New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

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MichelleD
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New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by MichelleD » Thu Jun 24, 2010 7:19 am

Greetings all!

I'm new to the board, but have been reading them for several weeks, anticipating the adoption of a new dog. I watch Victoria's show and really like her approach and philosophies.

Adopted a beautiful shepherd mix from the shelter 6 days ago. He's 2 years old, was at the shelter for one month and came in as a stray. He was already neutered and is very good around people, although his manners still need a lot of work. He's quite loving. He's a strong 70-lb dog who wants to be in your lap and cuddle. :-)

However, he has a fierce prey drive! Walking him is a huge challenge. He does OK on the leash and if he pulls I stop walking. He usually stops and will even return to me and then we walk again. BUT if he sees a rabbit, squirrel, or another dog he goes BERSERK. I can't control him, I can't get his focus, he's pulled me to the ground twice when another dog was approaching. I try to anticipate and keep an eye out for any other animal he might see, but sometimes he sees them before I do. Two days ago he spotted a squirrel and took off so fast that the leash came out of my hand. He got the squirrel and killed it. He wasn't about to let it go and I came home splattered in squirrel blood. (This, I'm sure has given the neighbors something to talk to about -- it was quite the spectacle!).

I haven't lost the leash since then, but yesterday's walks were a nightmare whenever we passed a dog. I've got bruises up and down my body.

Our schedule is as follows: We're up at 6 am, and I take him for a 1/2 - 1 mile walk to relieve himself. Come home and cuddle and play for a bit.

At 7:30 my son is up and feeds him breakfast (he's currently eating Science Diet).

I generally leave the house around 8:30 am and am back by 11:00 am at the latest. Because it's summer, my son (age 11, almost 12) is home so the dog is left at home with him and he's usually quiet during that time.

Another quick 1/2 - 1 mile walk around 1 pm -- this is a short walk because right now it's HOT and the mid-day sun is a scorcher.

During the afternoon at home we do some training -- he's learning very quickly! He's smart ... he's learning sit, down, we're working on "stay" although that one's not coming along as quickly, he's learning to calmly wait at the door while I open it for his walk (but again, coming along more slowly than other skills). He's also done very well with "off" (because he was putting his front paws on counter, etc.). We're working on leave it/drop it and does well in the house with toys, but not outdoors when he's captured a squirrel. :)

He's not terribly treat- or food-driven. He can often walk away from a treat and not think twice about it.

At 4:30 he's fed dinner, a mix of dry and moist food.

At 7 pm or so we go for a L O N G walk and even incorporate a few bursts of running. I don't know the distance, but the walk is usually about an hour.

Sorry this is getting long! I have him signed up for a group training class which begins next week. His reaction to other dogs is so strong, and so hard to control that I'm a little nervous about taking him to a group training situation. But I also can't afford private training! I'm going to call the trainer today and talk to her about it, but I'm wondering what others would recommend about a group situation. He jumps and pulls and has even landed on his back trying to get to dogs on our walks.

btw -- I have him on an "easywalk" harness during our walks. It definitely helps with regular pulling, but it's not deterring him whatsoever when there's another dog around -- the discomfort under his front legs doesn't seem to bother him, and he pulls hard enough to pull me to the ground at times. I don't know what he would do if he actually GOT TO the other dog! We haven't been able to get close enough to one yet.

Thanks for any help ...

~ Michelle

Leigha
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by Leigha » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:58 am

I would cancel the group training class. It's going to be too stressful for your dog, and too stressful (and possibly dangerous) for the other dogs. It's not really fair to anyone. If he was a stray he might have had to kill smaller things (like squirrels) for food so that might explain a little bit about the squirrely thing. I would work on getting him settled into your and his new life, and work on some clicker training at home. There's a clicker training thread somewhere here, and there's also http://www.clickertraining.com which has resources and book lists, etc.

Fundog
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by Fundog » Thu Jun 24, 2010 11:01 am

I absolutely agree with Leigha. Cancel group training right now. And I really don't think hiring a private trainer is necessary. It may be that you will never be able to curb his lust for hunting. And so far I have never heard of anything that could appeal to a dog more than going after some tasty little animal-- not food, not toys, not anything. Nettle will have more to say about this, and if I'm wrong, she will correct me. :wink: I myself can't really advise you, since I live in a "glass house": I have hunting dogs too, and it is a real struggle to get anywhere when they know there are birds and rabbits in the hay field we're walking past. :lol:

As for the other dogs, most dogs have a "threshold" of reactivity-- a distance at which they will not react, on an imaginary line that, once crossed, will trigger a reaction. So you may need to experiment to see what that threshold is. It may even be inside you house, just looking out the screen door or a picture window, while you have a neighbor walk by with his/her dog, clear on the way far side of the street.

There is also a technique I've seen Victoria use for dogs that get overly excited about seeing other dogs: Have a neighbor wait clear on the opposite sidewalk with a calm dog. Put your dog in front of the door, then open the door so he sees the other dog. The instant he moves, quickly close the door. The point of the exercise is, he has to sit calmly to have the door remain open so he can see the other dog. Once this is achieved, you can try to take him out. He no doubt will become overly excited once on the front porch, so then you quickly take him back inside the house again and close the door. With each attempt, you should be able to get closer and closer to the other dog, until he can greet calmly and appropriately. However, if at any point he shows signs of negative stress, call of the introduction immediately. You will then have an idea of what else you need to work on.
If an opportunity comes to you in life, say yes first, even if you don't know how to do it.

huntersglencurlz
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by huntersglencurlz » Thu Jun 24, 2010 12:49 pm

Hi. I'm new to the forum, but not new to positive reinforcement training; I've been doing it semi-professionally for over 7 years.

When you say he's not food motivated, what are you using for treats? The value of the reward you're offering has to equal or exceed the value (to the dog) of the trigger. For something like the squirrels, you're going to have to have something better than them, and yep, that's hard to do. However, if you're watching IMOTD, you will hear Victoria say she's using chicken, hot dogs, etc. If the treat isn't at least as valuable as the trigger, you don't have much chance of being more interesting :). If toys are more his thing, try to find one that really makes him excited and happy, and ONLY let him have that toy as a reward for this type of training. Making a toy less readily accessible makes it more valuable to the dog, and they want to focus on it more when they do get it (for my first dog, it's her laser pointer). Many, many search and rescue and police dogs work for a piece of fire hose or tennis ball that their person carries around with them when the dog is working. That's the reward for finding the drugs, bad guy or missing person - a couple minutes play session with that very, very valuable toy.

I also totally agree with using distance (more distance, less intensity) to help desensitize your dog's reactivity. I would definitely be combining that with teaching leave it, and look at me/watch me (eye contact). The less a dog looks at it's trigger, the less intensity it can build up, and the easier it is to get it to look away again. (I've used this very technique with my first dog, who is dog aggressive-reactive, so I know with time, patience and consistency, it really does work). What you might want to do, if not joining the group class, is see if you can just work on the reactivity, attending, but standing at a distance working on leave-it/look at me, until he can be quite near the group and be able to focus on you (don't plan to spend a whole hour doing this, 15 min at a time will probably be more than enough). It's certainly worth asking the trainer about doing this. Other places you can practice this is just outside of a dog park (yes, did this with my dog, too), near popular walking trails, and even in pet stores which offer group training (I often have another local trainer that works with reactive dogs standing outside my training ring, since she knows I've been through it myself).

I just adopted a very prey-driven dog - his downfall is bunnies. Once he's seen one somewhere, he searches every time we walk past the same place. The benefit there, is that when there is no bunny, I can easily use leave it and cheese (mmmmmm) to turn him away and reward him. He's getting better at leaving bunnies that he spots as well. My boy is also in an easy-walk harness. Have you considered trying a gentle leader on your dog, to get a little more head control?

I do know from experience that easy-walk harnesses will not work if they don't sit properly on the dog. The short loop, that you attach the leash to, has to be above the dog's breastbone, or the 'martingale' effect doesn't happen. The harness compresses the dog's chest slightly, causing the dog to stop or slow to release the compression. It will also turn the dog toward you, if the dog is moving fast enough and you stop, which is the exact opposite of what the dog is trying to accomplish by 'pulling' on the leash. Make sure that the top loop that goes over the back of the dog, is adjusted to keep that front strap mid-way across the chest. If the strap drops down, to just sit on top of the dogs front legs, the harness is ineffective. The standard sizes of these harnesses, found in most pet stores, do not fit all dogs. Premier (the company that makes them) has in-between sizes to accommodate most dogs - yours may be a med-large, or a large-xl. How can you tell? If any or all of the straps are at their smallest, and that front strap still doesn't stay where it should, then you need an in-between size :). I usually point people to sitstay.com for those (they have them at a good price).

jacksdad
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by jacksdad » Thu Jun 24, 2010 4:11 pm

I second the advice to forgo the group lessons for now. If the trainer is worth their salt, you risk being asked to leave at this time anyway. you have only had your dog 6 days, i would recommend spending time getting to know your dog. letting your dog get to know you.

how you describe your dogs reaction to other dogs mirrors my dog. The sooner you start avoiding/minimizing contact with other dogs for now the easier things will be, particularly when it comes to counter conditioning your dogs current reaction to other dogs. the less stressed, more calm he is the easier this will go. I would strongly urge no dog parks, group classes, doggy daycare etc. again seconding what has already been stated find the distance your dog can stay calm while knowing other dog near/around/ then with rewards reinforce calm is good. only advice I disagree with for your dog at this time is having him around groups of dogs, ie outside dog parks etc. I would wait until you are a bit further along and you know your dog better before you "force" him to deal with groups of dogs. I would also try and find places you can go for walks and exercise where your chances of running into another dog are low to not at all. this will let your dog have a break. I do this with my dog. today we go places he will have to "deal" with dogs, but tomorrow I give him a break and go some place the odds are very low he will have to deal with a dog.

I would urge you to do some searches on this forum regarding reactive/aggressive dogs, there are several of us working the exact same issue and there is lots of good advice floating around here. If you have any questions, need advice, need to vent, come on back and post.

as for "not being food motivated"....It is possible you are right on the money, but being you have only had your dog 6 days the dog could still be a bit too stressed with all the recent changes in his life that his interest in food is low. Stress will do that to a dog. and being stressed with recent changes in his life is another reason to back off group classes and keeping as much distance between your dog and other dogs. you may find as your dog's stress goes down and he settles in a little he has a "renewed" interest in food/treats. If that happens experiment a bit to see what gets your dog excited. It doesn't matter what Victoria uses, what I use or some other person uses, we can provide suggestions but that is all they would be, suggestions. Your dog has the final say on what his rewards is.

Another food/treat thought for you. Even if your dog is VERY food motivated, there will be a point in your dog's arousal when he see's a squirrel or another dog that it won't matter what treat you have. So, it will be important when you try and teach a new response you spot the other dogs dog first so you can take the appropriate action. if the dog is too close, go for distance. If the distance is good, then try getting your dog to look at the dog for a brief second and back to you and reward for staying calm and refocusing on your. if you have to pass another dog or the other dogs comes close this is where "watch me" comes in to refocus on your. you can do this either with your dog sitting or walking for distance with your dog looking at you as you walk. Same would go for squirrels. see the squirrel first, distract your dog or go the opposite direction.

And final thought on food. try feeding him after his main walks or if that isn't possible, cut down on his volume before his walk. you can always feed the balance of his food after his walk if need be. Slightly hungry dogs are more attentive regardless of their level of food motivation.

trainers. if one on one training isn't an option for you at this time, don't worry about it. if your up to reading a couple books on dealing with reactive dogs and basic training I or others can recommend a couple good books. The one's I have in mind are quick reads and will only cost you about $50 for all 3. Or you can just do searches for past topics and or ask questions here. If you do looking into trainers, because of your dogs reactions to other dogs be sure to avoid trainers who tell you your dog is "dominate" or "needs to be corrected". These are incorrect "diagnosis" and trainers who think like this generally have "solutions" that risk making your situation worse.

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Horace's Mum
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by Horace's Mum » Thu Jun 24, 2010 5:16 pm

Although I agree on the whole with the advice given so far, I do think it depends on the dog and a lot on the trainer. I took Horus to his first class 2 weeks after I brought him home - he was 3 years old and had A LOT of issues. He was also required to be muzzled in public at this point. Luckily I had an excellent trainer at that time who was very experienced with all sorts of rescues, and she parked me in the corner of the room and just told me to work on keeping him calm and focussed on me, even if that meant constant feeding. It did take a few weeks to find the treat that worked - you could have waved a steak in front of his nose and he would have just dodged it, but after a while we discovered liver cake and then cheese. So if you can sit quietly in the corner of the class, far enough away to be safe and not to distracted or distracting, then take a huge supply of treats and go for a short time, don't make it too long a lesson and end it when he is calm and focusses on you.

On the other hand, rescues do take weeks to settle in, and a lot of this current behaviour may well disappear in time, so you could just sit it out and cope as best you can for 6-8 weeks and then see what has happened. I don't mean ignore it, do your best to work with him, but don't panic too much just yet! It can take an average of 6 months but sometimes much longer for a rescue to show its true character - mine took a good 2 years.

If you are concerned about him killing things then you could use a cage muzzle (google baskerville muzzle) to put your mind at rest when out, just in case he does go for a cat or god forbid another dog. You might also want to try using a longline on a secure harness if you have a large space to let him run around and play chase with you and a toy, to get rid of some of the excitement and energy that just lead walking will not do.

Just a few more ideas for you to think about!!

MichelleD
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by MichelleD » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:57 pm

Wow, this is all great advice, and I'm going to print the responses out so I can refer to them. Good tips, thank you! I'll definitely start watching to see what his "threshold" is, and try to work with him the best I can.

I wasn't able to reach the trainer today. I'll call her tomorrow and probably drop the class for now.

On tonight's walk my husband, thankfully, was able to take the leash. He travels and is on the road a lot, but he's home today -- he got to experience the FULL effect for himself!

On the walk we passed by a house and a lady was getting her child out of the car AND her dog. Doggie (a pomeranian) was not on a leash and came right down the driveway to meet my dog. They got nose to nose, and did the obligatory sniffing of each other, looked at each other for another second or two, and then the other dog went back to her owner. That's when my dog went crazy wanting to go after her/him. Am I wrong to be encouraged by the fact that they got nose to nose and my dog was calm at that point?!

As far as the treats, I bought a variety to begin with because I wasn't sure what he'd like. He likes the Nature's Recipe training treats, and the freeze-dried chicken (can't remember the brand off hand). He sometimes will take a scooby snack, but not always. Last night I used a few pieces of leftover chicken and he LOVED it. BUT, out on a walk, he takes NOTHING. He's too distracted. And this was another reason I was concerned about doing a group training class - afraid he'd be too stressed and too distracted to make treats effective.

I definitely don't want to endanger any other dogs or owners by going to a group class. I just want to get this reaction under control because it's bruising me! :? And it's got to bruising him as well, under the harness. I'll check to make sure it's positioned correctly as well.

We're definitely still in the "getting to know you" phase, me and this dog. I don't want to rush him or stress him, so thank you for that reminder! I'll continue to read through the advice on these boards and re-read Victoria's book as well as others. I'm willing to put the work in -- I just wasn't sure where to begin! He's very sweet, and he's great with people. Right now he's sleeping at my feet. :D I would love to have this same sweet, calm dog on my walks! lol

OK .. I'm going to print this off and re-read all of your tips. Thanks!

Leigha
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by Leigha » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:12 pm

Working on clicker training at home will stimulate him mentally and will also help build the bond between the two of you--making it slightly more likely that he'll trust you, pay attention, etc.

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Emma&Tess
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by Emma&Tess » Fri Jun 25, 2010 1:31 am

Have you ever let him meet another Dog?

MichelleD
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by MichelleD » Fri Jun 25, 2010 9:02 am

Emma&Tess wrote:Have you ever let him meet another Dog?
Not until last night when it happened quite by accident because the other dog was not on a leash. With his reaction I wasn't sure how close I should let him get because I don't know what he's going to do (since I'm still getting to know him), and the shelter cautioned me about his "reactivity" to other dogs. They would exercise him alone because he was too hard to handle with other dogs on a walk.

But he held very still while meeting this other dog yesterday. When the other dog walked away, my dog went nuts again.

Leigha -- I have a clicker (haven't incorporated it yet) but I need to learn more about the technique. I'm reading up on it today. :)

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Horace's Mum
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by Horace's Mum » Fri Jun 25, 2010 9:12 am

That sounds like there is a strong element of excitement as well as anxiety about other dogs. Especially if he was walked alone in the shelter, it may be that he hasn't met any other dogs for a long time. You could do with trying to find a couple of people with really calm, fairly large dogs and try walking alongside them at a distance, gradually walk closer and if yours stays calm then letting them meet for a sniff before HUGE rewards for staying calm. If you can find a few dogs that eventually he can play with or at least walk with then that can take the edge off the excitement around seeing strange dogs.

Try using squeezy cheese from a tube or baby jars when out on a walk, something that is easy to lick instead of having to be chewed or swallowed. Or try my tactic of force feeding tiny piece of something yummy so quickly that eventually it filters through and they start to change the focus on to you. Doesn't work every time, but if you can get the lead hooked over a fence or something sturdy and then get down on a similar level and in front, trying to block the view a little, then it might just work.

I wouldn't mind betting he will be a lot calmer in a few weeks when he realises he goes out every day and doesn't need to be so excited on walks!!

jacksdad
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by jacksdad » Fri Jun 25, 2010 11:56 am

sounds like you did well dealing with the lose dog. lose dogs are bane of reactive dogs.

there was possibly as split second or two between the meet and greet and the other dog leaving where your dog was still calm and his attention could be redirected to you. be on the look out for them. these are the split second you want to start stuffing your dog with treats and leading him away back onto the walk. this reinforces the calm AND distracts him from focusing on and building to a reaction towards other dogs. when you "stuff" with treats though, don't just put a handful under his nose, try and feed them one at a time. like a peeze dispenser as one trainer describe to me. this slows the dog down and makes it seem to him like he is getting A LOT of treats. It's like kid logic. 5 pennies is worth more then one nickel.

on the treats, smelly, fresh, tasty. freeze dried chick and store bought treats (which tend to be "cookieish" which are very uninteresting compared to a dog or squirrel) may not be attention getting enough.

again, while your dog will chose the rewards, try fresh cooked chicken, I bbq mine when the weather is nice. just plain. I found a all natural hot dog a costco I pull out sometimes that is nice an smelly, but the easiest to get to my dog quick and he responds well to is the natural balance food roll cut into small pieces. it fills the smelly/tasty requirement pretty nice.

horace's mum suggestion for squeezy cheese and baby food jars is also good because it lets the dog lick which can be a stress reliever.

MichelleD
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by MichelleD » Sat Jun 26, 2010 9:56 am

Yes, I definitely missed that window of opportunity to get his attention back to me! I have to train MYSELF to catch those opportunities. :)

I'll try taking cooked chicken, hotdogs, cheese, etc. on the walks rather than the regular "cookie" treats.

I'm feeling more confident now, and will continue to work with him. He's settling in nicely into our home and routine so far, and I can see he's going to be a really great dog for us.

Thanks for all the tips and advice! I appreciate it!

jacksdad
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by jacksdad » Sat Jun 26, 2010 8:40 pm

MichelleD wrote: I have to train MYSELF to catch those opportunities.
I am still doing that. as my dog calms down in terms of his reactions to other dogs and becomes or and more settled in our home I see new things all the time from him.

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Emma&Tess
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Re: New Dog - Not Sure if I should do "group" training yet

Post by Emma&Tess » Sat Jun 26, 2010 9:18 pm

If he is ok with other dogs, letting him letting him meet and socialize with other dogs in an enclosed area might help to stop him from going nuts when he sees them.

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