A recent dog training video shared by Gia Savocchi, @thinkingcanine on Instagram shows her collie Georgi finding a ball during a training session. Gia is unflustered that the dog has become distracted and has lost focus on the training session and reframes the lesson around the dog's desire to play fetch.
Savocchi explains that if toys are more valuable than food in the moment, it can be helpful to keep your reactive dog focused by swapping training methods. Even the best dog food won't keep an intelligent dog like a collie focused on training if they've decided they want to do something else.
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You can see midway through the video that Georgi gets frustrated and leaves but then returns to Savocchi after realizing that she is the only person around who can throw the ball for her. It takes a couple of tries before Georgi realizes what is being asked of her, but once she understands the rules they continue training as they were before, with a thrown ball as a reward rather than food.
An article on playing ball with dogs by Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine encourages owners to choose a ball of the right size for their dog to avoid choking and to make them wait until the ball has landed before they go after it to avoid injury caused by attempts to catch the ball mid-air. Larger dogs playing with a small ball, like a tennis ball, are at risk of obstruction of the throat and airways. Unless you have the best pet insurance, your dog’s treatment bill may prove costly, especially if emergency surgery is required, so it's always best to choose a larger ball for a larger dog.
Additionally, the article warns you to be aware of signs of exhaustion in your dogs, as they are likely to continue running after a ball beyond their energy capacity, which can cause serious illness. "Stop before your dog gets too tired. Zink uses the “tongue spoon” example. If your dog’s tongue is curling at the edges or is wider at the tip, then your dog is getting tired. This behavior is a sign that they are trying to increase their panting surface, and their muscles are approaching overload. If they're already tired, then it becomes more likely that they might accidentally get injured," the article advises.
Gia Savocchi offers dog obedience training and behavior modification services to families across Long Island, New York. She is a dual certified IAABC Dog Behavior Consultant and Professional Dog Trainer, who specializes in working with dogs with challenging behavioral issues such as aggression and anxiety.
Savocchi's clinic offers training via positive reinforcement, as can be seen in the above Instagram video. Thinking Canine's website explains: "Using modern, positive-reinforcement based techniques combined with relationship building and boundary setting, your dog can learn how to be a civilized and happy member of your family."
When the collie, Georgi, gets distracted instead of punishing her, Savocchi simply changes the game. The dog is still learning the lesson that her owner is trying to teach, but now her reward is a game of fetch instead of a high-value food like squeezy cheese.
The video has been presented as a stream of continuous footage, which many Instagram users appreciated as it showed the dog's initial 'failure' and the time it took for her to understand what was happening and adjust to the new training game. "Thanks for the continuous footage--including the parts where Georgi showed frustration and wasn't quite cooperating," one user, mama_beartk said. "It helps me feel less frustrated MYSELF when I see the professional & elder/more trained dog going through some of the obstacles I might be facing with my pup."
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Lou is an experienced writer and keen dog lover who works at PetRadar's sister site, LiveScience. When Lou isn't covering health and fitness, she's busy spending time with her family dogs or growing all kinds of veggies and flowers on her allotment.