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Andrew Z

Generalizing basic training

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HI. I have an almost 10-month old female, from a working mother (cow farm) in the Austrian Alps. I got her at 3 months and have been training her alone, using various books and videos. I am not using her as a stock dog though. I have a few questions. 

When I have her in our enclosed yard (which is quite large) she does pretty well on things like recall and stay. (Probably over 75% of the time. This rate increases when she has a 30 foot long leash on. For whatever reason the long lead makes her more obedient.) She is excellent at Frisbee catching and chasing tennis balls, bringing those back almost 100% of the time. (Again, she is better when dragging the long leash around.)

But when I take her outside our enclosed area, to some nearby fields, she basically seems to lose it all. I never let her off the long line, but even then the recall drops to about 50%, and she has zero interest in fetching stuff. She is just really distracted, even though I keep going back to basically 2 locations every day, thinking that she would eventually get used to the smells and sounds there. Well over 4 months it hasn’t seemed to make these places any less interesting. She just runs around sniffing things, and tries to chase every car that drives past.  What can I do to improve the obedience and interest in fetch in these places, which aren’t exactly new, but also are different from her daily environment? I try to do 3-4 sessions of training each day, 5-15min long, working on all the basics, usually once in our yard and then twice in these other fields. I do recall, stay, fetch, (as well basic tricks like spin, rollover, stand… all of which she loves and apparently that sort of thing is good for bonding?)

(In general she is super friendly, we have three teenage kids and she loves rolling around with them, rarely biting or even nipping, playing tug, offering her paw, etc, so I think she has a good temperament. She also has a fairly large (40 ft x 15ft or so) outdoor cage/run so she gets her exercise in between, plus we do a mile-plus walk or jog every day in addition to multiple random games of fetch etc.)

Her obsession with cars is another issue which might be related, but I have been doing intense desensitizing work over the past month and am seeing slow improvement. I do this on the street in front of the house and have been able to move from having her chase (or try to chase) cars from 50ft away, behind the fence, a month ago, to now being able to resist lunging when about 10-15ft away, and not behind a fence. But again this is all in one specific location. When on our daily walks in other locations, when a car comes past (usually we see only 3-5 in a mile) she goes nuts and just about strangles herself on the leash. How can I generalize this better?

thanks

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Welcome to the Boards. It's a good place to come for help.

I really think the only way for her to generalize these things better is for you to practice them over and over again in as many different locations as possible. But start at the beginning for each thing, like you're just beginning to teach her. With the cars especially it means you'll have to start at a further distance, below her threshold.

I know it sucks, but it can be a long process for some dogs.

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What Gentle Lake said. You don't say how you reinforce her actions when she does obey. Do you use praise, a food treat of some kind, or something else? Whatever you use, up the reinforcement 'value' by quite a bit when you're out and about. I use food treats when training a new behavior, or a known behavior in a brand new location or type of location.

When reinforcing a recall or 'come' command, I tend to start with really high value food treats. Bits of cheese, dehydrated meat snacks, etc. Those can be faded, or given every other time, then every third time, etc. I believe that I should always acknowledge the recall with something the dog really loves, even after it's trained. This can be a good head scratch, (my dog looooves having his his head and neck scratched) a ball toss or a quick game of tug with a toy. Particularly in a new environment, with so many new smells and objects and noises and people I reinforce with extra pats, extra coo-ing noises, etc. Even in a place that's not new, but infrequently visited I reinforce with a bit more vigor. 

As far as generalizing the lunging at cars, if you have a friend who can help by driving by slowly in the newer location, (if it's safe to do that) then you can set your dog up to practice several times in a row, rather than waiting for a car to just happen by.

Good luck!

Ruth & Gibbs

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Another helpful tip with recall when out and about, make sure you recall, treat and then release, so she can go play for a bit longer.  That way she will not associate recall with end of fun.  I found that to be really helpful. 

I will also warn that she is at about the age of teenager-hood, where she may well seem to forget everything you have taught her, and you may need to start again from the beginning, even at home.  This is teenage rebellion and hormone interference.

I also second what Urge to Herd said about high value treats.  Find the highest value treats out there.  You can do an experiment (Are you home schooling your children at the moment? This could be made part of their science lessons!)  Get a range of treats from commercial treats, to cheese, to dehydrated meat, to sausage or cooked meat, to home made treats (like tuna biscuits) - whatever your dog has shown an interest in.  Place two treats down some distance apart, and see which she goes to first.  Record the results.  Then put two different treats down, repeat.  Once you have gone through all of the different treats, place two of the higher value treats down and keep going until you have found the top treat for your dog.

Having said all of that, with my boys, I suddenly found that some time between 12 months and 18 months, they settled down seemingly overnight, and became much more attentive and responsive.

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You've gotten some great feed back already. I'll just add to remember to try and only change one of the three Ds at a time (distance, distraction, duration)

When I started doing recall with my dog away from the house I started with her right by my side, when she'd look away I'd excitedly say "Winter Come!" And when she looked at me I'd take a big step back and feed her a tasty treat. This takes distance and duration back to zero so you can generalize the behavior around distraction.

I also don't use my recall word if I don't think she is going to listen. I want "come" to have a 100 percent success rate so I'll get a young dog dog moving towards me happily, however I have to, before I use my recall. (I might run away, making kissy noises, squek a squeaker) I don't recall a dog that isn't going to come back. And I don't want my recall word to predict me dragging her closer with a long line. I want recall to very cleanly mean get to mom Fast for something Great.

Also don't be afraid to really look like a fool when your dog does well. I think when we do a lot of solo training it's easy to be pretty low key but if strangers aren't giving me raised eyebrows I'm not making a big enough fuss over a challenging recall or other new behavior. 

My dog is almost 2 now and I'll still lose my mind with joy, run around, do all her favorite most exciting things for an occasional excellent response to a cue. 

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Agree with all of the above advice. And remember that at 10 months your dog is still a puppy. Worse, going into the "teenage" stage. :-)

Just keep at it, and utilize the advice above, and don't get disheartened. It may take a long time. Recall while in an interesting area is one of the hardest things to get to 100%. No matter how long it takes, just keep at it. You'll eventually have success. It once took me two years to fully train a border collie to do one thing. She was a very smart and good dog, one of the most obedient dogs I ever had, but this was a very hard thing because it was something she never wanted to do. I just kept at it and eventually she was so good at it that people were amazed.

(Just so it doesn't sound as if I were making her do something strange, the object was to be able to tell her "time out" and send her to a location where she would then stay until released. Not a difficult thing, but it was most often used when there were things going on that she really really wanted to participate in. )

 

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OK thanks everybody! Great tips here, and if I can summarize it all, I will just keep trucking, be patient, be aware that as a teenager she will have some bad days, use higher/highest value treats in the new/strange locations, and remember to only change one of D/D/D at a time... I tried with a new treat on Sunday (rinds of a smoked ham) and she went nuts and listened like never before within our yards and on a walk, so that was encouraging... 

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Treats at my house also include bits of fruit. G loves bits of apple, banana, etc. I don't give him grapes or raisins. Raisins, I've read somewhere, are not good for dogs. However, I treat myself to an occasional bag of dried cranberries and he LOVES those. I don't give him a lot of fruit, but the occasional tidbit he scarfs down.

Ruth & Gibbs

 

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