Puppy Boot Camp – What To Feed A Spooky Pup

Arthur the GSD turned 6 months old on February 7th. I wish I could say he was completely cured. He is doing so much better but he relapses once in awhile. He is still afraid of kids. In the kitchen the other day, while letting him out the door, I stepped on his foot and he let out a screech and ran to his crate. He didn’t want to come out, so he got to stay in there for an hour and recover. I just left him alone.

I found his reaction overly dramatic — I do not weigh THAT much, hello! But the next time he went to the door, he was much more aware of where his feet were, stepping out of my way as I reached for the doorknob.

He is panicky, but he is capable of learning. He has these moments but overall his whole demeanor seems happier.

We are continuing to work on training. His recall is coming along great.

Every day he comes out and helps me do barn chores.

He loves the cold and is the only one of my dogs who wants to be out there! He rolls and rubs his face in the snow. More power to ya, Arthur.

He is growing like a proverbial weed and he is still getting good nutrition, The Courage Meal. Part of this protein diet designed to help build confidence is made up of high quality kibble, to ensure he gets all the proper nutrients for his canid system. He is going to be a big dog, so it’s important to keep his weight down, not stressing his joints while still giving him everything he needs.

Several people have asked me what kind of dog food is best. It’s getting super scary out there with all pet food recalls and plus, the common ingredient not only corn, but the remains of euthanized dogs and cats!

ACK!!! Gives a whole new meaning to that vague phrase, “meat by-products”. Check your ingredients!

There are several great kibble candidates on the market. I decided to promote Life’s Abundance since the food does NOT contain preservatives. The food is super palatable; when you open the bag the fresh smell comes out. The kibble pieces are great as training treats also.

The addition of some home cooked ingredients can help make the cost manageable. Here is the link: The Courage Kibble

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Puppy Boot Camp – Arthur GSD and His Fear

A German shepherd is a dog that should not fear anything; least of all little kids. When Arthur came to me about a month ago he was riddled with issues. He was terrified of moving vehicles: Being around them, being in them, even the sound of them. He was afraid of people wearing hats. He had no interest in coming when called. He piddled on himself incessantly. He was terrified, and he was miserable.

The past month has involved a very regulated schedule; crate time to teach him to hold his bladder. Outdoor time to teach him the appropriate place to relieve himself. Training time to teach him how to pay attention and give him confidence.

Sitting in heel position.

My other dogs helped a lot in teaching him how the home routine works. Nobody HERE pees in the house. Everyone HERE comes when I call. The dogs, especially my border collie Til, have set a stellar example of how dogs act. They didn’t always appreciate having to teach a boisterous, oversized, lop-eared puppy how to behave. He required so much correction! But they do it, because that’s how a pack works.

I like to think back on our progress, because it gives me encouragement moving forward. I am very concerned about Arthur’s fear of children. It is just not a good thing to have a dog that will potentially be 100 pounds, behaving fearfully around kids that can’t even reach the tops of his ears. It’s just the little ones he reacts to. He’s okay with teenagers. He is finally pretty much okay with people in hats. He leans against them for petting and sits on their feet. He is a big baby. I want to get him to the point of huggable even for the little ones.

Today, while we worked on heeling at attention, sits and stays in the farm store, a couple of little kids came in with their parents and Arthur tuned in immediately. He heard their voices and his whole demeanor changed so visibly that the little girls’ father wisely told them, with no prompting from me, “Do not approach that dog, he is afraid of you.”

Arthur did resort to his old go-to of barking the alarm at the kids as we walked up an adjoining aisle. He could see them through the spaces in the shelves that separated us. I kept walking. I had some high value treats and just resorted to simple attention exercises. Sit. Make eye contact. Heel. Step over this way. Come around. Stay. Good boy.

Once I had him a little bit grounded I put him on a down and asked him to stay. He did stay put, even though the evil children were only a few yards away.

As the family shopped, I stayed in their orbit with Arthur, encouraging him to keep up the good work and just ignore the fact that they were there. When they approached the checkout, so did we. I had Arthur sitting at heel when the last child walked right by him and out the door. She was involved in her own stuff and seemed not to notice him. Big win for him.

He survived the encounter, but we need to see a lot more kids.

His sit-stay, however, is coming along great!

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Puppy Boot Camp – Revisiting the Stay

Sometimes when you take some time off, the puppy will relapse. Such was the case for Dom, now Arthur, who visited the store today and his walking with the cart reminded me of the first day I took him. A few turns into him for forging ahead, and turns away for lagging behind, and he was back in business. I hadn’t thought about it but it really does give him a good opportunity for body awareness. He did remember to sit every time we stopped.

These videos might be a little like watching paint dry. But you can see how every time he pulls on the leash, I stop and he has to sit. If he keeps a loose leash, we keep on going.

He is wet because it was raining outside. He got pretty muddy. After the cart session we left Til with the cart and I just walked Arthur around.

He did no barking at all this time, but the store was quiet. He saw a couple of people that he considered suspicious. People that he previously would have barked at would cause him to do a double take. He managed to keep pretty well focused on what we were doing.

My timing with the reward is pretty bad in the video because I have trouble handling the phone and the clicker at the same time.

We did some random downs and proofed the stay. The pup did well on these. Some people like to teach the down as a stay because the dog is more inclined to stay in position when he is lying down.

I usually teach Sit Stay first because it is easier for me to move around the dog, pop back and reward when they are sitting. If a dog can master a sit-stay first, then the down stay usually comes much easier.

From here we will move in to more challenging aspects of the stay. We will proof under all kinds of different circumstances like different locations, asking for the stay when I walk other dogs around him, asking for the stay when I go out of sight, etc. Today I squatted down to take his picture and I thought he might not stay there but he did.

So here is his first off-leash photo opp, in a sit stay with his friend, Til. Good boys!

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 20, Part 2: German Shepherd and the Random Down

The German shepherd pup formerly known as Dom, now called Top or more formally, Arthur, has been learning to lie down on cue. The hand signal is traditionally raising the right hand. But he is now learning to drop when I say the word, “Down.”

I use these cues at random times because Down really comes in handy. It is excellent as a replacement for other undesirables. For instance, if your dog is about to jump up, or getting too excited, an in-motion Down is a great alternative.

There are all kinds of reasons to teach Down as a cue to be executed on the spot. Plus, if you ever go into advanced obedience, it is one thing your dog will have to know.

I have used it with Til while out hiking, if he is running off to greet people and I don’t want him to, I can shout out, “Down” and he will drop in place. It is good as a preventative measure but also comes in handy at other times, such as when you are taking photos.

I like to mix the Down up with other cues. For instance, today when we were working on recalls I added a couple of downs, just as a change-up. It helps to keep things fresh.

Arthur is doing pretty well with his random downs. And today, he made his first catch.

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Puppy Boot Camp, Day 20 – GSD – One Way To Fix Coming When Called

The German Shepherd puppy called Dom has been with me for nearly three weeks. He is now five and a half months old. His recall, while vastly improved, has only gotten to about the 60% mark. When he does come, at times, it’s slow. When I call the dog’s name, I want to see an immediate response.

Since he is a fearful dog, I have used all positive methods in his training and avoided using many corrections. This is especially important with the recall. You never want to discourage or scare a dog who is supposed to be coming to you. It’s one sure way to create a dog you can never catch.

I have been using other dogs in training Dom and the results are very good. It puts a competitive spin into the exercise, as well as offering tantalizing distractions that are good for proofing.

While I take the other dogs out walking, I call them, too. This shows the pup that others respond to my voice, and also teaches him the names of his “roommates”.

Dom gets a bonus when Jasper doesn’t make it to me fast enough. This gives Dom added incentive for paying attention to me and what is happening around him.

When Jasper succeeds, everybody wins, although Dom is more interested in chasing his idle, Til the Border Collie.

It’s a good example of how Dom would rather pay attention to the border collie than to me. He does come when I call him… Sometimes.

When he’s good, he’s really good. Other times, he’s like, meh.

I’ve had to take Dom back to kindergarten. Since he came with the name, Dom, he was already kinda conditioned to ignore it. So I have started retraining him with another name, Top. Since this is an entirely new word for him, he is responding much better to it. He has to identify it amidst all the other names.

This Name Game is a great way to introduce your dog to whatever word you want to use to call him in.

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 19 – GSD Pup Learning to Stay

The saga of Dom, the fearful German shepherd puppy, continued through this morning training session when I decided to introduce the notion of staying put.

It isn’t too difficult for most puppies. For the ones who have confidence problems, it is asking more because the pup tends to want to cling to you and move when you do.

For some reason, he has issues with this exercise. It didn’t help that I slipped up and said the word, “No” during one of the times he got up. That was all he could handle. He heard that word and fell apart. I was in no way stern with him, but he squatted and started peeing when I said it.

Despite my attempts to bring him back from that dark place, he kept quitting on me and went to lie down in his crate. He was shutting down.

I decided to give him a time out, rather than just allow him to wallow in his crate, so I put him outside. He was sad out there, too, until Til went out to join him.

After that, it was back to normal.

I’ve identified several triggers by this time. They are the word “no” when training, and talk about pee, both of which cause him to fall down and give up. Other triggers which incite his aggression are little kids and certain adults, mostly adults wearing hats.

By keeping him focused on the job at hand I have managed to bring him out of his reactive state. I think it’s going to take more work.

We went to the farm store to train the “stay” and as I suspected, he handled it there better than he did in the kitchen. I used high value treats; some bits of lamb roll. Despite the sad morning he did remember what he learned there, just the beginning concept of Stay and he allowed me to back away from him a couple of steps. When I am at the farthest point away from the dog, I click and then return with the treat. I like the dog to maintain eye contact during this time. If he is watching me he is less inclined to be distracted by things that might tempt him to move.

Once the dog is consistently staying in place for a couple of seconds, I might change direction as I move away from him, stepping to the side or moseying around behind him. I always back away from the dog. During this early training, if I keep facing him, it lets him know that I am not really leaving him and that his job is to just wait for me.

Now working up to greater distances, five steps away from the dog. I do an “uh oh!” no reward marker sound when he gets up. He is catching on to what that means and he is pretty crushed by it. This is a dog who needs to succeed.

In order to keep his spirits up, I play games with him between sessions, allowing him to run after me and jump up on me. This helps a lot.

Now that he is cheered up some, I give him another chance to succeed.

I can see by the way he responds to the word “Stay”, shutting his mouth for a second, that he is listening and comprehending the meaning.

I was happy that we made it through another store visit with no barking. There weren’t many people out shopping. When we were headed for the checkout line, I heard the unmistakable voice and clumping boots that meant a little kid was in the store. I abandoned the checkout line and made a beeline for the sound. Sure enough, as we turned up that aisle, the pup let out a soft, “Woof!” and I said, “No, there is no barking in here.”

He stopped instantly and we made another pass, down the aisle behind the kid and his parents. I was asking for attention and clicking and treating. The mother shouted out that it was a beautiful dog, so I stopped and asked her if she would like to pet him.

The boy was afraid of the big pup, who was nearly at eye level with him. He stood like a statue and made no move to pet the dog. Dom sniffed his chin and then came away. “He’s a shy boy,” the boy’s mother explained.

“It’s okay,” I said. “They both are.”

I find that the thing that has bothered me most about today is not the training or whatever mistakes were made. It’s the sadness in the dog. He is so serious. Some dogs love obedience because it gives them a sense of purpose. Just like with people, confidence grows with accomplishments. I don’t think obedience makes this dog particularly happy. He doesn’t live for toys, or even food. There may be a niche for him… Dock diving? Agility? Scent work? …I just don’t know what it is yet.

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 18 – Dom GSD – first bark-free store visit!

We hit a milestone today for the fearful German shepherd who rushes people and barks. By the way both his ears stood up briefly today. At 5 months he’s still too fuzzy to look too grown up.

My friend Cindy and I made a stop at Menards following a movie. We were accompanied by the pup’s mentor, Til the border collie. Cindy handled Til in the store.

Dom made it through the shopping trip without barking or nipping at anyone. He did meet several people and allowed petting. He did a couple of sits and downs. I carried no food, and they didn’t hand out treats at checkout. It was a totally new location and no familiar people. Even Cindy was new.

I wish I could say that he skated through the whole day without barking, but when we first got to her house I had let them both out, off leash, to potty. Cindy stepped out the garage door and Dom ran in the garage up to her, barking aggressively. She stood still and told him to knock it off. He did stop and ran back outside looking for me. I told him, “There is no barking here.”

Now that he has a good idea of what to expect, I will start encouraging better behavior and normalizing encounters that don’t always involve food. I have been eliminating the barking attacks through a process called extinction; it means there is no longer a reinforcement for the behavior, so the behavior gradually goes away. (Any type of human reaction — screaming, jumping back, reaching to pet him, can constitute reward. The fact that the reaction is unpredictable and varies from person to person can be even more stimulating.) He has gotten very little reaction from the barking, even from people we meet, because I don’t react much. If the owner of the dog is pulling on the dog and yelling at the dog, it tends to elicit more of a reaction from the target person. By staying calm and not saying too much, the Handler is subliminally cueing the target person to do the same.

Now that the behavior is fading, and Dom is paying more attention to my words, I’ve started telling him to stop it. He cares more now about my opinion than he did when the training started.

That rush at Cindy was his last bark today. He had a long afternoon of riding around in the van. In the store he was well-behaved, no piddling either.

At the end of the day we took Cindy home. Til and Dom went with us into her house, then came out. I had left the back door of the van open and I told the dogs to go get in the car, and Dom immediately ran and jumped in even ahead of Til.

No throwing up in the car, no accidents, only one barking incident. We added one more marble into the scale of good experiences.

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 17 – Drilling Down On Dom GSD’s Aggression

The German shepherd pup Dom has been slowly evolving out of his barking habit. Over the past few days I have begun to tell him “NO” at select moments.

He is being bombarded with stimuli, and I let him work most of it out for himself. I don’t spend a lot of time coaxing or talking to him. I want my words to be meaningful, so that when I have something to say, he listens. I do give him a lot of reinforcement when I see behaviors I like.

Yesterday we went to visit some friends in Ann Arbor who have a pack of Kromfohrlanders, a breed which has enough hound to be adorable and enough terrier to put you in your place. We ended up getting stranded there overnight due to the ice storm. Dom spent the first night out of the crate and did just fine.

Dahlia, Dom and Til

Today on the way home we stopped at the farm store and resumed our traditional walking with the shopping cart. Dom thinks he has it all figured out, and had to be reminded that when he pulls too hard, the cart stops moving until he sits down.

The store wasn’t too busy but there was a little girl in a purple coat that seized his attention and he wanted to bark at her. We started following her around while I reinforced quiet.

Thankfully, the mom or grandma was pretty calm and didn’t seem to mind me using the child as a training tool! I didn’t spend a lot of time interacting with them or explaining anything. The idea wasn’t to saturate the puppy so much as encourage him to replace the barking with another behavior: Namely, make eye contact with me and lie down.

I wanted my “no” to mean something, so over the past seventeen days I haven’t used it very much. I wanted him to get familiar with me and learn to trust me. Meanwhile, I in turn get to know him as he evolves, and I trust him more, too. As the woman and child approach me, I attempt to walk him away from them, but they ask to pet him so I give up. I know, at this point, he is not going to bite the little girl. But he does “WOOF” in her face. It’s rude, and I call him out on it, and he immediately responds to me and stops. His fearful behavior toward her, if unchecked, could lead to bite incidents later. But at this point in his training he is confident enough to handle a reprimand without falling apart. So the encounter, while not ideal, is not unsuccessful and I hope that he will do better the next time. I am glad the mother is unruffled.

If these store visits seem repetitive, that’s because they are. However, every visit is different. The more he learns to conduct himself with dignity in the farm stores, the more these lessons will transfer to other locations.

We move into line behind the lady and child and Dom makes a couple of soft woofs. I don’t do anything, just waiting for a better choice. He turns to me and gets rewarded.

At this point, I am a little understated, staying calm so he doesn’t become more reactive through the correction. The aggression is being redirected to an incompatible behavior: Making eye contact with me, lying down.

I am not bending over backwards trying to get his attention. I’m not nagging or talking or pulling on him. I am staying quiet and just waiting for him to make the right choice, and eventually he does. I want him to get up in his head without prompting from me. Once he learns to think instead of react, he will be much less worried in situations like this.

Every dog is different. If you have a puppy with aggression issues, I urge you to research and find a behaviorist who uses positive reinforcement techniques.

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

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 15 – Dom GSD Gets Told No!

The title is only half joking. I don’t do a lot of corrections with a fearful pup because I am choosing my battles. I have been focusing on the positive side of the German shepherd puppy’s behavior, slowly bringing him out of his slump.

After he was saturated with people and dogs yesterday at the Winter Classic Dog Show, I decided it was time to start cracking down on the barking. This is going to happen progressively, because it is highly compulsive. You can subdue a dog’s barking using an electrical shock or a pinch collar, but when you suppress behaviors, they tend to eke out around the edges and it doesn’t solve the cause, which is a lack of confidence.

I would rather take away the dog’s reason to bark. In Dom’s case, it has involved working with him on attention exercises, getting him more interested in his job than in whatever boogeyman he imagines is coming to get him.

As he grows in confidence, his bratty side is coming out. The trick is identifying what is fear and what is brat. In a fearful dog, it’s really tricky. Dom barks at people defensively. But he saw a dog in the store and wanted to approach the dog. When he couldn’t get the dog’s attention, he decided to bark.

This I labeled “brat” and I told him NO.

He hated it!

I asked him to lie down, to give him a chance to succeed, but he folded up and resorted to his old go-to behavior, which was to check out. This is what happens when he feels helpless.

I didn’t help matters by laughing at him.

Dogs understand a lot of language. Some dogs will intentionally do things to try to amuse you. In Dom’s case, his insecurities are showing. It’s like any person who has the inability to laugh at himself. But sometimes, when you laugh, the dog realizes that the situation isn’t as bad as it seems.

We diffused the situation with some recall practice and some basic obedience stuff that he already knows. In this session, the dog wins. Yay.

Dom has a long way to go on his journey of self-confidence. But he had a good day. He played in the snow this morning, and this afternoon he went back to the farm store where he barked at people. It wasn’t his best training session, but he came out ahead. He is learning to get in the van on cue. Actually, the van is a sanctuary for him now, so he’s anxious to get in. It’s getting him out that is a bit of a trick.

One day at a time…

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 14 – Dom GSD – Heeling at the Dog Show!

Dom the German shepherd completed his second week at Boot Camp by visiting the Winter Classic dog show in Novi. The fearful pup greeted people and dogs with a barrage of fierce barking when we arrived, but he quickly saw that there was way too much going on, and too many people to keep it up for long.

He is allowing people to pet him, but he is nervous and looking to me for reassurance. I just clicked and treated every time he looked at me.

I can’t begin to describe how good this experience was for him. An expo full of thousands of dog people, all different shapes and sizes, some scary and some not. Most of them just ignored him. Some came up and made friends. And through it all, he was getting reinforced for paying attention.

It was a lot of brain work. It was exhausting. There were moments where he just checked out, falling back into his old habit of flattening out on the floor and just letting life have its way with him.

The red shepherd is breeder Judy Long’s dog, Reba. Dom is lying at the bottom, a little overwhelmed, checking out.

But he could be talked into participating again, without too much trouble. I made sure he was good and hungry before we started, so I kept him engaged with clicking and treating, and even got him to do a nice heel at attention.

Dom wears a flat buckle collar. Today he graduated to a martingale. He has shown good potential for future free heeling and one day will be weaned off the clicker/food.

He is a great testament to how attention work can help a fearful dog. It works the same for horses, who have a natural flight instinct. Keeping focus on the task at hand, lots of praise, lots of reinforcement. Above all it is important to keep emotions out of it. Don’t worry about punishing the animal or correcting the wrong choices, just focus on the behaviors you are looking for, and they will multiply.

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