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Discussion Starter #1
My two-year-old blue heeler Maybelle has always been incredibly obedient under most circumstances. She has one trick in particular where she picks up her toys when I ask her to, leaves them outside/inside (depending on the toy), fixes her mistake when she sneaks an "outside ball" in, or brings the "inside ball" into our bedroom on command at night.

For some reason, she outright refuses to do this lately. I know this isn't a huge problem, and it's the only trick she's stopped doing. But since she used to be very reliable with it, it's confusing me. She doesn't act dominant when she ignores the command. In fact, she rolls over on her back when I ask more than once, but still pulls her head away even if I try to hand her the ball. I got a little too angry at her for it the first time, since I was so taken aback, and since then I've been absolutely gentle about it, while still being firm. But nothing I say or do can make her get the ball on command now! Sometimes she doesn't even chase it when I throw it, as if she thinks I'm trying to pull one over on her. She used to be unable to resist a game of fetch under any circumstances.

I feel terrible if I ruined her favorite toy for her by being too strict, but I also think she should obey me. And I know it's asking a lot - how many dogs (or people, for that matter) pick up after themselves? But I know how smart and capable she is. Any ideas on why she's all the sudden disobeying? Or what I should do about it, if anything? I wonder if I'm just being too controlling...
 

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Maybelle your first dog? A dog could be disobedient if it willfully refuses to do something, ie. sit 101st time in your living room after 100 consecutive sits. If the dog refuses to sit after the first command then there is a non dog-related problem which could be many things including those of medical, psychological, technical or environmental nature. I would therefore investigate what makes the dog not want to do the exercise anymore. She may have lost interest and motivation in performing the behavior for some reason or she may have a stronger motivation not to perform it.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks for the advice. Yes, Maybelle is my first dog.

I've been trying to give her more exercise, and go back to basics on training. She just got back from the vet, no medical problems to date. My game plan now is the leave the ball where it is and put us to bed (making sure she has another one in my room... not letting her chew is not worth the training to me). Other than that, just trying to pick my battles.
 

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Ok, all you have to do is re-train the trick she stopped doing along with the fetch game. You have an engagement problem. Your dog knows what you want but for some reason is reluctant to engage - possibly due to some accident in past, you may have got too angry at her and she just figures: "right, this game sucks". It seems like you threw in punishments (or negative consequences) too soon into a freshly trained behavior possibly without even being aware of it. Sit down and think how to train without either one of you getting frustrated, think of a way to really motivate your dog to stay engaged. If you get angry, make a pause, do something else. If I or my dog get frustrated I just stop the exercise and play with him, throwing food or balls all around - I do this to get him revved up, excited or "in drive". It will take a lot of time and a lot of reps for a dog to perform in a bad or just usual mood. Don't take obedience in itself too seriously too soon. I am also very controlling but very patient too - I devote insane amount of time and resources to get results, meaning years of work and thousands upon thousands of reps. For example, to get a good heel command you need about 8 months of training. When your dog looks like it's becoming disobedient, stop and think why that may be, don't rush with decisions. It's safest to retrain the behavior and in the process avoid things that could be unpleasant to the dog, from sunbeams to bad weather. I'd start working on her prey drive, throw the ball (a different type of ball this time) in some distraction free area, see where that gets you.
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Well, the trick isn't new... she's been doing it for over a year, I would estimate. But starting from square 1 seems to be the only option, is that what you mean? I did get angry when she all the sudden stopped doing it (mostly because I was able to take it for granted for so long). I think that did most of the damage I'm seeing to that trick now.

But maybe I need to rephrase the problem. I know how to train a dog to do a trick providing that I can actually control when the dog does the trick (like holding a treat over the nose to make a dog sit, for example), but there is nothing I can possibly do to get that dog to pick up the ball, so there's nothing to reinforce.
 

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You can't get a dog to pick up a ball? Says who? Get yourself a clicker and watch some kikopup, my dear!

Pro tip: I rubbed hit dogs on kabota's toys to pique his interest and then clicked every interaction with a toy, even if just sniffing. You can manipulate a dog into virtually anything with enough patience.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I praise her heavily when she picks up the ball. The trick is getting her to do it on command. She just won't. I've tried reinforcing the command by saying it while she already has the ball, and she drops it, like "oops, I was accidentally obeying." Scenting the ball doesn't help either, neither do treats. She's not a very food-motivated dog anyway, for some reason. But the point is, she knows what I want her to do, and that seems to be her motivation for not doing it.
 
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