Ball Dropper for Send Away

Ball Dropper for Send Away Training

Ball Dropper for Send Away training can be a very useful tool. If you think about it, Send Away main issues are: the dog might run very leisurely, or does not down, or looks for a ball. Sometimes, things are better on the club field, but once you are at a new location - the dog might struggle to find where Send Away is.

Using a ball at the end of the field might work for many and that is great. In case it does not - a Ball Dropper might be a good option.

Frequently, when we introduce a Down on the way to the ball, we might create a conflict between what the dog wants to do and what the dog must do.

Ball Dropper is not cheap but might be worth every penny for a dog struggling with Send Away. Most importantly, we get to control when the reinforcer is available. The worst thing is when you tell the dog to Down - he keeps running and grabs the ball. Self-reinforcement for the wrong behavior is not helpful.

With Ball Dropper - the dog will never get the ball if he does not Down. It actually is a little more complicated than that.

First, we show the dog what Ball Dropper does - we drop the ball. The machine makes a noise while dropping the ball, which can function as a marker. A little drawn out but still a marker.

The ball drops and we send the dog to it. As simple as that. We repeat until the dog is crystal clear. The next step is really eye-opening.

We have to get the dog to switch mentally from reacting to the Ball Machine to causing the Ball Dropper to drop the ball.

Before, we created an expectation in the dog that there is a simple sequence of events. The ball drops, then he runs. Ball drops, then he runs, etc.

In the next step, we hold him but do not drop the ball. The instance the dog even shifts his balance forward - we mark and drop the ball. The dog slowly starts understanding that he must begin moving to the Ball Machine in order for it to deliver a ball. The dog goes from reactive to proactive.  At this time, if you wish, you can start assigning a verbal command.

After that, we add a Down before reaching the Ball Machine. Please note that all this training so far is done at a very short distance to lower the drive and help the dog think. In our system, we keep him on a leash because we use Negative Reinforcement for Down. When he is close, we say Down and help with the leash. Once the dog Downs, we mark and release the ball. This is where the beauty of the controlled outcome is - no Down - no ball.

Now comes more sophisticated training. We have to balance distance, speed and the dog’s compliance to Down. If we Down too many times - the dog anticipates and starts slowing down. If we do not Down enough - he flies through. He does not get the ball but does not Down either.  

Delivery of the reinforcer becomes critical too. We no longer release the dog to the ball after the Down. We either call him back to give a ball, or we come all the way to him to release him with a ball. Either or, he knows that after a Down - there is no more running forward. The worst thing that can happen is that you send your dog, he flies, he Downs, the crowd cheers, and he gets up.

After this, it is a balancing act - we send the dog and drop the ball to maintain the speed. We Down from time to time to keep the end goal clear. Ball Dropper allows us to manage the outcome by controlling the access to reinforcer.

Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions at the bottom of the screen.

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  1. Can you speak more about how the leash is negative reinforcement? (Removing something that increases likelihood the behavior is continued or repeated). Is there pressure already on the line that is removed when the dog downs? What does that look like with encouraging the dog to move towards the ball dropper?

    1. Thank you for the question.

      We start at a very short distance so not to hurt the dog. He drags a leash behind and goes to the ball dropper with it to retrieve a ball. Then randomly, we send him and as he is on the way, we say Down and gently pull on the leash down. Our dogs know the direction of leash pressure already from stand to down or from a sit to down. This is something they are falimialr with. The moment the dog is Down, the pressure goes away and we either go to the dog to give a ball or call him back to us.

      Hope this helps.

  2. After how many trainings do you switch from launching the ball to no longer rewarding with the balldropper when the dog downs?

    1. Thank you for your question. We send the dog to the ball dropper until he has great speed and can run a good distance. We also place ball dropper in different areas. Once the dog can do all of the above, we add a down.