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How to Train Your Dog to Use an Automatic Ball Launcher

How to Train Your Dog to Use an Automatic Ball Launcher
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon2-4 Days
Fun training category iconFun

Introduction

If you have a ball crazy dog, you know that you will get tired of playing fetch the ball long before your dog will. Which is funny, because he is doing most of the work! A solution might be an automatic ball launcher. These commercially available devices launch a ball for your dog to chase and can be adjusted to launch multiple balls and to varying speeds and distances. Your dog can even learn to operate an automatic ball launcher himself, returning the ball to the machine. This is great if you are unable to throw the ball for your dog due to a physical impairment, or to allow you to perform another task while your dog entertains himself. Remember though, your dog should never be allowed to use the automatic ball launcher unsupervised. A high-energy, ball crazy dog can, however, get lots of exercise using the launcher while you relax and watch, and have your hands free for other activities.

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Defining Tasks

Dogs that love to play ball, which as it turns out is most dogs, will be highly motivated to learn how to use an automatic ball launcher, as the opportunity to fetch the launched ball is its own reward. Even a nervous or skittish dog can learn how to operate the ball launcher, although an anxious, nervous, or inexperienced dog may take some more time to get used to the sights and sounds of the automatic ball launcher. Automatic launchers can be adjusted for time, speed, distance and pitch, and they do make some noise. You will need to acclimatize your dog to the machine, and then show him where he needs to stand when it launches, usually next to the machine, a few feet away, to retrieve the ball, and to release the ball into the receptacle at the top of the machine, if you want him to be able to fully operate the automatic ball launcher. An alternative to having your dog reload the machine is to have your dog release the ball to you, and you can reload the machine if you or your dog is not comfortable with him handling the job.

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Getting Started

Select a commercially available automatic ball launcher for your dog that has the features you need. Most launchers allow you to adjust for the number of balls that can be thrown before reloading, timing, speed, height, and distance. Be sure to use the appropriate settings for your space. Read all instructions first, to ensure you and your dog's safety. Most launchers have safety features that prevent it from launching if motion is detected in front of the launcher. Before using the launcher, teach your dog to play fetch and to release the ball to you. To introduce the launcher and its use to your dog, find a safe, appropriate space to operate the launcher, where there is no danger of property damage from flying balls and no hazards for your dog to hurt himself on when chasing excitedly after a ball. You may use treats and a clicker to help direct and acclimatize your dog to the automatic ball launcher.

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The Reinforce Launcher Method

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1

Set up

Prepare your launcher and be ready with a clicker and treats.

2

Reinforce approach launcher

Set up the automatic ball launcher and ensure it is turned off. When your dog approaches the launcher, click and treat and praise your dog to create a positive association.

3

Reinforce noise of launcher

Place the launcher farther away from your dog and turn it on. When the ball launcher makes a warning tone, click and treat, say "yes!"

4

Reinforce operating launcher

When your dog is comfortable with the sound of the machine, ask your dog to come next to the machine, click to reinforce, and load a ball. When the ball launches, allow your dog to go retrieve the ball.

5

Reinforce return ball

When your dog returns to you with the ball click and treat. Your dog will release the ball to take the treat. Reinforce with a click. Add the command 'drop it' to command your dog to drop the ball.

6

Reinforce reload

Move your hand with treat over the bucket of the launcher when your dog drops the ball, so that your dog drops the ball into the machine's bucket. To reload the machine, say "drop it", click and treat. (Optional)

7

Practice

Gradually reduce use of the clicker as your dog gets used to being reinforced by the chance to fetch the ball.

The Associate Fetch Method

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Play fetch

With the ball launcher turned off, stand next to the unit, and toss the ball for your dog to fetch.

2

Associate the ball with machine

Drop the ball in the launcher with it turned off. Take the ball out of the launcher manually and throw it for your dog to fetch.

3

Associate 'fetch' commands

Associate verbal commands with the launcher. Say "bucket" or "drop it" while you put the ball in the launcher bucket to create a verbal association with placing the ball in the launcher.

4

Try launcher

Turn on the machine. Start with only one ball. Have your dog sit or stand next to the machine, not in front. When the ball launches, give your dog the command for 'fetch'.

5

Associate returning the ball to launcher

When your dog gets the ball, ask him to come back next to machine and release to you. Say "drop it" and provide a treat.

6

Add returning the ball to bucket

Direct your dog to 'drop it' in the bucket of the dispenser by holding the treat over the bucket and saying "drop it" to get your dog to reload the machine (optional).

The Reverse Training Method

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Start with your dog far away

Have your dog stand several feet away in front of the automatic ball launcher. Turn the machine on and launch a ball.

2

Associate a fun game

When your dog fetches the ball, go to him and ask him to drop it. Reload the machine. Repeat until the dog has associated the launcher with a new fun game.

3

Require getting closer to launcher

Now ask your dog to sit closer and to the side of the launcher, not in front where he could get hit by the ball. Launch and continue game. Ask him to return to the machine to drop it for you.

4

Require next to launcher

Gradually move your dog closer so that he is sitting right next to the launcher when the ball is launched and has to go run for it, return to the launcher, drop the ball, and sit in order to have ball reloaded and the game to continue.

5

Drop the ball into launcher

Eventually, teach your dog to drop the ball into the launcher by holding your hand over the bucket and saying "drop it", directing your dog to drop the ball into the bucket. When the ball is reloaded, continue game. (Optional)

By Laurie Haggart

Published: 11/02/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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BOAZ

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Mutt

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1 Year

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Question

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Our dog was hit in the face by an automatic ball launcher on the first attempt. He is scared to be around the machine. How do we change that?

July 13, 2022

BOAZ's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Anthony, First, put the machine out where pup can see and investigate it if he wants to, leave the machine off and sprinkle high value treats around it, with a line of treats leading up to it also. Pup will probably eat the furthest treats first and avoid any that require him getting close to the machine, that's okay at first. Replace all the treats pup eats or are stale, and leave the machine out and pup alone. You want pup to gradually work up the courage on their own to eat more and more of the treats, getting closer and closer to the machine. This will probably take all week. Once pup will go right up to the machine, also have treats sprinkled on the machine. If pup likes balls, stand behind the machine and toss a ball, having pup practice retrieving balls from next to the machine - so balls and fetch is associated with the machine, but you are throwing them so the machine is quiet and safer. When pup really loves when you approach the machine, in anticipation of treats and balls, then turn the machine on but don't put any balls on - you are just getting him used to the noise. If he is nervous of it, go back to the line of treats again and let pup work up to the machine on their own again. You will probably have to run the machine just intermittently, only putting treats down when the machine is making its noise though. Once pup is okay approaching the machine while on to get the treats again, have the machine on but toss balls from it now, having pup retrieve balls from you around the machine again with it on. When pup is really happy about doing that, then occasionally put a ball in the machine instead of throwing it, without making a big deal about the difference, so pup starts retrieving balls from the machine. When you have worked up to pup being happy to retrieve all balls from the machine, then start moving away from the machine one foot at a time, until the machine is essentially playing fetch with pup instead of you. You also need to teach pup to stay to the side of the machine, or far enough back to make sure they won't get hit again. I would teach Out, which means move out of the area, to help direct pup to move away from the machine when they get too close or in the wrong spot. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

July 13, 2022

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Louis

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Miniature Schnauzer

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14 Months

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Louis loves the machine and stands excitedly in front (1 meter away) waiting when he hears the motor build up. When the ball launches, he barks and chases it. I hold a treat over the intake dish, but Louis drops the ball about 6" away and goes for the treat. I have tried to pick up the ball and place it in my hand while over the intake, with the treat trapped between my fingers under the ball. He has to nudge the ball out of my hand (causing it to fall into the intake) to get the treat. He doesn't seem to be getting it.

July 28, 2020

Louis's Owner

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Darlene Stott - Dog Trainer and Groomer

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104 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I found a video on using the ball launcher with some tips for using it. As well, they mention you can make inquiries here: https://www.petsafe.net/toys. Here is the link to the video: https://www.google.com/search?q=how+to+use+an+automatic+ball+launcher&rlz=1C1JZAP_enCA782CA783&oq=how+to+use+an+automaric+ball+l&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j33.12377j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#kpvalbx=_NkMkX6tqmIPK0w-ZkZCICQ49 and a written training section here: https://intl.petsafe.net/media/manuals/400-2045_EN.pdf. You may want to work on the Fetch concept, too which will encourage Louis to bring the ball back. Take a look here at the Two of the Same Method:https://wagwalking.com/training/bring-back-a-toy. The object is to get Louis interested in the continued game of catching the ball, meaning that he is excited to drop the ball in the intake dish quickly as the second ball is thrown. This is done over the intake dish but you will throw the ball manually for now, to keep the momemtum fast. I hope the steps in the guide work for you and Louis. Have fun training!

July 31, 2020


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