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Hi guys,

 

My girl is turning 1 in two weeks. She was a puppy with quite the instruction manual, but she turned into such a lovely dog.

 

I've been wondering about some of her behaviour during training:

 

No matter what training I do with her, she starts off very enthusiastic, but after a little while it seems like she's not enjoying herself as much. My question is: Should I be training in a different way? What can I do to make training more fun for her?

 

About three months ago I started her on sheepherding. I do frisbee training with her every once in a while, very much focusing on ground work, not letting her jump. And of course we do trick training, play fetch, etc.

 

During trick training she's very impatient, barks, jumps, etc. When I'm proofing a behaviour, after three repeats, I actually see her face changing (lips up and face down in annoyance) and she refuses, does another trick, or just plainly looks away to avoid my cues. I train with food, and toys, both have the same effect. I don't use a clicker anymore: shaping her behaviour with a clicker is a sure way of getting her demotivated in under a minute.

 

During frisbee, she is motivated for a short while, and after a few minutes she goes off sniffing. I have tried everything with this, from very high energy training, to bringing food in the mix, etc.

 

She loves her sheep herding sessions once a week. She starts shaking in the car when we take the exit towards the training fields. However, same thing here, she goes ballistic for a few minutes, but when it's time to start working together, it takes all the fun out of it for her. We're working on lie down / walk on. Whenever I give one of the commands, she just looks away, tries to sniff grass, eats poo, wines at me, whatever necessary to get out of the commands. Once I let her run around the sheep again, she's all happy / energetic again.

 

The thing is: she's really energetic, very very smart. So it's not like she's a dog that is content with lying around in the house all day.

 

Could this just be adolescent behaviour? What can I do to make training more fun for her?

 

Thanks!

 

 

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This is a stressed dog. Everything - looking away, sniffing, turning her face away - are avoidance behaviors and stress signals.


I don't know how you're training or for how long, but my advice would be to make it shorter and make it more positive. Stop early. Reward often and enthusiastically, ideally with play, or food. And I repeat, if she will do 3 minutes before she stresses, stop at 2. If you're using corrections, ANY corrections - even a slightly stern no during training (on this particular dog and right now while she's so stressed) STOP.


Make her having a good time the priority for you for a while. Ask for a command, throw the ball 3 times. Ask for another trick, give her a cookie. Ask for a third, play tug. Whatever, be positive and happy and reward her with things she enjoys. Otherwise you're going to end up with a dog who won't work with/for you at all anymore, because she's shut down entirely.

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One thing that worked well for my girl Lyka was shaping behaviors intead of luring. If you aren't familiar with that method there are lots of YouTube videos on it. If you don't already have a clicker or a marker word you will need one.

 

The way I heard shaping explained that made the most sense to me is imagine it like taking a picture of every little step of a new trick/behavior not just the finished product. For example if I wanted my dog to stand on a chair, first the dog needs to look at the chair, then move towards the chair, then put a paw on the chair, then another paw on the chair until they have all 4 paws on the chair. They don't just appear on the chair. At first click or use your marker word whenever the dog even slightly turns towards the chair then feed a high value treat in the direction of the chair. Do this no more than 10 times then stop training. In a minute or two you can come back and start again (Don't try and shape something for more than 5 minutes total a day at first, after 5 minutes you are done with structured training for the rest of the day.) After the first 10 times up the criteria by waiting until the dog adds something to just barely turning their head such as turning their head more or holding their head in the direction of the chair for a second longer. The entire time you aren't asking the dog to do anything. You are just hanging out quietly with treats and a clicker if you're using one. You can just stare in the direction you want your dog to move or stare at the body part you want them to move. Maybe day one you only get the dog to look at the chair. The important thing is the dog is successful at something even if you don't go straight to the finished product in a day or two. The more shaping you do the more the dog will catch onto the game and offer more behaviors faster.

 

Something else to think about is if you are using a method other than shaping try not to let your dog be wrong more than twice in a row or they will quickly lose motivation. If your dog was wrong twice in a row, such as laying down when you ask for something else, you should have them do something easy to let them be right like a sit or nose touch to your hand then reward before trying the original thing again.

 

Also as said above never correct your dog for being wrong in training. Just ignore unwanted behaviors.

 

I also recommend the book "When Pigs Fly", by Jane Killion I believe. It has lots of great things about motivating a dog to work with you.

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This is a stressed dog. Everything - looking away, sniffing, turning her face away - are avoidance behaviors and stress signals.

 

I don't know how you're training or for how long, but my advice would be to make it shorter and make it more positive. Stop early. Reward often and enthusiastically, ideally with play, or food. And I repeat, if she will do 3 minutes before she stresses, stop at 2. If you're using corrections, ANY corrections - even a slightly stern no during training (on this particular dog and right now while she's so stressed) STOP.

 

Make her having a good time the priority for you for a while. Ask for a command, throw the ball 3 times. Ask for another trick, give her a cookie. Ask for a third, play tug. Whatever, be positive and happy and reward her with things she enjoys. Otherwise you're going to end up with a dog who won't work with/for you at all anymore, because she's shut down entirely.

 

Thanks for your tips!

 

I thought of the same thing. My sheepherding instructor says the same thing as well. When it all becomes a bit too much, or we're using a new breed of sheep, this behaviour is more intense.

 

During training I try my very best to keep it positive. I am guilty of what Cass C says: that I let her be wrong more than twice in a row at times, and sometimes use a gentle No during trick training.

 

Only when she's doing things she shouldn't, outside of training (jumping up when greeting for example), I sometimes am a bit stern, but she's not very impressed by that. At least not in the sense that she's showing the same stress signals.

 

Might be a good idea to shorten the sessions. I'll try that for a while. And I'll remove No from my vocabulary :)

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There are dogs who just don't *do* wrong very well. The dog in the middle of my signature is one. She simply cannot handle not being able to figure something out. With her 'errorless' learning as much as possible is key, and if she doesn't gt something on the second attempt, i do some fun trick I know she likes (spin, for her), then try the other thing again, only broken down further and made easier.

 

She just gets very, very pathetic and sad if she's not getting something - and stressed. Confidence has come along nicely over the time we've been training, agility and tricks and lots and lots of successes have built up a bit of a buffer (sort of like a piggy bank. If I put in 50 "YAY"s for her getting it I can get one 'nope' no reward marker), but it's been years to get to the occasional 'nope' not flattening her.


It's okay. I adapted, she got happier.

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Great advice and just what I was going to say. :) She's stressed and needs shorter sessions.

Remember, she is still very young and every dog matures at different rates. Keenness does not always equal an ability to take on the stress of instruction. So definitely keep it short. If she can only go 5 minutes, then 5 minutes it is. Better to take time and let her mature at her own speed now than risk burning her out or causing stress behaviors later.

Another great piece of advice I recently heard was that NO is not a good command because it fails to give the dog any advice. It tells the dog it's done something wrong ... but it doesn't tell the dog what it should do instead.

Shorter sessions, enough positive feedback to keep her focused and happy, and remember - any words you say should be giving her advice. Best of luck! :)

~ Glora

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Gibbs is like this, too. I've learned to do a few reps, (5 or less) then do something silly for a minute with him. He loves for me to rub his rib cage vigorously then stop. He turns in a circle, wagging his tail and grinning like crazy, then gets in position in front of me for another rib rub. We go thru that routine a couple times, then he's ready to take more cues.

 

Stop before you think you need to is what I've learned with him. Makes training a lot more fun for us both.

 

Ruth & Gibbs

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Love these answers.

 

Cptjack: "She simply cannot handle not being able to figure something out."

 

This is my dog, in one sentence haha.

 

Thanks again for everyone's advice! I've read them through carefully and I'm gonna try and implement most of what you're saying :)

 

Still don't quite know how short sessions are gonna work during sheepherding lessons, but I guess we'll have to work very hard at keeping these very very positive.

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Love these answers.

 

Cptjack: "She simply cannot handle not being able to figure something out."

 

This is my dog, in one sentence haha.

 

Thanks again for everyone's advice! I've read them through carefully and I'm gonna try and implement most of what you're saying :)

 

Still don't quite know how short sessions are gonna work during sheepherding lessons, but I guess we'll have to work very hard at keeping these very very positive.

I don't have much sheep herding experience, but I don't see why you can't just take a quick break in a session if your dog is just failing over and over. Let them do something right a few times then back to learning.

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Love these answers.

 

Cptjack: "She simply cannot handle not being able to figure something out."

 

This is my dog, in one sentence haha.

 

Thanks again for everyone's advice! I've read them through carefully and I'm gonna try and implement most of what you're saying :)

 

Still don't quite know how short sessions are gonna work during sheepherding lessons, but I guess we'll have to work very hard at keeping these very very positive.

 

 

Simple. Keep it SHORT. Like I said, if 5 minutes is all she can take, then make it 5 minutes. Are you taking lessons from a trainer? Tell them what you see and tell them you want shorter sessions. Simply work her a few minutes then put the dog away for a little rest, and come back in half an hour or or an hour to try again. If the trainer doesn't agree ... It's your dog. Never let anyone force you to do something that goes against your gut feeling.

 

Remember, you're not in a hurry for anything. You're not late for anything. Your dog is not on a timeline for anything. Training is not a timed event. Better to do lots of little, positive sessions now than struggle with a lasting problem or loss of confidence in your girl later.

 

Best of luck, and please keep us posted! :)

 

~ Gloria

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I haven't read any of the replies yet, so I beg pardon if I repeat anything.

I ran into a bit of this with Bandit. I found with him, very early on, that more than two repetitions of the same behavior quickly demotivated him. He either started offering something else, or he would start to tune out on me.

What I basically did was to stop all repetition. After one or two reps of something (unless it was something that was clearly "building" to him), I would break off and either play with him, toss treats for him to chase, or just switch up what we were working on constantly.

That did the trick. Over time, as we built a strong reinforcement history, he became far more resilient.

Now I can repeat things much, much more - he has the mental wherewithal to handle it constructively.

We take Rally class, and at first, we could not work a whole course without me completely breaking off to play with him, with a toy, several times. He has built up to being able to go through an entire course with just food, no breaks other than stopping for a treat, and now we are reducing those.

It took a lot of time, though, and a lot of working things in teeny tiny bits.

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Simple. Keep it SHORT. Like I said, if 5 minutes is all she can take, then make it 5 minutes. Are you taking lessons from a trainer? Tell them what you see and tell them you want shorter sessions. Simply work her a few minutes then put the dog away for a little rest, and come back in half an hour or or an hour to try again. If the trainer doesn't agree ... It's your dog. Never let anyone force you to do something that goes against your gut feeling.

 

Remember, you're not in a hurry for anything. You're not late for anything. Your dog is not on a timeline for anything. Training is not a timed event. Better to do lots of little, positive sessions now than struggle with a lasting problem or loss of confidence in your girl later.

 

Best of luck, and please keep us posted! :)

 

~ Gloria

 

Thanks Gloria, this makes a lot of sense.

 

My trainer is actually quite aware of her behaviour. We had a session yesterday and talked about this in depth. The tactic now is: when she wanders off, disengages from the sheep, we don't call her back. We just let her have her moment alone. I lead the sheep somewhere else slowly, and the movement usually gets her going again. So it's in her own pace. It becomes sort of a playful thing instead of an obligation to work. Hopefully :D

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Thanks Gloria, this makes a lot of sense.

 

My trainer is actually quite aware of her behaviour. We had a session yesterday and talked about this in depth. The tactic now is: when she wanders off, disengages from the sheep, we don't call her back. We just let her have her moment alone. I lead the sheep somewhere else slowly, and the movement usually gets her going again. So it's in her own pace. It becomes sort of a playful thing instead of an obligation to work. Hopefully :D

 

 

That sounds good! By ignoring the dog, you're taking pressure off her and that makes the decision to return to work that much easier. Also, sometimes if you can let sheep escape and run off a little, that can excite the dog to return to work. Keep us posted! :)

 

~ Gloria

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