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Trick training and feeling disheartened

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Hi everyone!

Just posting as I'm wondering if anyone else has the same thing with their BC and was looking for some thoughts. 

I'm feeling really disheartened. I should say that to me my dog is the best dog in the world, but I feel really useless as a dog owner right now. One of my previous dogs (a terrier) could do agility, a crazy number of tricks and she could even read cue cards and do the commands written.  My collie just won't do anything like that.  He knows tonnes of commands, and listens to everything (the only time he ever ignores me is if he's going to get a drink or I'm trying to get him to do agility!) but he won't do certain sorts of commands. I don't know how to explain this but he knows 45 commands but they are things that all involve movement or obedience I guess like heel, turn, round, legs, flat, stop, roll over, back up, stay- that kind of thing.  He won't do (or I can't teach him) anything like paw or other simple tricks which makes me feel like the stupidest person ever since I feel like every dog in the world can do that but not us and it makes me feel really inadequate that we can't.

I have a suspicion that my high expectations/I am the issue and not him- he spent his early years as an abused farm dog, we always say he's very much a farm dog and not like the pet collies we know if that makes sense? When we adopted him we were told he would never be a normal dog but no one thinks that now as he's changed so much:)He loves to please and loves obedience type stuff and to be out and about doing stuff with me, but just shuts down completely if I try to do agility or trick training (he was abused in his previous life so I wonder if when he can't do things he just shuts down for fear of punishment. I have never and never would hurt him/punish him but his previous life has left its mark on him.)

Or maybe he's just not that kind of dog? Does anyone else have a collie who won't do agility or trick training?

Am I the problem here? Am I expecting too much from him? Am I doing the equivalent of trying to get someone to like ballet who wants to do karate? Should I just focus on what he likes like hiking and stop trying to teach him things? Would be really interested to hear what you guys think.

He is so good off lead and out and about, so obedient and great in the house and really empathetic (I have ASD and mental illness issues and struggle out and about so he does some service dog type commands for me (he isn't an actual service dog though.) Am I being stupid being upset because we can't do tricks? 

Conversely, does anyone think I can teach him paw? Does it really matter? The more I write this the more I think it doesn't matter but I'd be really interested to hear if anyone else has a dog like mine...I always hear about collies who love agility and tricks and things and never about ones who don't!

Sorry for the long post!

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Teaching a dog a certain specific trick is not necessary, of course, and if for some reason a dog just hates to do a certain thing, then I never insist on it because the training always needs to be fun, not a chore or set of hard commands. 

Now, in this case I'd want to know first how you are training. Hopefully you are using positive reinforcement and treats. If not, start doing things that way. I suggest if you are using treats then up the ante by using higher value treats, whatever makes the dog really want more. You also don't say how long you have been trying to train the dog to do the things he doesn't yet do. You may need just to be patient. Some dogs just  learn some things faster than other things.

I don't know how long you have had him, but it is also possible that he is just not yet fully accustomed to being a house dog instead of farm dog and doesn't understand that you are trying to teach him to do something that a farm dog would not be taught to do. If so, the same advice above applies.

If you work with this dog daily in short sessions using high value treats he may learn all you want him to. But he may never want to do agility; not all dogs like it. There may be a trick he won't do (I had a BC who wouldn't lie on his back for anything). But don't be discouraged or think you are bad at training, just keep at it. And if it gets too frustrating,  or if your dog seems unhappy with the process, just let that thing he won't do go and concentrate on the things he does want to do. Remember that the point is to deepen your relationship with the dog and have fun.

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Randy HATES anything agility like but Stanley likes backyard agility.

Don't feel inadequate all dogs are just different, Randy is stubborn and ornery but I love him.

So please just enjoy your dog, he totally sounds like a winner. :rolleyes:

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Two things.  One:  my first BC was from a rescue courtesy listing.  She came from a loving home, was never abused, and I swear it took her 2 years or more to adjust.  My theory on that is when you adopt a dog that had a hard life, they are many times "grateful";  in this case, she was plucked from her home and landed in mine.  I think she was confused and maybe even resentful.  Ah, but she did adapt and turned out to be an awesome agility dog.  The fact that you've stated how he has come along so far says that he is adjusting well, and he still may be adjusting.  Two:  my two 11 month puppies are litter mates with totally different personalities.  Started them both out in agility ground work from the time they came home.  Both seemed to love it.  Then, one day, Parker was still loving agility and Piper, not so much.  She did, however, love to go out in the yard and track the scent of anything that went through the yard.  So she is now in a nosework class and loves it!  I haven't written agility off for her in the future -- maybe when she gains more confidence and maturity.  For now, this is working for her. 

So, it could be that your dog may come around and eventually like the trick training -- or maybe not.  Maybe he just has a different personality and will excel at something different (much like people).  For those reasons, try not to compare your new dog to the old one.  They are different dogs with different personalities and you need to find the ways your new dog will shine.  And by the way, I think it is awesome that he knows 45 commands - and most of those are important commands that most people would love to have their dogs know and obey -- so by far, you have already done an excellent job with this guy! :) 

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Find something that he does naturally and reinforce/reward that action. For example, does he tilt his head? Something very simple. When he does that natural, simple thing, give him his favorite treat. Don't say anything. If/when he does it again, treat again. (I'm sure you know by now to use tiny smidges of yummy stuff for treats) With any luck he'll start 'performing' for you. You can give the action a name and put it on cue.

You don't say how long you've had him. Maybe he's still settling in to being a house dog/pet. I wouldn't worry about it. He might never be into doing tricks, but he sounds like he's a great pet and wonderful hiking partner.

I had a dog who had been terribly abused. She was suspicious and took a long time to trust me. When she'd sit, I'd toss her a treat. She was too shy for me to give her a treat directly. She was also very, very bright, probably the smartest dog I've ever known. After the second or third treat toss, she'd come a few steps closer to me, and then the next day a bit closer still, until finally she'd come to wherever I was, sit at my feet, and woof in a very restrained fashion. From that point on we were golden.

Ruth & Gibbs


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You are not a useless dog owner! The way you describe how well he is adjusting means you are doing a great job!

When I tried to train my dog Molly indoors to do some tricks she would try to climb into my lap. After a couple of failed sessions I gave up, because it wasn't fun for either of us.
I recently picked it up again, because Molly was getting discouraged at stockwork training because she felt everything was a correction. The advice of my trainer: start teaching her all kinds of things at home so she learns how to learn. 

Some things I discovered:

- training outside while on a walk really helps, I think it puts less pressure on her somehow
- she needed more direction from me - I now tell her a kind "no, try again" which has helped her to try more different things and eventually get the right thing

Perhaps a more "informal" training type would help or a different training style. A couple of kids once tried to teach Molly paw, but she would just flop down instead and invite them to pet her belly. I think she didn't really understand what they wanted from her, but wanted to do 'something' for them and knew most kids like it when she lays on her back. Those kids demanding paw, even though they were very kind and tried to show her what they meant, was just a bit too much pressure. Now on walks I ask for a couple of commands and then release her, she can run a little bit and usually comes straight back for more. 

I hadn't realised before that all the "regular" stuff I taught her I had taught her outside or in a certain context (sit before feeding or leaving the house), but really never in such a "formal" way in the living room. You know, like Kiko pup or other trick training videos show you on youtube. 
How did you teach all the other commands? It could be that trick training is slightly different. Maybe you are sitting when you are usually standing, things like that.

Some thoughts on agility: my dog is hesitant to jump onto things, (over things no problem). I asked her once to jump onto a chair and she tried to crawl on it, which was hilarious. We jump on and over things together now, which I started by inviting her up on something low I was standing on. She is a lot more sure of herself now and will jump on more difficult surfaces where she has to balance herself more. 
I don't know much about agility, but have read on these boards about first doing foundation exercises, maybe that is a place to start - if it is confidence related. But it could of course be he just really doesn't like it. There's no cure for that:P


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What was said above. A lot of great suggestions.

Re: agility. I now try to use a game training approach to teaching agility. All (or as much as possible) of the 'teaching' is done through games. A lot less pressure on the dog to PERFORM since he thinks he is just playing with you.

And with regards to trick training, sometimes one has to just ask for the tiniest bit of incremental performance toward a completed trick. Many people try to achieve too much of the final behavior. For example: give a paw. Usually people will expect the dog to pick up the paw or will grab the paw before treating. I have sometimes grabbed the paw to show the dog what to do. It may or may not work. Try to think outside the box. Perhaps just a weight shift from one paw to the other is enough in the beginning. One dog I taught to wave (similar to giving a paw but higher) by holding the treat next to his nose so he tried to bat at it to get it. Worked fabulously for him. Not so much for a couple of other dogs.

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