How to Train Your Dog to Catch in the Air
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You’re out for a walk and you’ve been throwing a tennis ball repeatedly for your canine pal to bound after and bring back. But while the ball sails through the air, your dog... doesn’t. You can’t shake the thought of how cool it would be if he upped his catching level to mid-air grabs. Not only would it look pretty awesome to anyone who saw you on a walk, but it would also make for a fantastic trick to entertain guests with while the BBQ is on.
If he’s always full of energy, getting him to catch in the air will also help tire him out on walks. Extra energy dispensed in the air means a more relaxed and docile dog at home. One that naps while you eat rather than pestering you for more food.
Conveying exactly what you want him to do can prove challenging. After all, why should he catch something in the air when it will make his life easier if he just waits for it to hit the ground? Having said that, if he’s young and agile he’ll probably respond to training in just a few days. If he’s getting on a bit and not quite the athlete or intellect he once was, then be prepared to be patient, he may need a couple of weeks before he gets the hang of it.
Why bother with this training though? Well, you’ll quickly become known as the owner of the flying dog; nicknames like ‘super dog’ and the ‘flying canine’ will soon spread around the neighborhood. He’ll probably appear on Snapchat stories and Facebook feeds all over the state. So for the glory alone, it’s worth it!
Before your dog starts flying you’ll need a few things. The most important thing you’ll need is space. A big yard or a field would be ideal, if you practice in the house you may quickly break all that you hold dear.
His favorite food or treats will also be essential so stock up! A tennis ball, stick, frisbee, or any other type of toy you throw for him will also be required. Once you have all of that, just bring patience and a positive frame of mind and you’re ready to get to work.
The Frisbee Method
Get friendly with frisbees
Get 2 frisbees and integrate them into his everyday life. Before you can train him to catch something in the air, he needs to really want that something in the first place. So feed him some of his food out of them and play tug of war with them.
Take it outside
Head outside and start playing with the frisbees and your dog. You can start off just by playing tug of war or throwing it a few feet on the ground. Whenever he gets the frisbee, be sure to reward him with a treat and praise him. You’re using two frisbees so you don’t have the added complication of teaching him to drop, you can just lure him away with the second frisbee.
After a day or two, start holding the frisbee above his head so he has to jump to get it. Make sure you reward and praise him each time he gets it. Also make sure you let him win, if you never let him get his mouth on it he’ll quickly become disheartened and give up.
From a few feet away, throw the frisbee above his head so has to jump up to get it. Only move onto this when he has mastered jumping up to get it. The trick is to throw it just high enough that he has to jump to get it but can still catch it. Again, reinforce each jump and successful catch with a treat and praise.
Get a little distance
Gradually increase the distance you throw the frisbee from. Over days and weeks, stand farther away when you throw the frisbee and start throwing the frisbee higher too. He will now be in the habit of leaping into the air and getting it, so jumping should come naturally. As he becomes a mid-air guru, slowly reduce the frequency of treats until they are no longer needed.
The Monkey in the Middle Method
Take a friend and a toy of your choice. You can use a tennis ball, frisbee, stick or anything else your dog likes chasing. You’ll also need a handful of treats at the ready.
Have him sit between you and a friend. Ensure you and your friend are only 5 or 6 feet away from each other at this point. You are going to throw the toy just above your dog’s head so he has to jump to get it.
Throw the toy to each other at a height he can just about reach if he jumps up. When he catches it, rush over to him with a treat and give him lots of verbal praise. It’s important you reinforce any sort of jumping behavior so he knows he is on the right track.
Increase the distance between you and the friend and start to throw the toy higher above your dog. The key to this is to increase the height slowly so he naturally starts jumping higher. Keep practicing this for 15 minutes each day, for a few days, until he jumps fully into the air to catch it each time.
Change it up
Start mixing it up with throws from different angles. Now he knows what you want him to do you can make it more challenging. Throw it so he has to run and jump to catch it in the air and slowly reduce the frequency of treats. Once he has the hang of it you can also lose the friend and throw it on your own.
The Treat to Toy Method
Stand a few feet in front of your dog with his favorite treat in your hand. Before you get him to jump in the air to catch a toy, you’re going to appeal to his large appetite to speed up the learning process.
Go for the catch
Throw the treat gently towards him at around head height. If he gets it then let him eat it and praise him. If it drops on the floor, try and pick it up before he gets to it. This will tell him he needs to try a different technique to get it next time.
Once he has the hang of catching it, gradually start throwing it higher. Keep doing this until he has to jump right up into the air to catch it. The key to this is building up the height slowly, you don’t want to go too quickly because if he can’t catch it he will lose interest. Practice this for 10 minutes a day for a few days.
Swap for a toy
Replace the treat with a toy. You don’t want him piling on the pounds so you need to wean him off the treats. So when he gets the hang of it throw a toy instead of treats, but be sure to reward him with a treat and praise if he does catch it.
Slowly reduce the frequency of treats. After a week or two he should naturally jump into the air to catch a toy travelling towards him. You can then cut down treats until they are no longer needed. You will officially have a flying dog at this point!
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 11/27/2017, edited: 01/08/2021
Training Questions and Answers
1 found helpful
1 found helpful
What treat is good for him to practice catching ball in midair? I think it should be similar size but not too much or else he won't eat his meals.
July 26, 2021
Leonardo Davinci's Owner
Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer
1133 Dog owners recommended
Hello Alex, Since pup will be getting larger amounts of it, I personally like to use freeze dried liver. Since it's freeze dried it dissolves more easily and is pretty light weight in case it hits pup in the face if he doesn't catch it. Depending on the brand, you can get bigger pieces initially, which can be easily broken into smaller pieces as pup gets better at catching. Freeze dried liver is also healthier than most treats and not likely to upset pup's stomach if he does eat a lot of it. It doesn't need to be as big as a ball for pup to learn, just big enough that pup can see it easily. I usually start with a piece about the size of a grape tomato and just drop it right above pup's mouth, only about a foot away while pup is first learning. As pup improves at catching, I add distance so that you are working up to more of an actual toss. If you want to make it even harder, you can begin making the treat smaller too, as long as its still big enough for pup to see. Usually by that point, pup is ready for a ball though. When pup is ready for the ball, I also start dropping the ball just above pup's mouth, then increase distance as pup gets better at catching. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
July 27, 2021