Pet owners and pet professionals recognize dogs over-focused on retrieving balls in an obsessive compulsive (OC) way. This over-controlling behavior disrupts the larger agenda a pet owner or pet professional is managing, decreases fun, interrupts safety and oversight of children and other dogs, and feels burdensome. Ironically, people often innocently feed this obsessive behavior in dogs instead of decreasing it. Some of what we perceive to be normal play is not normal play!
A dog repeatedly interrupting a family picnic or backyard time by bringing a ball to the feet of a family member for a throw to be retrieved; a parent carrying a child trying not to trip on a ball or family dog; a dog on a very hot day over exerting itself through ball retrieval. Not a good situation for anyone involved.
Pet professionals oversee large numbers of dogs that need staff oversight in behavior groups and doggy daycare. One dog consistently interrupting staff paying attention to other dogs is impractical for success of a behavior group or doggy daycare. An OC (obsessive compulsive) dog during a 60-minute playgroup may bring a ball 30 times to the feet of a staff member.
Dog owners and pet professionals can successfully disempower and redirect this behavior instead of feeding into it innocently.
Disempowering this behavior by redirection involves teaching a dog the new commands “Away” or “Go,” and using a toddler slide in the yard. Using treats and praise in the early stages, train the dog to pick up thrown and unthrown balls, guide them in running down the yard to the slide, and proceed up the stairs and down the slide. The dog will find this interesting, fun, and stimulating. Praise them when they return with the ball to where you threw, kicked, or commanded them without throwing or kicking the ball.
Use the command of your choice inside your home to move the dog away from your family activity.
Pet owners taking a ball away is also an intermittent partial solution.
In pet family contexts, it is easier to disallow access to balls for periods of time than in a pet professional context where many dogs need constructive ball access most of the time for normal stimulation.
OC behavior is not healthy play when it disrupts the family or pet professional agenda chronically. Sometimes what we perceive as play is an unhappy situation for dogs, dog owners, and pet professionals. You can change this situation for more fun, safety, and overall success!
Robert Berkelhammer is the Author of Pet Care Givers & Families: Getting the Most From Dog Playgroups, Pet Sitters, and Walkers. 2015 Rowman & Littlefield. www.robertberkelhammer.com
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