The art of the catch
I've been going through my computer lately; uploading a lot of photos onto discs, I have so many. Yesterday I was weeding through a shoot I did with my two playing catch when I thought that catch would be a good thing to discuss. Dogs love to catch; at least most do, the ones who have a degree of drive that is. Of course there are those that never catch let alone catch on cue; like my poor old boy Clyde. As hard as I tried to teach that boy to catch he just never got it; even the floating popcorn would hit him in the head every time.
Catching is a natural behavior; much like chasing, but teaching a dog to catch is where it differs. First you have to teach your dog what catch means; not simply the act of catching, this takes time. There is no chasing involved; the goal is the catch, that's it. When you hold up a ball and make like you are going to throw it; but you don't, you shout out "catch" and your dog changes turns around to catch it. Then you know your dog knows what catch means. I use the catch behavior for many different purposes; it is one that I typically teach all of my training clients as well. Most dogs love this behavior; especially when it can be put on a verbal cue.
It is a great way to add some fun to "heel" training; attention redirection work and just about anytime you want immediate attention. "Catch" quickly becomes a very positive word; especially when you throw it in with chase and retrieving fun. Switch it up, throw the ball for your dog then tell them to catch it. This also helps with listening work; your dog must learn to listen to what you are saying or perhaps catch a ball in the head a few times.
Training starts with a light and fluffy toss item; I use unbuttered, unsalted popcorn. Okay a bit of butter for those who don't like it plain, like Luke. Have your dog sit in front of you and say catch as you make the tossing motion. In the beginning you want to try your very best to throw it right into your dogs mouth, or at least in the vicinity. Do not let them pick it up off the ground should it fall there. If they want it; they have to catch it. When they do catch one; immediate celebrations are required and continue the catch work. You have to make it a really big deal; have fun with it.
Once your dog is catching popcorn you can move onto a little heavier treats and then the sky is the limit. Tilley is a catching maniac; for her the catch is where it is at although now with her Vestibular disease she has a difficult time with her precision. And it is more luck if she catches the item. Once a dog understands what catch means then you can use it at different times and with different items. Different items may take a little practice; I taught Tilley to scarves for a photo shoot. It was a lot of work on her part; they float and change directions in the air but she was amazing at it.
I will often send my guys out on a fake throw; they run out into the middle of the field to chase the ball when I yell "CATCH." They jam on their brakes and turn on a dime ready to catch the incoming ball; very cool.
Just yesterday I was using catch to deliver treats to Luke as we did some heeling practice; he loves it. Have a great Friday; now go play catch with your dog.