Converting Prey to Play
Modern living in suburbia makes it difficult for owners of herding – and working breeds to redirect the strong prey drive their dogs are bred with. These intelligent, special talented dogs such as Border Collies, Aussies, Bouviers, German Shepherds and Boxers to name a few are most often only adopted as “pets” or because “we like the breed.” Their owners have little understanding of their special needs. Left alone they end up barking, chasing cats, kids and cars as they race up and down along the boundary fence and as a result often end up abandoned or given up for adoption.
Working dogs are very predictable because they were bred for definite purposes. Herding, guarding, haul and rescue dogs and as such belong more on farms than in cities. They are known for their trainability and intelligence. Even trained dogs with active minds and bodies can easily become mischievous or difficult to control if left to their own devices. They should not end up in crates or in backyards when unattended. What they need, if not doing obedience training, is at least to be given the regular exercise that they need.
Owners generally provide the correct nutrition and medical care for these dogs but that is only part of their needs. The dog’s desire to chase anything moving, or prey drive, need to be converted into regular exercise that is acceptable in our society and will result in a manageable animal. Naturally it must be easy to administer and enjoyable for both.
Games of retrieval are usually both enjoyable and can be energy sapping. However, the dogs must be natural retrievers or have been taught to retrieve before we can play. All puppies should be taught to retrieve and be able to partake in the hours of fun that they can have with it. Anything a puppy will pick up and carry can be used at first to start the retrieval game. See articles; “Retrieve Imprinting” and “Retrieve, Compulsive Method.”
I have found the Launcher, and my dogs’ being “ball mad,” an easy way to expend their pent up energy. However, although it is easily accessible and an activity that focuses on prey drive, it can be a monotonous activity that can be quite boring at the same time. With the aid of two balls I can get Polo to race after the first launched ball while I load the second ball. When getting close to me on her return she drops the first ball in anticipation of the second ball being launched and turns to continue her chase. The momentum of the rolling first ball general ends close to me which makes it easy to re-load another ball. In this way she will run almost continuously until I decide to stop the game.
Do not release the second ball before the first has been brought back and dropped. The dog must think he is in control of the game and by dropping his ball he can make you launch the second. In this way you can get the dog to hurry back to get another. When space allows throw the second ball in the opposite direction so that you are the centre of the action and the dog will focus on you all the time.
When more dogs are involved in the game their fitness, age and speed come into play. One dog may be so successful that the other ones lose interest. Furthermore, they start competing with each other for a favourite ball and do not want to let it go for a re-launch in case the other dogs can get it. This will generally end the activity.
Once you have been able to get your dog to enthusiastically play retrieve with balls and a launcher or any other retrieve article, they can now be swopped for two identical Frisbee discs. Human Frisbees can injure dogs. Look for brands suitable for dogs such as Hyper -flight, Hero or Aerobie. There are discs for destructive dogs and soft floppy ones.
Tossing a Frisbee or flying plastic disc is also a fairly simple process that some dogs truly enjoy and can excel in. There are a number of videos available showing marvellous feats that these energetic dogs can master. Unless you try playing with a Frisbee you will never know how good your dog is at this game of retrieval. Naturally to be successful the dogs must also be familiar with the retrieve exercise of bringing an article to the owner/ handler.
It is necessary in most cases to familiarise your dog with a Frisbee before attempting to want to play with one. The dog must be taken to the Frisbee and not the other way around. Best is to use it as a feeding dish. By feeding the dog in the dish he gets a positive feel and smell of the disk as long as he does not think it is part of his meal. The disc is made of soft plastic and is generally comfortable in a dog’s mouth. Do not introduce the Frisbee by throwing it for the dog to catch. If it falls face down most dogs will use their paws to scratch it up in a backward movement or try to bite it and so cause damage to it. You can play tug gently with the disc and always let the dog win. Encourage “drive” and even “allow” him to snatch it from your hand.
The way to start is to roll the disc, on an edge like a wheel, to make it easier for the dog to pick it up and bring it to you. Do not skip this step. Repeat until your dog is enjoying chasing the rolling disc and brings it back to be rolled again. Your first throw must be into the wind and in such a way that it is virtually impossible for the dog not to catch it from the air. Praise enthusiastically and repeat with success. Never tell your dog to “Drop it.” Use the second disc to entice your dog to drop the first one he has in his mouth. A disc that has fallen on the ground has stopped moving and is no longer a prey item. Remember, it’s the movement that triggers prey drive and the dog’s interest in continuing with the game.
Once your dog enjoys the Launching of the balls and the Frisbee game you will have converted Prey into Play.