Puppy Boot Camp Day 11 -Dom the GSD – practicing the recall

Tonight we were back in the farm store with Til.

We worked on attention training and coming when called. Dom is still reactive to certain people but I am able to call him and have him respond more consistently now.

One small step at a time…

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 10 – Dom GSD – Coming When Called

There are a number of different ways to encourage a dog to come when you call him. Mine are primarily based on encouraging him to make the right choice on his own steam. This method may take a little bit longer than some of the more compulsive ones, but it ensures that once the behavior is locked in, it sticks.

Dom the German shepherd puppy lives with another pup, a Labrador, who likes to tempt him to R.U.N.N.O.F.T. For that reason, I have been working on the recall with another dog in the field; one Dom likes better than he likes me. That is my border collie, Til.

In this series of videos, Til is giving me a hand in encouraging Dom to respond to the recall, and competing with him for the jackpot treat — frozen hot dogs.

I will often click when the dog volunteers to just look at me. I keep mixing it up, but if I am using the clicker I typically click when I know I have his attention, because if he hears the click he is sure to come and get the treat. It’s the attention and focus that is the hardest part at this point.

One way to keep the dog’s attention is to keep changing the direction you’re going. The dog tends to stay close and keep a better eye on you if he isn’t sure where you’re going to be. I always walk the pup when he is hungry to make sure he is motivated. Eventually the dog can be weaned off the food, and come when called without it, but that happens much later.

I still often carry treats and I will randomly call and treat dogs I’ve had eight or nine years, or longer, just because it makes them happy and keeps them in tune with me.

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 9 – Dom GSD Coming When Called

I have exalted the significance of a regular “ramble” in the life of a dog. It’s so important for a dog to get out and stick his nose in the grass for a deep sniff, to run and play and feel the earth under his feet without fear of constant reprimand or nagging. This type of freedom is a gift that can be confidently given to only the most well-trained dog. A reliable recall is one of the most important things to teach a dog, for his own safety and those around him.

Dom the German shepherd has been overcoming some psychological stuff in the past nine days. He still has some issues that are fear-based; some he may never entirely get over. But his confidence is growing, little by little.

Today he went for his first walk off leash in our “back 40”, a fenced area behind the property. He is so bonded to Til that he pretty much mirrored everything the border collie did. It took Dom a little time before he realized what was expected of him.

Since Dom is not responding to my call, I don’t overdo it or nag him. I’m just going to keep walking and let him calm down a little.

Dom has been hanging out with this pack for over a week, and it has been a good lesson in dog-appropriate behavior. Allie the Jack Russell bullies him, and he backs off for the most part. One time he stands up for himself, but it’s not over the top and I don’t see any problem with his dog-to-dog behavior. Allie is competing for food, and she has Dom intimidated enough to give up on it, but in a minute we will try again and he will succeed. There is enough for everyone and pretty soon Allie sees she doesn’t have to fight for every morsel.

Some people would discourage this squabbling, but I think it is okay because the more Dom succeeds in life over little obstacles like Allie, the more his confidence grows.

One easy way to instill a recall is to go the opposite way that the dog thinks you are going. For a dog with any amount of separation anxiety, this is a sure fire way to get them to come looking for you. So I make sure to keep changing directions. This walk is not intended to get anywhere. It is all about teaching the dog to pay attention to me.

I don’t waste a lot of breath calling the dog, coaxing the dog, cajoling the dog. If I call him once, I mean it. If he ignores me, or responds too slowly, he gets nothing, and his friends will get his treat.

The field is also a good time to try some random obedience, such as down and sit and a trick or two. For the most part I keep emotions out of it, although I get excited and start praising verbally if I see something really exceptional. The dogs hear the enthusiasm in my voice and they get stoked by that. There is an emotional connection that happens beyond the food delivery, which will make the dog care more and more about how to get a reaction from you, the handler. Once you bridge that gap, you are establishing the bond that can make all the difference in attention training.

Check out my book: 25 Ways To Raise A Great Puppy

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 8 – Dom GSD – Solo!

Dom the German shepherd pup has graduated to his first solo trip to the farm store today. He was clearly sending signs of nervousness; yawning frequently and panting hard. But since it was the store we had already visited repeatedly, and I was carrying high value treats (a mix of hot dogs, cheesy dog treats and kibble) and a high rate of reinforcement, he did okay.

Our focus was loose leash walking for the first time without the cart. He maintained good focus throughout the lesson, which lasted about an hour. The idea was to encourage him to walk around on a loose leash, with some practice sitting and lying down on cue. There weren’t very many customers in the store.

I used a clicker to mark the moments I liked. I like to have the puppy look up at me while we are walking because it encourages focus and attention. If the puppy is looking at the handler, he is less likely to be reactive to things happening around him.

If we saw other people in the store we would walk up to them and follow them or pass them. He did bark a few times. I asked for random downs, just to mix it up. If he refused to down, I would just move him a few steps and then ask again.

Good handlers mix up a variety of treats with praise and petting. This looks easy but it is stressful for fearful pups like Dom to walk past strangers and large moving items like carts and dollies.

Dom remembers his little counter-clockwise circle trick. He exhibited pretty good confidence by working away from me to get the treats I tossed out, which gave me a chance to practice a short recall.

Overall he showed good focus and we set a good precedent for future obedience training (specifically leash walking and recall) under distraction. It was a great opportunity to build confidence in a young GSD.

Check out my book: 25 Ways To Raise A Great Puppy

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Puppy Boot Camp, Day 7 – Dom the GSD – Intro to Recall

Now that Dom has learned to trust me a little, and has gained some confidence, he should be able to concentrate on learning how to come when he is called.

This will have to be taught in steps, starting with name recognition. To do this I will use the other dogs in a name recognition game, one that was so successful for my last Boot Camp puppy, Loki.

For his first lesson, I took all the dogs out in the back of the property, just to evaluate how Dom was going to react to his name. He pretty much ignores his name and is caught up in all the happenings.

The next step is to call each dog by name and hand out treats. If Dom doesn’t respond to his name, another dog gets his treat.

This game works really well in a number of ways. One of the nicest things about it is that it teaches all the other dogs who’s who. Therefore if one is missing, or I call, the others will automatically look for the correct individual and sometimes even help find or alert him/her. Handing out cookies to specific dogs requires the others to wait their turn. It is an exercise in patience and reduces food aggression.

This game usually settles into a dog’s mind pretty quickly and it’s a great way to start training the recall, if you have the advantage of living with trained dogs. It works well in classes too though.

In the beginning, it doesn’t look like much. But the glimmer of recognition is just starting to work its way into Dom’s overstimulated brain.

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Puppy Boot Camp – Day 7 – Dom the GSD, Review

The first week has marched by for Dom, the German shepherd puppy with fear issues. It has been a very eventful week for him. I decided to summarize his progress by posting a list of his issues that his people were concerned about. These included:

  1. Lying down, “checking out”, not engaging.

Since he got here, I have only seen him do this once. It happened early in his stay when I brought out the leash and told him I was going to put it on him. He took one look at that leash and hit the deck. For whatever reason, leash walking was a big issue and scared him. My solution was to place a leash on another dog first and give treats to the other dog for allowing it. Presto. Dom wanted his turn, too. Since then he has worn a leash every day but it is always a big fun time, according to the other dogs. The excitement was contagious. I don’t say much about the leash or try to get them enthused. I just stay calm and let the other dogs do it for me.

2. Resorting to collapsing when he doesn’t want to do something.

See number 1.

3. Hiding in crate instead of going outside to potty.

This has ended due to his regimented schedule. Since he has a bladder control issue, when he is in the house, he is either training, or in the crate. When he comes out of the crate, we run straight to the door so he can go outside to potty, always accompanied by another dog that knows what to do, so he follows suit.

When he is in the crate, I don’t talk to him too much or touch him, because when he is stimulated, he leaks. So I keep him calm and don’t play with him or pet him until after he goes.

4. Fear of traffic and engine noises.

This has improved a lot due to all the visits to the farm store. Also, we live near a busy road, so when he is outside, cars are going by. The first day, every time a car went by, he would drop his tail and run for the door. Now he doesn’t notice.

5. Poor appetite.

This has improved 100% thanks to the Courage Diet and better quality kibble.

6. Car sickness/fear of riding in the car.

He has gotten over this thanks to going in the car every day with a calm, confident dog. Plus, the rides have typically been pretty short, only about ten minutes, and then we arrive at fun and interesting places.

Photo of Dom by Ann Williams

7. Overall air of sadness/depression.

Cured. He feels better physically, no tummy upset, and a lot of fun things going on. Plus, his schedule now is very regimented and predictable, a mash-up of aerobics outdoors with other busy dogs, and then down time in the safe crate; very comforting for a worried pup.

The contribution of exercise to well-being cannot be overemphasized. An hour of play time or a long walk every day can solve a load of problems, just like in people.

8. Peeing at seemingly random times: Not peeing outside, submissive peeing, or peeing a gallon on their shoes. Peeing in crate. Peeing over spilled milk.

This is improving, thanks to a lot of crate time and very regimented outdoor potty time, as explained in #3.

This strict schedule should continue for a few months so he can “train” his bladder muscles, getting used to emptying his bladder only when he’s outside, and holding it the rest of the time. To do this, he has to have a black and white schedule of go/don’t go, and refrain from activities that cause him to lose control.

Since being here, he has not been allowed to “tank up” on water, standing and drinking enormous volumes at a time. He gets to drink a couple of cups of water at a time, if he wants it. He gets frequent trips outdoors, about every hour, with the other dogs to remind him so he doesn’t forget why he is out there. He has been given water in his food, so the food is helping him to stay hydrated. He is not given any water at night, for a couple of hours before bedtime. All of these factors are making the bladder control easier for him physically, while he grows up and learns how to “hold it.”

9. Does not come when called.

This is still a problem. In order to solve it, I wanted to solve some other issues first: Improve his food drive, raise his happiness level and reduce some of his anxiety.

…Onward and upward!

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Puppy Boot Camp – Day 6 – Dom Backslides, and the Mighty Kong

Dom the German shepherd was back in the farm store today, following yesterday’s hike and our visit to a different store the day prior. The store was busy with a lot of customers and Dom experienced a higher level of anxiety than during his more recent trips. He barked a lot and even decided to empty his bowels, despite the fact that I made sure he pooped before we left home.

This is how learning works and it is the reason so many people get frustrated while training pups. The improvement does not happen in a straight line, especially when behavior is fear-based. Building confidence takes a lot of repetition, and a lot of situations where the dog wins, no one gets excited and nothing bad happens. Dogs like Dom are very sensitive and they will pick up on minutia in movements, tone of voice, and stuff we can’t hear or smell.


The most important thing in this type of training is to just encourage the dog to keep his mind on the job. Dom’s job is to walk on a loose leash with the cart, and sit down when it stops moving. That is all he has to do. However, the job requires his attention because he can’t predict when the cart is about to turn, stop or back up. He may get bumped in the process.

Teaching this kind of focus is one of the key factors in helping a dog overcome fear. When his mind is on the task at hand, he has less time to worry about other stuff.

Every time Dom barked at someone, I would circle around some other aisles and come back to the same person or spot where he had started barking. I had to do it a few times but by the end of the hour he was much calmer.

Tomorrow will be Day 7 in Dom’s time at Boot Camp and he will move on to a more demanding routine. Besides merely desensitizing him, I will start to teach him some more behaviors and he will have to go to the store by himself, without the help of the older dog.

Today Dom had to spend about six hours in the crate. It was my first day leaving him since he has been here. To help, I stuffed a Kong. I think the Kong stuffing trick has become common knowledge for dog owners. But just in case you don’t know about it, it is probably one of the best tools for calming a puppy in the crate.

If the dog is not familiar with it, you should start by just filling it with loose kibble, that falls out easily when he rolls it around. Eventually you can work up to running water into the kibble and putting the Kong in the freezer, so the food takes longer to get out. It gives the dog a safe way to occupy himself when he is crated. I use the heck out of the Kong and am so thankful to whatever genius came up with it.

Check out my book: 25 Ways To Raise A Great Puppy

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Puppy Boot Camp – Day 5 – Dom and His First Hike

Recently I wrote a blog post about the importance of taking your dog for a ramble, and how beneficial it is for his (and your) well-being. All dogs should enjoy an hour walk, or more, with their owner, several times a week. A tired dog is a happy dog.

Dom the GSD, photo by Ann Williams

Now that Dom has gotten comfortable with my dogs and me, today he got to go for his first ramble. I was lucky enough to meet up with my friend Ann and her Border Collie Splash, and she took some beautiful photos along the way.

Jasper and Til are both 8 years old.

The nice thing about having a couple of seasoned dogs is that a puppy will naturally attach himself to them and follow their lead. Dom had a wonderful time running and playing in the woods. It was a very low-stress outing, and revealed a few things about him, some good and some not so good.

  • First off, he still has a strong “puppy follow” instinct and wants to be part of the group.
  • He looks to the older dogs for guidance about entering and exiting the vehicle, even walking nicely in a brace with Jasper.
  • He is dog-appropriate, backing off when given a hearty warning by Ann’s dog Splash.
  • Once he settled down enough to pay attention, he still exhibited decent food drive.
  • He is taking treats more gently since our first lesson, so on the right track there.
  • His traveling in the car has improved markedly although he is still nervous upon arrival. But no more drooling and vomiting. Hallelujah.
  • On the down side, he responds to other hikers with fear aggression, barking hysterically, and
  • When outside in a distracting environment, he doesn’t seem to have a clue what his name is. We will be working hard on establishing a strong recall over the coming days.
Dom, by Ann Williams.

I brought the exhausted puppy home after a jaunt that lasted an hour or so. We worked a little more on the gentle mouth when we got back.

Taking treats!
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Puppy Boot Camp – Day 4 – Why a Shopping Cart Instills Confidence

This might sound weird, but I have taken Dom the German shepherd puppy to the farm store four out of the four days he has been here.

For one thing, the weather has been your typical lower Michigan crap; wet and windy and cold. It’s too unpleasant to be outside. I am not blessed with a big fancy training center close by. But sometimes the farm store is even better than a training center, because of the comings and goings of strangers, and all the smells and doin’s.


And of course there are the shopping carts.

Dom is afraid of vehicles. This includes fear of riding in them, and fear of having them drive by. What is a shopping cart but a smaller vehicle? So on the first day I hooked him to a shopping cart, he wondered what the heck was happening. Luckily I had my trusty border collie to help him through it.

Border Collie and German Shepherd Shopping

The deal with the shopping cart is that it is big and awkward. It bangs and crashes. It’s cold metal. And it has those scary rolly things called wheels.

This all may sound like it’s no big deal. But to a fearful dog like Dom it is a big venture. It’s very stressful, especially today because we went into a whole new store. Once when I asked Til to lie down for a photo, Dom lay right on top of him. In the photo this looks cute, but it happened because  was scared and looking to the older dog for reassurance.


The more we get out on these excursions the more they will become routine and the less scary they will be.

The advantages of tying your dog to a shopping cart and walking him around cannot be overestimated. It demands that the puppy focus, so takes a lot of his attention away from other stuff that is going on. It teaches him not to forge ahead on the leash, because the cart can make a sudden left turn and bump him. It teaches him body awareness, because he may have to back out of a tight space or get his feet out from under the wheels.

There is the added bonus that his walking on a loose leash, sans cart, will only be the better for it.

Dom has opted to sit down every time the cart stops moving. If he pulls too hard on the leash, we stop moving. He sits, and we can go again. This gives him a little sense of control in the whole production.

One of the best things about the shopping excursion, for a timid pup, is that the proceedings are not all about him. It’s not like a class where he is the center of attention and it’s, “do this, don’t do that”. He is incidental. He is along for the ride, and it’s up to him to fit in. We have other stuff going on here. We are shopping, and he gets to be part of it. There are cookies and maybe even a new toy. There are people delighted to see him and give him a treat.

There are other people that for whatever reason, are scary to him. So he thinks he should bark at those folks. This is when it’s time to remind him to keep his mind on the job.

Eventually, the farm store — and other outings by default — will change from a stressful ordeal to an event that is happy and interesting.

Check out my book: 25 Ways To Raise A Great Puppy

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Puppy Boot Camp, Day 3 – Dom – Trick and Treat

German shepherds have been bred to execute a full-mouth bite. They have rows of big white teeth. Gator face. When taking treats it’s natural for them to hit your hand hard and swallow whatever comes out of it.


So today when Dom was learning his first simple trick, a counter-clockwise turn, I began teaching him a gentler style of hand feeding.

Sometimes I just throw the treat on the floor and let the dog chase it. This going away/coming back to me is a good exercise in early focus and getting the dog to work away from your person.

I use food luring for a lot of early tricks, and this is an easy one to teach. You just get the dog’s nose to follow your hand, pull his head around away from you that way, and then he naturally circles back.

With the hand feeding, it is important for a big-toothed puppy like a German shepherd to learn not to use his arsenal of fangs. For a dog with low confidence, it is especially important because from time to time I will ask other people to give him treats, and it would be kinda rude if in the process they have a limb amputated.


So the hand feeding begins with holding the food in your closed fist. Let him bite you all he wants, and he gets nothing. In the video you can see Dom is clearly confused about why I am not delivering the goods. Just be patient and wait for a softer bite. Then, open your hand. Eventually, wait until you don’t feel any teeth at all.



It will take a few days of feeding him like this before he becomes more consistently gentle. Like all habits, it just takes time. Notice that he never gets corrected or even a verbal reprimand for biting me. I don’t want to punish him for taking food. It will contaminate the reward and suppress his desire to learn. So, I just wait until he figures it out.

For more info about training puppies, check out my booklet, 25 Ways To Raise a Great Puppy. You can read it free on Kindle.

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