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Old 04-22-2012, 08:43 PM
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Join Date: May 2010
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Default Teaching a dog to learn

Granted I have tried too terribly hard, but my boyfriend's dog is proving to be a bit of a challenge in the "teaching stupid pet tricks" department and I would like to change that if at all possible.

She's a Lab/Spaniel mix, roughly around six years old. He adopted her when she was about one or two from a family that didn't want her any longer. Aside from some separation anxiety (that is now almost nonexistent) and bolting when she was let off lead (which he solved with an e-collar - her recall is now perfect if you can whistle [and I can't, so I have issues with her LOL]), she has had literally no behavioral problems. She is very well behaved and very well mannered. She's one of those dogs that doesn't really need training because she's just so gosh darn good.

But, while she's good...she's also, IMO, shut down. My boyfriend sees it as a good thing, because to him that means she's being obedient/submissive. I don't like it. It took me awhile to try to put a finger on it, but she is like a little soldier. She accepts everything you do to her and obeys what you tell her to do - but she doesn't offer any behaviors. She doesn't try to think, she just does what she's told. I don't know if that is normal, or if I'm just so used to Chloe's way of thinking and going about things I'm just having difficulty getting on her same wavelength, but I would love to see her actually start to think and learn and enjoy doing it.

Where do you start? I didn't think I relied on shaping (I'm more comfortable luring), and for basic commands that's true, but I never realized how much I've come to depend on working with a dog that thinks. If I want Chloe to figure something out and she offers a behavior that is suitable that behavior is marked and rewarded. If she offers a behavior that isn't what I want, she gets a no reward marker. She's able to think about it, offer new behaviors she thinks I might be pleased with, and then connect what works and what doesn't based on my response and I LOVE that.
Cynder's very smart, she just doesn't know how to offer behaviors. She defaults to something she already knows (sit) and...that's about it. If I pressure her in any way she shuts down because she thinks I'm unhappy with her. (And by pressure, I can even mean a no reward marker. Again, I'm so used to Chloe who takes that as an, "Oh, not that, I'll try this then" instead of, "Crap, I'm doing what I thought she wanted, but its not right and I don't know what else to do, so I'm just going to sit her and not move and see if she'll be happy about it".)

How should I go about working with her? Would it be best to just do some short training sessions with commands she already knows/partially knows and get her used to the entire training = game regime? And then maybe introduce her to shaping by teaching her a "trick" that is based off of behaviors she naturally offers? That way the only connecting she needs to do is that a behavior offered on a whim = treat?

I've just never had a dog before that doesn't like to learn. Even Rose (who is not the brightest bulb in the bunch) is enthusiastic when it comes to training sessions and enjoys trying to figure out what I want (even if she never quite gets there - she gets sympathy treats LOL).
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