Breaking Ace’s fixation
Just like any addiction, rehabilitation takes a long, long time. In Ace’s tennis ball case, I have two options. I can either continue things the way they are and allow him to obsess over a ball until he ends up hurting himself, or I can begin the long process of correcting his behavior.
Obviously I am going to correct the behavior or I wouldn’t have chosen to do this series. The problem is getting started because I know how difficult it is going to be to follow through.
My goal is to have a dog that can control himself around a ball and play in a healthy way where he never becomes fixated. He will respond to all commands even if he has a ball. He will have the ability to stop playing and leave a ball alone without me hiding it or putting it away. Most of all, he will be able to play and socialize with other dogs as well as accept verbal and physical attention when there is a ball in sight.
Here are some rules I have set for Ace to begin right away:
1. No fetch playing for 30 days (at least).
2. No dog park for 30 days (but we’ll stay away as long as needed). The reason for this is there are balls everywhere and I can’t enforce my new rules if Ace is off leash in a big area surrounded by tennis balls.
3. Ace will begin a more regular, intense exercise program of at least one hour of running or walking at least five days a week.
4. Every day I will have Ace practice calm energy by lying on his side in a submissive position with a ball beside him. He will lie like that until he is totally relaxed and ignoring the ball. Depending on the day, this could take 30 seconds or an hour. He will also have to do this any time he brings me an object expecting me to throw it for him.
Once Ace has shown some improvements, I will move on to some challenges for him:
1. When Ace can manage to ignore a ball while lying down, I will move on to him sitting and then just being loose in a room with a ball, ignoring it.
2. Once Ace can leave a ball alone in a room, I will work on more mental challenges with him such as me throwing a ball while he sits and stays at my side. We will practice heeling by weaving around a yard full of balls with Ace on leash and then off leash.
3. Ace will get to play with a ball himself if he is totally calm. If he is even close to that fixated state of mind, the ball will be put on the ground and he will lie beside it.
4. I hope to return to normal fetch playing, but Ace must remain calm and in control of himself the whole time.
I have no idea how long this whole process will take. Maybe six months, maybe two years. Or maybe I will never be able to correct Ace on my own. It mostly depends on how well I am able to stick to these rules. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d like to hear them. My ideas are influenced by Jon Katz and Cesar Millan, but I don’t know anyone personally who has actually tried to break his or her dog of an obsession.