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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Puppy Boot Camp Day 13 – Dom GSD – One Secret To Successful House Training

It was the German shepherd puppy’s first real snow day! He was completely smitten. Well, once he figured out that he should go out in it. He stopped at the open door first, and looked, and looked. Just what is all this cold white stuff?

It took the guidance of his canine mentor, Terrible Til the border collie, to convince Dom that he should step outside. Once he did, that was it. Snow is great!

I guess winter is one time that dog owners don’t feel too sorry for our pets. After all, there is a lot to be said for indoor plumbing. But regardless of the time of year, I have a lot of pet owners who tell me that their dog spends so much time outdoors, then comes back in and immediately relieves itself.

Though often attributed to pure spite on the dog’s part (not true) this mystifying behavior causes a lot of frustration. There is little comfort in knowing it is not uncommon.

The secret to solving this problem lies in two parts:

  1. A designated area for pottying.
  2. A designated time for pottying vs. play.

In playtime, that is all the dog does. Some dogs just can’t focus on getting the job done when there are toys to chase or other dogs to run with, or there is a new snowfall. So if your dog has been outdoors for an hour and you let him in, he may very well have a full bladder.

When he comes in like that, he should go straight to the crate for about ten or fifteen minutes, just enough time to settle down. He then must be taken BACK OUT, to the potty area, and told to relieve himself.

I know, I get it. That sounds like so much trouble! But, guess what. You have a puppy. He is four and a half months old, or even older, before he can even control his bladder for a significant amount of time. Then, he becomes an adolescent, with other things going on. So the sooner you establish a space and reason for an outside trip, the sooner you will be able to trust your pup with more and more free time in the house… And the sooner you can relax.

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Puppy Boot Camp Day 12 -Dom GSD Taking a Big Step

Day 12 started off like some of the others with the walk out in the Back Forty, practicing the recall and some attention training.

Dom’s responses were slow due to him having a full stomach. Note to self: don’t give a dog breakfast before walking, no matter how cute he is. It took a little extra energy on my part to get him interested in coming when I called. The good thing is he is learning to keep one eye on me.

This might not seem like a big deal but I was really happy to see him playing with a stick today. Toy drive is a good thing but even more importantly it shows me that he is learning how to be a dog. Play is a significant part of building confidence and learning to interact.

That was the first part of his day. The second lesson was this evening when he had to walk in town for the first time on leash by himself.

He had been deathly afraid of traffic and vehicles in the past so I had waited some time before trying this. I wanted to make sure he knew what was expected as far as walking on a loose leash and that he had placed enough trust in me to get him through it. He was pretty distracted at first but I just let him get used to the idea and then reinforced every time he looked at me so he understood that it was another attention exercise like in the store.

As we proceeded I just waited for him to get cognizant of the fact that I was there with him and let him figure it out. Sometimes it can be like watching paint dry but giving fearful dogs control of a situation can be a great way to help them build confidence. Besides we weren’t in a hurry to go anywhere.

His attention started to improve as our walk went on and he noticed that he was getting treats for looking at me. I was changing direction every time he forged ahead and pulled on the leash. The one thing that distracted him was the sight of other people on the sidewalk and he went off on them. I was able to pull him away from The Barking phase and even got him doing some sits and downs.

As we came up the side street he spotted another group of people on the corner and I started a game with him where I was running away from him and letting him chase me and jump up on me and we wrestled around a little bit. That cheered him up. I asked him to sit and he did but he was very distracted. I decided at that point that we should walk past them and around the corner so he could see nothing bad was going to happen.

So we got ready and we did a fast walk the group and got around the corner but unfortunately we had an unpleasant surprise after we got there.

So the creeping up behind us had him spooked and rightly so and then the group followed us down the street and they were whistling to him and laughing.

So there was nothing else to do but call it quits for the night. I’m not one of those trainers that believes you always have to end on a high note. Sometimes it’s okay just to cut your losses. I think overall the evening walk was a success.

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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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