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How to Build Drive Chasing a Ball on a Rope

Rickard with a ball on a rope. Photo by Hunter's Heart.

One great way to build toy drive is chasing a ball on a rope. Softer toys with squeakers grab attention from most of our students. Even if they haven’t been interested in balls before, they can hardly wait for their turn. The rope makes it an interactive game, preventing running away, destroying or burying the toy. A long rope makes it less likely your dog will grab your hand by accident when excited. During scent detection searches, try keeping the ball hidden under your armpit or in your vest, with the handle hanging out for immediate access. When you throw the ball at source, the rope maintains your connection with your dog while you play together. It’s helping our students follow the Scandinavian Working Dog Institute Protocols, and it’s downright fun.

The video shows puppy Lula at 14 weeks, chasing a furry Doggles ball with a squeaker. I purchased the rope from a home hardware store, and passed it through the label tag. Other balls with holes include Kong or Chuck It Breathe Right balls (which are tougher than they look). Start with a long rope, and then you can gradually make it shorter.

Never shove anything at your dog’s face; it will make him back away. Instead, move the ball away from the dog, erratically, like a rabbit running away. Like lure coursing, this should spark prey drive. If safety requires your dog to be on leash, make sure it’s a long line so you don’t accidentally correct him when he’s trying to chase. Similarly, don’t ask the dog to “out” or give it up until you have strong drive, or you may sour the experience. Offer a cookie at their nose to encourage them to drop the toy, present another toy, or wait until they’re distracted to get it back.

The best retrievers want to hold onto objects: it’s an integral part of their reward. So let them enjoy it while praising and/or petting, if your dog likes that. Go with the flow if your dog wants to tug. Always quit when the dog wants more e.g. 5-10 seconds at first. When your dog lets go or loses interest, grab the ball, and hide it in a place your dog can’t access, until the next session. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so only let him play with the ball when he’s playing with you.

Build toy drive by playing this game together, in short 1-5 minute sessions, very gradually increasing duration. Plush balls can be a “gateway” toy. If your puppy likes them,  you can try introducing firmer balls and retrieving bumpers (like those used in dock diving). Dogs who enjoy chasing a ball on a rope may also enjoy flirt poles (see https://nosework.huntersheart.com/2018/05/06/the-flirt-pole-as-high-intensity-exercise-for-scent-dogs/), and long-handled tugs.

If this method doesn’t work for your dog, try:

  • Tying a pig’s ear or frisbee on a rope
  • Put a fake mouse or stuffed animal inside a holy roller (like a mesh ball), so it jiggles inside and is even more eye-catching, or
  • Stuff food inside a Lotus Ball or Kong Hide N Treat, with or without a rope.

Chasing a ball on a rope is a simple game, but the intensity you capture can revitalize your training. Give it a try, don’t even think about your timing, and smile. It’s infectious.

Join our Scent Detection Foundation online course to transform your naughty dog into a partner that wants to work with you, and get answers to all of your questions:
https://store.huntersheart.com/Scent_Detection_Foundation_Online_Dog_Training_C_p/sdf.htm. Or sign up for our classes in Calgary: https://www.kayennakennels.ca/engagement-for-dogsports.

About carlalsimon (122 Articles)
From bed bugs to birds, from narcotics to nosework, Dr. Carla Simon BSc MD MBA's motivational training has helped hundreds of K9 scent detection teams to reach their potential. She's been breeding Brittany Spaniels for Hunter’s Heart since 1999, for scent detection, hunting, and athletic partners for families with an active lifestyle. Follow her Blog at: https://nosework.huntersheart.com

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