Vito update!

Vito is now 8.5 months!

If you have been reading Vito's separation anxiety updates than you know that we broke the 1hr barrier this week! Actually we got up to 1hr 30min today!!! So I think we only have a tiny more work before I could leave him for a couple hours at home. Of course it doesn't neatly transfer to being left in a kennel at the obedience club or anywhere else, but it's something!

Vito is also making great progress in his obedience work. Up until this past week, most of our heeling practice has been against a wall with halting every 5-15 steps. But now Vito is doing really well heeling in the open and we have been able to go quite a bit longer before stopping, still treating him a ton but longer duration before he starts to crab out if I don't stop. He isn't doing this as nicely in his obedience class but still did much better this week than the past two.

I've taken a break from his trick work for awhile as I've mainly been focusing on his heel work and then his agility stuff. But every once in awhile we work on a few of his new tricks- having both right legs in the air is the main one we are focusing on.

On the agility side his running contact work is going amazing. We got over the big bubble of Vito flying off the board every time and have been able to rapidly raise our board higher and higher. We are currently right at knee height and our success rate is usually 60-70% the day it is raised and the next several times at that height it quickly climbs to 99%! I have found that having the ball stationary out there as a target is much easier for Vito to focus and for me to reward properly. I am still giving an extra treat for each good contact as well.

In class he is doing really well listening to my cues and only sometimes blowing me off to take the really cool teeter :) Today in class we did rear crosses for the first time. Up until today I had only done them "on the flat" but it payed off as Vito did really well. The main thing that we need to work on is getting more confidence to go out ahead. Right now he has more handler focus than obstacle focus, except of course for the contact obstacles which has a magnetic pull to them.

On the ball obsession topic I'm not quite sure where to progress. Last time I had mentioned we were working on his recall away from the tennis ball and then having it thrown as the reward. I would only call him to come once and then wait for Vito to think and run away from the ball to me. He is starting to get it and usually just pauses for 2 seconds before coming. The problem we are having is that he is definetly still 100% focused on the ball in that even after he comes he won't even look at you and just waits for permission to run back to the ball. He also won't take treats in any "new" environment. After class this week I went over to an open ring to practice and Vito immediately got way to revved up. He wasn't shrieking, but his pupils were insanely dilated and he wouldn't take even a hot dog. I went back to just working on Vito leaving the ball as it just sat on the floor and rewarding eye contact.

So I am not sure what to do about his whole ball thing. We've gotten to the point where Vito does take treats and is fairly responsive about dead balls, but if the ball is in someones hand he just can't think. The instructor recommended not playing with balls at all for awhile until Vito can not only respond 100% to the dead balls but also calm down around them. This dog is just so much work! At least he LOVES playing tug but isn't obsessive about that!

Wait, you want to take away my ball?

Can I still have my tennis ball dumbbell?
Don't worry Vito, at least Luke is there for you

Owner of Storm and Jackal  – ( July 25, 2009 at 10:40 AM )  

Sounds like things are progressing well. Sorry I don't have any advice about the ball. Never had a dog with obsessive focus on an object. Good luck!!

Mango  – ( July 26, 2009 at 5:52 AM )  

Hey! We know all about those rear end crosses because Momma was supposed to do one for the first time at our agilities yesterday and she totally messed up and showed me to go through the tunnel when I was supposed to jump. I think next time I will spend more time in the play area and let her walk the course without me.

At least you have tennis balls. I only get them at special times because Mango tries to swallow them.

You are making great progress with your separation anxiety. You are lucky to have such smart humans that can work with you.

Kisses,
Dexter

Honey the Great Dane  – ( July 26, 2009 at 7:07 AM )  

Sounds like you're making great progress with Vito, despite your "reservations" - I think a lot of things will come given time and more repetition and practice (sigh, no easier way!)

About the ball obsession, don't really know if I can offer any advice other than to say I totally sympathise AND empathise since Honey has a similar tennis ball obsession. She is not as bad as Vito in that if told really firmly to leave it alone, she can (sort of) focus on me when there's a ball there (even if someone else was holding it) but this may just be that she is a lot older and therefore has developed more self-control. It's still a struggle though!

We do sometimes leave tennis balls around the house and she will usually pounce on them and play manically for a bit - and probably spend a lot of time 'prancing' around with it hidden in her huge mouth, wagging her tail, very pleased with herself but EVENTUALLY she will drop it and leave it alone.

She IS very good with other dogs' balls, though - if we see another dog chasing their ball in the park, she'll alert and get fixated but then if I say "Not your ball, Honey" - she will calm down and ignore them (unless they throw the ball under her nose!). But it has taken quite a lot of repetition and rewards to get there.

The only thing I can suggest maybe if starting at a greater distance? ie. you said he is OK ignoring a "dead ball" - the problem is with someone holding the ball...so maybe you could ask a friend to help (or try this during obedience class with a partner) and get them to stand at a "non-reactive" distance away from you and Vito and hold the ball, while you reward him for ignoring it...then get them to swing their arms around like they're going to throw it - and reward him for ignoring that...and then gradually reducing the distance.

Good luck! I'm sure with your persistence and dedication, you'll sort somethign out/...and anyway, don't they say it's good to have a dog that's very ball-obsessed in a way...it's a sign of work drive? :-)

Hsin-Yi

Ninso  – ( July 27, 2009 at 8:50 AM )  

I know how you feel about your dog being a lot of work! That is Jun for sure! I also feel your pain about toy obsessions. Lok used to not be able to think at all when any kind of toy was involved. We've done a lot of Leslie McDevitt relaxation/off-switch work and have started to overcome it, to the point where I can use a tug as a reward in obedience.

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