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.