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Sookie Blog: Picking up bumpers

Archive: Meet Sookie | Crates | Vampire dog | St. John's dog

Sookie the good brown dog has loved picking up bumpers since the day she came home. We started with paint rollers because they are lightweight and she could handle them. Then we progressed to canvas bumpers and on to plastic. She doesn't hesitate to run out to get them, but we struggle a little with the bringing them back part.

It seems that the older she gets the more she asserts her independence with the bumper. I imagine that in her world there is no greater joy than when she sees one come down from the high shelf they are kept on. Lately the first bumper of the day has turned into a sheer celebration when she picks it up. She dances and prances and kicks around the yard like a colt on a spring day.
But she wants me to chase her to get it back.

I refuse and it leads to a lot of conflict between us. I've been told that I should have her on a check cord at this stage so I can make sure she always comes right back to me. The only problem is that I'm evidently not coordinated enough to handle big loops of check cord and a running lab. One or the other always ends up tangled under my feet.

My friend J Todd Tucker, who is a dog trainer and a professional angler on the Bassmaster Elite Series, gave me a good piece of advice when he was passing through the other day and was gracious enough to spend some time with me and Sookie. He said that when she's out picking up a bumper and doesn't want to bring it back I should turn my back to her and ignore her. I tried this and sure enough — her curiosity gets the best of her and she has to investigate why she is not the center of my world and focus.

Just the other day, she was off leash and slipped through the gate in the backyard while I was talking to a neighbor. I tried everything to get her to come back, but she thought it was a huge game. Remembering J Todd's advice I turned my back. She wasn't buying into it this time...,too much on the line. A huge expanse of green grass and a pond was on her side.

So I got down. On the ground. Stretched out fully, laying there with my face down to bait her curiosity. This got her attention and her collar was firmly in my grasp in a jiffy.

So far this technique of turning my back on her works once or twice a training session, but it hasn't taught her the concept that she is not to challenge me from 50 feet with the "hey come chase me let's play!" look in her eyes. Not even a treat in my hand guarantees that she will bring a bumper right back every time.

I've been told that putting her through force fetch is the only way to guarantee she brings the bumper back every time. There's a good article here about force fetch, but I'm not sure I have the skill or confidence to teach this concept to my dog.

She's got the talent...,I'm just not sure that I do.