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loggerboots

developing eye/mouth coordination in catching

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Hi Folks,

 

I taught my adopted border collie to fetch and she's pretty good at it now. It took a while, as she initially didn't have much interest in balls or frisbees, but once she figured out what I wanted, she became pretty keen on the game. She never tries to catch a ball or frisbee mid-air on a long throw, however, she always waits for it to land. If I gently toss a ball of frisbee to her from a short distance away, she will try to catch it.

 

I thought it would be fun to try to teach her to catch a frisbee mid-air (rather than retrieving it as she now does), so I started working on this a few days ago.

 

We're just starting, and I just work on it by tossing a small, soft frisbee from about 6 feet away and giving her praise and a treat whenever she manages to catch it mid-air and no praise/treat if she fails to catch it. This worked for fetch, just seemed to let her know what I wanted and it's fun for her, so I figured I'd apply the approach to catching as well.

 

Her eye/mouth coordination is so-so, she gets on 'streaks' where she'll fail to catch it a bunch of times (usually knocks it down with her nose while lunging for it or mistimes her bite) and she'll also go on hot streaks where she'll catch it a bunch of times in a row. It's like teaching a kid how to catch, really. She's not very good now, but I'm thinking she'll improve with repetition and then we can increase the distance and the degree of difficulty (e.g., right now I'm basically tossing it right at her head so she doesn't have to position herself).

 

Am I correct in assuming that this coordination will develop over time and it's normal for a dog to be a little inconsistent with their catches initially - just like a kid who needs to develop hand/eye coordination? Or, do some dogs just 'have it'? I ask, because I see some very ball and frisbee motivated dogs at the dog park and they make some pretty impressive catches and I'm not sure the owners really worked with them on it.

 

NOTE - she's not intrinsically motivated to fetch or retrieve, all her keenness comes from (I think) the fact that she sees it as some kind of task that I want her to perform and she treats it like work (she does the working pose, gets real focused, etc). Fetch didn't come easy and I doubt this will, either.

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I would not be surprised if with time her skills devolop, but I think dogs like humans have differing levels of eye to mouth coordination. My current young dog is one of those very impressive leaping dogs, my previous border collies could catch but did not go for the glamor leaps like Rievaulx does, I think it is just his talent we certainly did not teach him.

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My dog has always been crazy about fetch or chasing balls rolling on the ground. But she would not try to catch a ball unless it bounced first. So what I did was just set her up in front of me and say 'catch' and lightly toss the ball at her. She's improved a lot over the years and with repetition. But yeah, she's not a high flying dog and probably won't. Once she understood how to catch balls she also generalized catch to other tossed objects.

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My border collie tilly loves to catch treats balls ect and as she has got older she has gotten better at it I did not try to teach it she just picked it up The male dog we have will set there let the ball bounce off him and when it rolls to a stop pick it up and fetch it has been this way since he learned to fetch different dogs different talents

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I think the catches can be taught/improved via throwing rollers and marking/rewarding ones that are caught before the disc falls & stops, by holding the disc up a bit and encouraging her to take it from your hand, and keeping your sessions short (!!!). If she's failing a bunch of times in a row, pack it in and try another game. Mark catches with glee and additional throws (if reinforcing -- consider food, tug, etc if it's a more preferred reinforcer). If she's better at catching shorter throws, keep your throws short until she's at 80%+ accuracy, then gradually increase the distance.

 

Some dogs just have it, and eye/mouth coordination comes more naturally. But I think all can be taught to strive for a midair catch if you maintain criteria and control reinforcement. It's just like any other behaviour.

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Some BCs also have minor eye sight issues so that might be, too. Not saying that I think it is very likely in your case but it does surface sometimes and usually does not impair them a lot other than in very specific eye-dependent tasks (like catching a frisbee in mid-air, jumping in agility etc).

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