This is a great game to add variety to your training and build drive for the ball!
It is simple: Hide the ball out of sight, send your dog to find it and drive it back to you. (If you are familiar with a “blind retrieve”, this is similar.) To play, you first must teach your dog how the game works:
Step 1) Train the “find” first: Put the ball out of sight but let your dog see where you are putting it. (Behind a bush, or around the corner in a doorway in your house, etc.)
From close range, send your dog to find the ball. As soon as they get to the ball have a big party for finding it, run in and +R at the ball. Then ask for a short drive to you, and +R again.
NOTE: For the entire chain of “go find the ball and push it back to me”, you will probably need a different cue or a combined cue. (Mine is “Go, PUSH!” This is same cue I use for any difficult ball retrieve and push back to me, in sight or not. See the “Runaway Ball” post.)
Step 2) Once your dog understands “go find the ball”, increase the distance. Distance is up to you, but raise criteria appropriately so that your dog can be challenged but still be sucesssful.
Step 3) Once your dog understands “finding the ball from a distance”, start using using different “blinds” to hide it in. Use your imagination! Play at short range with each new blind the first time, then increase the distance. A few times with different blinds and your dog will begin to generalize the “hide and seek” behavior.
This is a great game for in the house too-put the ball in different rooms and send your dog to find it, pushing through halls and doorways! Outside you might use trees, shrubs, or set up your own blinds with trash cans, agility equipment, your car, garden shed, or anything else you might have. The whole idea is that the ball becomes the focus amidst other distractions and the reinforcement should be great for finding and returning it to you! This game helps build drive, as some dogs need more reinforcement for finding the ball than others. Lots of +R for just finding the ball helps to build that drive for all dogs.