meaningful activities in the human/canine partnership.

The Australian cattle dog I inherited came from a previous home where Chuck-It was her daily exercise.... her daily "work", per se. Owner came home from work every day and played wild two-ball on a big property every day, she loved it, she was in great physical condition. Even after she moved in with me, her obsession with The Sacred Chuck-It Device was so intense it was annoying. You couldn't have the launcher anywhere in her line of sight, we had to store it in our detached garage. Removing it helped her start to act more like a normal dog.... eventually, she stopped frantically hunting for the launcher every time the door opened, and she could be content to hang out in the yard or go on a walk or whatever.

Balance, for sure.
 

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I completely agree about balance!

I was responding to the problem I found with the article, that the obsessive behavior does need to be addressed directly and in context, in my opinion and experience.

Maybe more so when it comes to off leash hikes where you can't just put away the deer or moose or chipmunks. I guess I'm coming into it backwards, but I haven't had a problem with fetch- game ends and the stuff is put away. But I have had more an obsession problem with "crittering" and that is really what started my training journey originally with my first dog who was a real hunter and quite obsessed.
 

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I think the author fails to provide any practical answers for people who don't live close to a place to hike...or any alternatives to hiking. I also think the point of balance is generally missed. As is the absence of the recommendation to, you know, teaching your dog to be off leash without running off into the wild blue yonder after a deer/living thing.

Also not a fan of poo-pooing agility or other competitive things. So she doesn't want people to play fetch, and she also looks down on agility.

But I see her point. You shouldn't use fetch as the only source of intense exercise for a dog. A few days a week, sure. Throw some training in while you're at it. Then go do something else that's fun for the dog.
 

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But aren't a lot of aussies and border collies OCD?
 

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There is a big difference between getting the dog addicted to a game and creating obsession for the object you use to play the game. Addiction to the game is great. The dog wants to play but it takes two to play and if you have a clear start and stop cue and the dog is not initiating the game you're gold. If you create an obsession for the ball or Frisbee and the dog is able to initiate the game by staring at it or constantly dropping it in your lap then yes you have a problem.

The trainer that wrote that is clueless.

I have a ritual with my dogs. I put one outside to pee and poop first. I walk out with the frisbee hidden. I cue the dog that play is going to start "You wanna play?" Dog looks at me all excited and we go down to the field where we do it. I hit the timer on my watch so that I know how long hes been at it and when the break needs to occur based somewhat on randomness but also on his current level of conditioning and the temperature outside. I then pull the frisbee out and throw when the dog is staring at me. The dog runs it down catches and comes back and we play till the time for break hits. On the throw before the break I always tell him last one before I throw it. When he hits his target time and makes the last catch I tell him "that's it" and "take a break." He doesn't even bother coming back to return it because he knows that's it for that round and goes running to where I have a kiddie pool filled with water to cool down and he takes his break in there to get his body temp back to normal. I sometimes let him keep the frisbee through his break but sometimes I take it to clean it off. Who has the frisbee during the break is not critical so sometimes I just let him possess it. He relaxes in the pool and we wait around together until he looks ready for another round. To start the next round I will cue him again "Are you ready?" When I get eye contact I signal "yes" and on that cue he takes off running back to the field we start to play again. There are clear starts and stops. I do not let him initiate new rounds or end rounds on his own. Starts and stops are entirely contingent on me and he cannot goad me into starting the game when I don't want to. I will not start a round when he wants me to start one. I start rounds when he is patiently waiting calmly and that is the state of mind he remains in during the break because that is the state of mind that gets the game to continue.
 

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Basically you can decompress on a cue you don't need a walk. Also allowing the dog to carry and possess the "prey item" is it's own decompression. People create obsession by always trying to possess the item themselves because they are afraid they won't get it back from the dog.
 

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I had a dog come into training recently, a black lab, that was very drivey and loved fetch style games. The problem was at home the dog was triggering play by staring at the motionless toy be it a ball or a frisbee until the owner caved in and started to play with him. It was so bad that when he was out in the yard with dogs to play with if he saw a ball or frisbee within visual range he would just point at it with his nose go motionless and stare during the entire let out. I had to start correcting the behavior with an e collar to get him to stop and go to the bathroom and explore play with the other dogs. This created obsession over thsoe items was not because of the game of fetch itself but rather over how the game was initiated and ended. The dog had control and because dogs are not logical creatures they get caught up in those obsessive behaviors because they have been rewarded in the past. The solution was not to entirely eliminate the game of fetch but to correct the dog out of his past habits to initiate the game and to establish new ones that were triggered by the human when the dog was not obsessing over the objects. A door is closed (staring at the item to start the game) while a new door is opened (ignore the object) and play will occur.
 

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Shadow is not a highly trainable dog. When we get up in the morning. I grab a coffee and she knows its not time for play.
Daytime and evening yard sessions may involve fetch. But also obedience or tag or belly tickles.
When we do our last yard trip before bed I tell her bedtime pee and she knows. No barking no fetch no screwing around.
And she is obsessed with her frisbee. So I am a bit at a loss as to how this over balance occurs
I dont take toys away so she always has access to them.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
I think the author fails to provide any practical answers for people who don't live close to a place to hike...or any alternatives to hiking. I also think the point of balance is generally missed. As is the absence of the recommendation to, you know, teaching your dog to be off leash without running off into the wild blue yonder after a deer/living thing.

Also not a fan of poo-pooing agility or other competitive things. So she doesn't want people to play fetch, and she also looks down on agility.

But I see her point. You shouldn't use fetch as the only source of intense exercise for a dog. A few days a week, sure. Throw some training in while you're at it. Then go do something else that's fun for the dog.
I think that was the most common criticism that got thrown around Facebook when one of my friends shared this link. The "What about me, I live in a concrete urban desert?" - question. Good points.
 

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Off leash hikes are fraught with peril if the dog is not reliably trained, and also few people have regular access to off leash areas to take their dogs.

That is where fetch can be so valuable. You only need an open field and you can give your dog a good workout. Or a lake or pond in summer.

You can toss the object, make the dog wait, and then have him search for it, too. There are lots of ways to integrate fetch related games into a dog's daily routine to keep them exercised and happy. Just follow a few rules- give the game a beginning and an end, and cue behaviors.

Simple stuff. A dog motivated for play and fetch, super drivey for the game, is a dog that is easy and fun to train and work. There is a lot of value to developing a dog's drive for fetch and tug.

The article kind of touches on the surface of something (obsession and stress) but fails to offer actual solutions.
 

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I think (though I could be wrong)....

The criticism and caution in the article isn't directed at a person who does things with their dog (work, sport) like many of you, in addition to using fetch for fun and exercise. I also don't think it's directed at someone who integrates obedience and self control exercises into throwing the ball.

Which is completely different than someone who uses mindless repetitive fetch as the only channel or outlet for a dog.

I don't think I've ever read a good comprehensive article about training or proofing a dog for regular off-leash travel through areas with real risks and dangers. In fact, I don't even know if it would be possible to write one that covers all possible scenarios... the fact that that article doesn't address crittering at all is definitely an omission.
 

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I think the article puts the authors ignorance on display. If you are going to argue against fetch because it is causing certain problems that are easily fixed by changing how you play the game why not include that information? Probably because they aren't aware of that information and that's why they advise against the game itself.
 

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Bailiff my thought is that they don't suggest your solution because the type of pet people who get their dogs unmanageably addicted to balls and fetch are not present/willing/able to apply such a thing. At least that's my opinion.

I agree with the concept that dogs need structured exercise. I do not believe that wild, adrenalized play with little or no rules, discipline, ect, should be a dog's only outlet. I have seen dogs like that which can't settle down and be rational about stuff, they are wildly pulling at the end of the leash freaking out at a dog passing in the same exact mental state. That's not healthy.

I am certain I am at least a little biased because walking quietly in nature is one of the great joys of my life, and I don't like to or want to do it alone and this is a huge reason I want dogs, to be my hiking partners. There are moments when they get fired up, but they either drop it or get put on a leash...frantic chasing or hunting is not allowed. I don't expect my dog to NOT get excited when he stumbles across a fresh deer track, but percentage wise, our walks are like 80% serene, 10% a little fired up, 10% super fired up....as a guess.

I have some thoughts about people who get dogs and live in cities...I lived in Boston and then right outside of it with one dog, Metro west with another. you just have to be creative. And bottom line is, if your life consists of walking ten minutes on a six foot leash, then don't get a young, high energy dog.
 
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