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Dog behavior issues

Ace’s tennis ball obsession was at its worst recently.

We were on a 45-minute road trip, and he whined the entire time in the car because he knew there was a ball in my bag.

When I finally took the ball out, he was so fixated it appeared he was having a seizure (he wasn’t). His head shook to the point where his teeth were chattering. He was drooling, staring and trembling.

Once we reached our destination, my dog could not stop whining because he knew the ball was in the car and he wanted to go find it.

I did take it out a few times, hoping to run him silly. But even after 20 minutes of sprinting, Ace would recover and begin whining.

Note to self: Leave the ball home next time. And never use it to try and tire out my dog. This only makes him more obsessed.

Obviously most dogs do not have this kind of ball fixation. But most dogs do have some kind of behavior issue.

Dog training every day

How many of us actually take 15 minutes per day to work on a particular problem with our dogs? Anyone?

There are a few things I’d like to work on with my dog: improving his respect for “come” and “stay” in all situations, helping him relax in the car and of course having an “off switch” around a tennis ball. He has also been doing much more of his nervous, “I want something” whining.

black lab retrieving

Over the last year or so, I did several “30-day challenges” where I worked with my dog on specific goals such as loose-leash walking. These challenges all turned out very well, but my dedication rarely went beyond those 30 days.

Recently I’ve been thinking about two of my past challenges. One was to work on my dog with his tennis ball obsession. The second was to visit 30 places to help my hyper dog relax in all situations. Let’s just say we still need some work in these areas!

This fall I’d like to start a new 30-day challenge. This time the goal is to practice obedience and getting Ace to be calm in different locations.

My dog needs to learn that it’s OK to take breaks while playing (retrieving), and that every off-leash walk does not have to involve finding a stick.

He has become more social and confident in the last year – good things – but it also means he doesn’t respond well to my commands in social situations. I have not been very good at reinforcing what I want my dog to do.

I have a well-trained dog in my own backyard. I have a well-trained dog in my living room. But is my dog well trained and calm in all situations? Hardly.

He cries when we get to his favorite parks, and he can’t relax once someone is holding a stick, ball or food in front of him. If a new person or dog shows up at our door, he breaks from “stay.”

In Ace’s defense, he did pass the Canine Good Citizen test with no problem. And I do consider him a calm dog as far as sporting dogs go. I get comments all the time on how calm he is.

It’s not that I want a dog that sits mechanically and holds his head at the perfect angle. I just want a dog that responds to basic commands, knows how to be calm and doesn’t forget everything he knows at the sight of a tennis ball!

Teaching my dog to be calm

Getting Ace to be calm and to focus in new situations is a matter of patience and practice. Lately I’ve really been working on eye contact with my dog, and using more positive reinforcement dog training like using treats.

I will go back to practicing calming exercises with Ace around a tennis ball by asking him to ignore the ball, relax and make eye contact.

We’ll do this at home and in other areas and hopefully with other people. Apparently there’s nothing as exciting as our friend Justin holding a tennis ball!

Ace and I will visit more places, not just to visit but to reinforce loose leash walking, obedience commands and focus. Walking Ace every day will continue to be important, but missing a day’s walk should not be an excuse for Ace to whine, pull or ignore basic commands.

It shouldn’t be an excuse for me to be more lenient with him either just because he didn’t get a walk.

I would like to improve Ace’s reliability with “come” and “stay” no matter where we are or what’s going on. He’s regressed in many areas simply because I don’t work with him as much as I used to.

We will have to get back into dog obedience classes in Fargo later this fall to keep us on track.

Most dog owners and their dogs if they do any training together at all will eventually reach some kind of plateau. Whether it’s after a few weeks, months or a few years of training, most people get to a point where they simply stop and don’t expect much more from their dogs.

Ace and I have been at this point for the last year or so, and now I’d like to get to the next level with him.

I realize I expect more out of Ace than a typical dog owner expects from her dog. It’s not that I want a perfect dog. It’s just that as long as I am a dog owner, I will be working with my dog. He likes to challenge me, and I like the challenge.

What are you and your dog working on?

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Saturday 11th of March 2023

[…] you’ve eliminated a problem behavior, try to remove its triggers from your dog’s life as much as […]

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 28th of September 2009

Ha! That's awesome. I still can't get Ace to stay on his bed when someone comes to the door. But I have not put in a fair amount of time working on this, either. I'm glad your dog has a guarding issue because then I don't feel so bad that my dog has a retrieving obsession.


Monday 28th of September 2009

That being said, we taught Biggie in 5 days or less not to bark at the door when the downstairs (apartment building) buzzer goes off.


Monday 28th of September 2009

Wow, yet more ideas for more posts! Now I just have to find the time to do them!

Biggie and I have reached a plateau of sorts, too. I taught him a whole slew of commands last year, and we haven't worked on anything new in a long time. Of course, he could also use reinforcement on the old stuff, though as he gets older he is just getting better and calming himself and listening.

The main thing we work on is "not guarding" - or at least, not guarding obnoxiously. He will still stand at attention and give things the kvuasz stare down, but he doesn't go ballistic as often as he used to. It's the ferocious snarling and barking at boundaries (the door, a fence) that we are working on.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 24th of September 2009

Yeah I've heard that dogs with a crazy ball obsession make ideal police dogs. I have a hard time picturing Ace doing that! Ha. But he does benefit from any kind of "job" I can give him.

Ace has a bit of a hose obsession as well. He's not quite as bad because he won't go looking for the water unless we're actually using the hose. That's good that you make your dog go into a down/stay while playing. It's always good to make them take breaks and calm down.