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Old 08-15-2014, 09:46 PM
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Default Training is Oddly Stressful

This is Ulysses. He is approximately five years old and spent a month in the Orange County Shelter after coming in as a stray. The front half of him is Australian cattledog and the back half of him is Australian shepherd.


Ulysses is extremely anxious like many stock dogs, but when overwhelmed he just sort of blanks out. When he first came out of the shelter he was damned near catatonic. He is my foster, and my job is to turn him into a functional dog with my reactive/spazzy dog training skills. I've had Ullie off and on since mid-May, this time I've had him for almost a month and he'll be here until he is ready for an adoptive home.

Low-key, all positive, no pressure training is stressful for Ulysses. When he's relaxed he is very food motivated, but training is somehow not very relaxing.

Clicker training started something like this:
Me: *click*treat* (repeat 20x)
Ulysses: "Sitting here eating one piece of kibble at a time is too much pressure, I need to wander off and stare vacantly for a while."

This evening Ullie was reliably targeting my hand with his nose, so I attempted to pair it with a voice command.
Ulysses: *nosebonk*click*treat* *nosebonk*click*treat*
Me: *anticipating nosebonk* "touch"
Ulysses: "You said a word, and I think it means you want me to do something, and I don't know what you want me to do, so I have to stare at the wall and have a scratch now."

Ullie is always off leash and in the house when this happens, he can leave anytime he wants and there is no pressure on him at all. Still, the mere possibility that I expect him to do something seems to stress him to the point of checking out. He is also strangely afraid of targeting objects, even if I'm hold them. Getting clicked and treated for sniffing the completely retracted extendible pointer I use for a targeting stick is somehow aversive.

I'm fortunate that Ullie does default to sitting and looking at me when he isn't completely shut down, though he is often too nervous to offer any other behaviors. In a month we've worked from a near-panicked fidgety sit to a ten-second sit-stay with zero distance/distraction. He has a down (sometimes) and nose targets but immdiately stops offering either behavior if I try to pair it with a word.

I'm not frustrated with him, I just feel so bad that training stresses him out. (This is a totally stressed out picture of him, he has a gorgeous intense focus that I get glimpses of now and then.)

Last edited by pinkspore; 08-15-2014 at 09:48 PM. Reason: Added another picture because pictures are cool.
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Old 08-15-2014, 11:59 PM
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I had a student dog like this not long ago. Adult Scottie, hands down the most sensitive dog I've ever known. She was the same way, any hint of expectation and she statued.

What finally worked for her was lots and lots of play. Scatter, the Treat Tossing Game (tm).

...............O................
x------------------------>------x

Trainer (O) stands facing the dog (>). Alternatively toss treats to the left and right (x) so the dog runs back and forth in front of you chasing and eating treats. As he's turning back from eating Treat A, he should see Treat B skittering away the other direction.

Sounds complicated, not that difficult in practice. Toss treats for your dog to chase and eat. It gets the dog moving, chasing, and eating, but it's predictable, and the trainer is hardly a part of the game so there is no pressure.

My Scottie client went from hesitantly plodding to a treat on the floor to bounding and pouncing in about 20 treats.

When the dog really loves the game, you can start adding in just a little bit of control, wait for eye contact or a sit or even just an ear flick. Your rate of freebies should still be really high, like no more than one toss in ten should have control. For this kind of dog.
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Old 08-16-2014, 08:38 AM
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Maisy can be a tiny little bit like this, but nowhere near as extreme. She I used to think she was being "stubborn" but eventually I realized she was checking out when she would disengage and suddenly become fascinated with sniffing the ground. Heck, it's not that uncommon for people to shut down and do nothing when they're overwhelmed by how many things are on their to-do list.

Anyway, a couple of things helped her. One, keeping training very short and with a LOT of play breaks. She's one of those dogs for whom praise and attention are just about as rewarding as food or toys, so it was both a fun break for her and a nice reward/motivation to keep her engaged. Two, free shaping helped her a lot to build some confidence. Just the simplest end goal, broken down into as many steps as I could think of. Three, stumbling into a sport she loves (in our case, joring) made her overall confidence just blossom. That she got involved at all was complete serendipity, so I got lucky there.
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Old 08-16-2014, 12:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sassafras View Post

One, keeping training very short and with a LOT of play breaks. She's one of those dogs for whom praise and attention are just about as rewarding as food or toys, so it was both a fun break for her and a nice reward/motivation to keep her engaged. Two, free shaping helped her a lot to build some confidence. Just the simplest end goal, broken down into as many steps as I could think of. Three, stumbling into a sport she loves (in our case, joring) made her overall confidence just blossom. That she got involved at all was complete serendipity, so I got lucky there.
All of this ^^^^^

It's what has worked best with Rigby as well
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Old 08-16-2014, 06:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Raegan View Post
What finally worked for her was lots and lots of play. Scatter, the Treat Tossing Game (tm).
Sounds like fun! We'll give it a go. Was your client scottie always waiting for something bad to happen? Ulysses looks like he's pretty convinced the world is about to end, and he would like some snuggles before the impending doom.

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Three, stumbling into a sport she loves (in our case, joring) made her overall confidence just blossom. That she got involved at all was complete serendipity, so I got lucky there.
I always wanted to try joring! I even have an urban mushing harness for Brisbane. Naturally he hates wearing it and hates pulling. Also dog scooters are kind of expensive and hard to find locally, and we're pretty sure snow is a myth around here so skijoring is right out. How did you manage training with a checked-out dog? I can't imagine hitching Ullie to a scooter without first teaching him stop/go/left/right/line out, and he's a very long way from knowing enough to participate in any kind of sport.
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Old 08-16-2014, 09:49 PM
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Scatter is not going according to plan. Apparently the only reason kibble is worth eating is because it comes from my hands, once it falls on the floor it becomes worthless.


Free shaping is also not going according to plan, he sat there and stared at me fixedly for the next 5 minutes before laying down. Upon receiving treats and praise and petting for this behavior, he sat back up and stared at me without moving for the next 15 minutes.

I guess I don't know how to free shape a dog that doesn't actually do anything. Am I being too impatient? What am I supposed to be doing while I wait for him to move?
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Old 08-16-2014, 10:35 PM
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Originally Posted by pinkspore View Post
How did you manage training with a checked-out dog?
Oh, that's where the luck mostly came in. Pulling was immediately its own reward and nothing else mattered, she doesn't check out while joring. But yea it was just all dumb luck that happened to work out great in other areas of training, really.

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Originally Posted by pinkspore View Post
Free shaping is also not going according to plan, he sat there and stared at me fixedly for the next 5 minutes before laying down. Upon receiving treats and praise and petting for this behavior, he sat back up and stared at me without moving for the next 15 minutes.

I guess I don't know how to free shape a dog that doesn't actually do anything. Am I being too impatient? What am I supposed to be doing while I wait for him to move?
Ha, that's almost exactly what Maisy did the first time I tried to free shape her. It was actually back when I started doing the tricks of the week here, the first trick I did with her was the one were we tried to teach them to close a door. I was actually using the drawer of a small end table. We stared at each other for 15 minutes. As I recall, I think I finally cheated and scuffed the table with my shoe to get her to look at it so I could click and treat. Never did get her to close it but I did get her to the point where she would bump it with her nose.

He'll get better at it. Some dogs need to learn how to learn.
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Old 08-16-2014, 11:02 PM
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Oh, that's where the luck mostly came in. Pulling was immediately its own reward and nothing else mattered, she doesn't check out while joring. But yea it was just all dumb luck that happened to work out great in other areas of training, really.
But how did you get to the point of having her pull? I thought about taking Ullie out with my bike, but since he has zero training I'm not anxious to hitch him to a thing with wheels and then put myself on that thing. Sorry if I sound obtuse, I'm just trying to imagine how to train brakes/steering while the dog is already running, and my brain is only coming up with bloody crashes and runaway dogs.

We tried the scatter game again, this time with hotdog bits. It seems Ullie just finds kibble boring, because he was totally up for chasing hotdogs as long as he saw me throw them. After that he would come over and sit and wag his nub furiously at me, and occasionally do a lap around the kitchen to look for missed hotdog bits. I guess it makes sense, he won't bother getting kibble out of a puzzle toy either.
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Old 08-16-2014, 11:51 PM
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Originally Posted by pinkspore View Post
But how did you get to the point of having her pull? I thought about taking Ullie out with my bike, but since he has zero training I'm not anxious to hitch him to a thing with wheels and then put myself on that thing. Sorry if I sound obtuse, I'm just trying to imagine how to train brakes/steering while the dog is already running, and my brain is only coming up with bloody crashes and runaway dogs.
I never had to teach her to pull, that was the dumb luck. In fact, getting her involved at all was a desperate attempt to try to encourage Squash (who was originally going to be my sole joring dog) to pull, because she was always an incorrigible puller on leash walks. Basically, she is just a natural born puller and lead dog, and she taught him to pull and keeps him in line.

In any case, you start out doing the training for commands on foot. The book Ski Spot Run is a great resource for this. The book is about skijoring as a whole but the principles of teaching the commands are the same for all joring.
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Old 08-17-2014, 12:57 AM
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I guess what I meant was, how do you teach them to turn, stop, and not eat other dogs/people while pulling? I don't think I'd feel comfortable having a completely disconnected and reactive dog running out ahead of me with zero obedience skills and meeting other people/dogs head-on, or running alongside traffic. Maybe I just have extra-horrible dogs?

I've read a bit on scootering but nothing on skijoring. I only ever see snow after driving 100+ miles to the tops of mountains and I've never heard of anyone cross-country skiing here. Teaching the commands on foot makes sense, I did it with Brisbane when I still had ambitions of scootering with him. He just didn't find pulling at walking speed to be remotely rewarding and refused to participate.
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