An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?
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    An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    I'm beginning to think my GSD mix, Atlas, is simply untrainable. Now, I know that immediately shoots off red flags in many trainer's minds, because most dog owners who say their dog is too stupid to train are just to stupid to train their dog.

    Here's a bit about Atlas: He was rescued as a 3-year-old from animal control because a family found him wandering on the road, took him home and put him in their house with their cats before making sure he wasn't animal aggressive. He ended up killing two of their cats so they surrendered him to animal control. I adopted him aware of this situation, and since I don't like cats, keeping him away from them is not a problem for me.

    Now, I honestly think this is perhaps the dumbest dog I have ever met. He knows his name, but that's it. I have taught him "sit" at least 30 times, but the next day, there's just no recollection of any training I've done. I read up on dog intelligence tests and decided to perform a few of them - one was "throw a towel over the dog's head and see how long it takes them to get it off". Loki, my other GSD mix, removed the towel in about 2 seconds. Atlas wandered around with it on his head, running into things for about 10 minutes until he finally gave up and laid down like "oh well, I guess the world is dark now".

    Another instance of stupidity was when my dad took a slice of lime and threw it to Atlas - Atlas caught it and promptly spit it out. My dad picked the slice up off the floor and threw it to Atlas again - he caught it again and spat it out again. He did that 5 times in a row before my dad just quit throwing the lime, but I'm sure he would have continued catching it.

    He's otherwise a great dog. Potty trained, thank goodness, good with people, doesn't chew things... I just think that he is plain dumb. Am I just approaching his training in the wrong way? Has anyone else had experience with a dog that was just naturally dumb?

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    I knew an Irish Setter like this. He was just the sweetest thing ever and a complete joy to be around. They didn't train him for specifics, just developed good behaviors... slowly. I can't think of him now without a smile and remembering how silly he was.

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    Well they can't all be Einsteins :-) Just like people, I think the intelligence of dogs varies widely. Growing up we had several dogs, some smart as a whip that learned things the first time around. Then there were others who were just goofy and didn't have a lot of common sense. All were lovable and loved, though. I'd say that if he's grasped potty training he can't be completely stupid, though. That does take some "putting 2 and 2 together". How long have you had him? The whole learning-thing might just be very foreign to him, so if he's still new to your home he might come around later on.

    About fetching the lime... have you considered that maybe he was just being obedient or really wanted to play, even though it tasted yucky to him? Maybe he thinks YOU guys are the dumb ones, LOL ;-) "WHY do they keep wanting to play with this nasty thing? Oh well... humans... sigh... gotta do my canine duty."

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maggie Girl View Post
    Well they can't all be Einsteins :-) Just like people, I think the intelligence of dogs varies widely. Growing up we had several dogs, some smart as a whip that learned things the first time around. Then there were others who were just goofy and didn't have a lot of common sense. All were lovable and loved, though. I'd say that if he's grasped potty training he can't be completely stupid, though. That does take some "putting 2 and 2 together". How long have you had him? The whole learning-thing might just be very foreign to him, so if he's still new to your home he might come around later on.

    About fetching the lime... have you considered that maybe he was just being obedient or really wanted to play, even though it tasted yucky to him? Maybe he thinks YOU guys are the dumb ones, LOL ;-) "WHY do they keep wanting to play with this nasty thing? Oh well... humans... sigh... gotta do my canine duty."
    I've had him for over 2 years now and he has never displayed anything even near what I'd call "trainability". I forgot my mention he runs into my glass door at least twice a day attempting to chase squirrels, because he forgets it's there.

    I think he just has a different kind of intelligence than the kind humans prize in dogs. While he can't really be trained to do a job or even tricks, if I dropped mine and my father's dogs in the middle of the wilderness, three of them would have no chance of fending for themselves. Atlas, on the other hand, I am *sure* would survive in the wild. He is a very instinctual dog, I think.

    Just wondering if anyone else had any experience with dogs like this, and if they had any tricks for training them? I'd simply like to be able to tell him to sit, stay and lay down and have some sort of response

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    Senior Member osdbmom's Avatar
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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    we dont think our little yorkie is terribly bright but we love her anyway!! we joke that if she was human, she'd actually be "the dumb blonde" in all the dumb blonde jokes.....her whole life appears to be skipping around and she looks like all thats ever going on in her head is "la la la....la la la". But thats ok. she's a good, lovable dog.

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    Well, I would say my dog, Hoku, is also not the sharpest tool in the shed. But, she is extremely sweet, and I guess smart in her own way. She does walk well on a leash (which is a learned behavior), is house broken (also learned behavior) and sits on command when she feels like it... I am pretty certain if she was left to fend for herself in the woods, she would die. She has pretty much almost NO prey drive, yesterday she took after a cat, the cat stopped, turned and hissed at Hoku, who promptly jumped backwards, laid down and crawled towards the cat on her side...

    I also tried the blanket over the head deal with her, and all she did was stand still for a few minutes, then lay down and settle in for a nap. The one good thing with this is that Hoku is really easy to dress up for Halloween, she will wear hats, headbands, masks, tutus... I guess she just figures if we put it on her, it must the right thing, so why fight it?

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    Wow. What a disturbing thread. If a dog isn't learning something a particular way, then the trainer needs to try something differnt rather than declaring the dog stupid.

    If the poor dog is hitting his head on the door, then put some stickers on the door so the dog can see something is there. Or put up some type of barrier to keep him from running into the glass or supervise him when he is outside. Don't just let him keep running into the glass.
    Have you considered that the dog might have some vision issues. Why go straight to "stupid" when many other issues could be at play. Maybe he just has a strong prey drive and get tunnell vision when he goes after something. You can work with prey driving using the Premack principle.

    When obdedience training, If a lure sit doesn't work, then try a capture sit or down . If a capture sit doesn't work then try successive approximations.

    Or take the dog to vet to see if he has some hip issues which makes sitting or laying down painful. GSDs and Akitas get hip issues. Especially GSDs. Why not assume the dog has a physical issue rather than jumping right to "stupid" Give the poor dog the benefit of the doubt. He is looking to you to take care of him.

    Maybe the dog was catching the lime because that he thought that was was your dad wanted. Not all dogs can catch things in their mouth like that. You should be praising that and using it as a basis to teach more tricks, not contantly picking on him by throwing him something that tastes bad. Why not throw a tennis ball and praise him when he catches it? Why be mean when you can be nice?

    If the dog is distracted, then remove distractions and work you way up.
    Try some tastier treats.

    Consider proofing: http://blog.mysanantonio.com/latrend...and-dog-parks/

    Physically manipulating a dog takes away from learning. Never ever push on the butt to teach sit. Never tug on a leash to teach down.

    Never yell or bark out commands. Keep training, light simple and fun.

    Sit http://blog.mysanantonio.com/latrend...ur-dog-to-sit/
    Down http://blog.mysanantonio.com/latrend...your-dog-down/
    Touch: http://blog.mysanantonio.com/latrend...our-dog-touch/


    It's way easlier to blame the dog than to look at different styles of training.

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    Senior Member lil_fuzzy's Avatar
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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    How exactly have you trained him? Some dogs need more incentive than others to do as they are asked, because they do it for what they can get out of it, not out a desire to please. So if you taught the dog to sit using the 'push dog's butt down until he sits', and you don't have a biddable dog, then no, he's not likely to learn anything from that.

    Have you tried luring or shaping/capturing?

    Most dogs declared 'stupid' just learn things a different way, or are difficult to motivate because the owner hasn't found anything that motivates them yet.

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    Quote Originally Posted by Puddin's Training Tips View Post
    Wow. What a disturbing thread. If a dog isn't learning something a particular way, then the trainer needs to try something differnt rather than declaring the dog stupid.

    If the poor dog is hitting his head on the door, then put some stickers on the door so the dog can see something is there. Or put up some type of barrier to keep him from running into the glass or supervise him when he is outside. Don't just let him keep running into the glass.
    Have you considered that the dog might have some vision issues. Why go straight to "stupid" when many other issues could be at play. Maybe he just has a strong prey drive and get tunnell vision when he goes after something. You can work with prey driving using the Premack principle.

    When obdedience training, If a lure sit doesn't work, then try a capture sit or down . If a capture sit doesn't work then try successive approximations.

    Or take the dog to vet to see if he has some hip issues which makes sitting or laying down painful. GSDs and Akitas get hip issues. Especially GSDs. Why not assume the dog has a physical issue rather than jumping right to "stupid" Give the poor dog the benefit of the doubt. He is looking to you to take care of him.

    Maybe the dog was catching the lime because that he thought that was was your dad wanted. Not all dogs can catch things in their mouth like that. You should be praising that and using it as a basis to teach more tricks, not contantly picking on him by throwing him something that tastes bad. Why not throw a tennis ball and praise him when he catches it? Why be mean when you can be nice?

    If the dog is distracted, then remove distractions and work you way up.
    Try some tastier treats.

    Consider proofing: http://blog.mysanantonio.com/latrend...and-dog-parks/

    Physically manipulating a dog takes away from learning. Never ever push on the butt to teach sit. Never tug on a leash to teach down.

    Never yell or bark out commands. Keep training, light simple and fun.

    Sit http://blog.mysanantonio.com/latrend...ur-dog-to-sit/
    Down http://blog.mysanantonio.com/latrend...your-dog-down/
    Touch: http://blog.mysanantonio.com/latrend...our-dog-touch/


    It's way easlier to blame the dog than to look at different styles of training.
    I sort of understand your reaction to this thread as disturbing, as you and I are just members of an online forum and you don't know me at all personally. So I will address your issues with myself, my training behaviors and my treatment of my dog.

    Firstly, I attached a black, horizontal piece of electrical tape at dog eye-level to the door so that both of the dogs are aware of a barrier. He simply runs into it anyways, because I believe he is so highly prey-driven that when he sees a squirrel (or anything else), that is ALL he sees.

    Seeing as he can catch a single kibble that I throw from 20 feet across the room, I highly doubt he has any sort of vision issues.

    I have attempted working with his prey drive, and there is simply *nothing* this dog would rather do than chase and kill small furry animals. When he sees a prey animal, there is no distraction that will work - I have waved raw steaks in his face and he hasn't blinked an eye or showed any interest in anything but chasing the prey animal he sees. It is tunnel vision like I have NEVER seen in a dog before.

    As I have both of my dogs screened every 6-8 months for general health issues, such as teeth and hip problems, I know that his hips are entirely fine.

    Like I said, I understand your reactions, but instead of automatically criticizing my approach to this particular canine, instead maybe you should ask what I've tried or where I'm coming from? My other dog, Loki, is incredibly well trained - he does all the usual tricks, plus much harder ones, including fetching me the remote control, recognizing the difference between his toys, and more. I am very able to adapt my training style and attempting new techniques, as I've trained Loki and my father's dogs, all who have very different training needs.

    Anyways, I didn't start this thread for a critique of my training or ownership, as my dogs are happy, well exercised and mostly well behaved. While I would like to further my relationship with Atlas by getting him to master some more advanced training, I simply think that it's not in the cards with this particular canine.

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    Thanks for clearing up some things for me. And thanks for being so attentive to your dogs medical needs. I know a lot of people who glaze over when they hear the word "vet" like I'm speaking another language.

    Strong prey drive does not equal stupid. You will just have to learn to work with it (like the Premack Principle). And/or work harder on proofing.

    I have a dog who is very scent driven so she is harder to train that my other dogs, but I don't consider her stupider than my other dogs.
    Ref: Why Won't My Pug Herd Sheep?

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    The statement I hear more times than any other when dogs are dropped off for training is "My dog is stupid"
    Dinosaur Dog Trainer


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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    Am I missing something? The dog seems like he's intelligent and a survivor. I wonder if he has such a strong prey drive, because that is how he survived and ate when he was in the street ?

    So I agree with Puddin's methods - teach him to catch on cue, and then teach him the names of the things that he catches. One of the important reasons for teaching a puppy "Sit!" is to teach him that English has meaning and related behaviors have good consequences. Teaching Atlas a little more, should make it easier to teach him the basics, with a little more patience. You may find that you can teach him a few more advanced behaviors, before he understands all the simpler ones.

    BTW, my dog is intelligent, trained... and occasionally obedient (more or less), however, he would be happy to commit suicide in order to chase a squirrel across the street :-)

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    Perhaps you could use that prey drive to your advantage. Instead of rewarding him with food, try rewarding him with a game of tug? Or spray rabbit scent on a toy? Maybe use a flirt pole?

    I think a lot of the time, dogs that come off as stupid just aren't very motivated because their owner hasn't figured out yet what is most motivating for that particular dog.

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    OP have you ever considered getting into something like lure coursing? Give him a healthy outlet to chase and use his drive?

    I have a stupid dog. I say that with no small amount of love, and I honestly have never gotten to the bottom of why he's my little rock. We've discussed it a few times on chat, but Jonas literally barely knows how to sit. He is not stupid, but I have never found a way to teach him any thing. He has been x-rayed because I assumed Dachshund = spinal issues and every thing looks good. I thought once he knew how to speak on command, but really he was just barking at the treat in my hand not so much the cue. He's good on lead, he has learned a lot and come a LONG way behaviorally, and he's over all a good boy. I guess I am just not obsessed with the idea of him being able to lay down or sit when I tell him to but it is baffling.

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    Trust me I'm not stranger to 'stupid' dogs....Cain is a complete R-tard in the canine world. He's the dog who ran, as fast as he could to the end of the leash and flung himself around. It took him 10+ tries to realize that he couldn't get anywhere, it took only one try for mommy to tie him to something solid while he did. This is also the dog who makes this face:



    Eventually he learned leash manners, simple obedience, a few tricks...and that the fridge wouldn't kill him (seriously...he use to be terrified of the fridge)

    Have you tried to get perfessional help, maybe someone can help you figure out what he needs.

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    Senior Member spotted nikes's Avatar
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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    Quote Originally Posted by Trillian View Post
    Trust me I'm not stranger to 'stupid' dogs....Cain is a complete R-tard in the canine world. He's the dog who ran, as fast as he could to the end of the leash and flung himself around. It took him 10+ tries to realize that he couldn't get anywhere, it took only one try for mommy to tie him to something solid while he did. This is also the dog who makes this face:



    Eventually he learned leash manners, simple obedience, a few tricks...and that the fridge wouldn't kill him (seriously...he use to be terrified of the fridge)

    Have you tried to get perfessional help, maybe someone can help you figure out what he needs.
    I LOOOVVEE that face!!!
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    Senior Member GottaLuvMutts's Avatar
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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    LOL, this thread is starting to crack me up. And at the same time, hardening my resolve to always own the most intelligent dogs I can find. As a training junkie, I can't imagine how frustrating it would be for me to own a dog that just couldn't learn.

    I just wanted to add one thing to my earlier post...
    I firmly believe that just as with humans, learning begets learning in dogs. In other words, a dog must learn at a very young age how to learn. An understimulated puppy is going to result in a dog that might get labeled as stupid. Socializing a puppy to anything and everything will challenge them mentally, resulting in a dog that falls near the top of the heap in terms of intelligence. Nature (genetics) dictates that we are born with a possible range of intelligence; where we fall within that range is largely determined by nurture (upbringing).

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    Member Elida's Avatar
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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    this is painfully funny..
    I just tried the blanket thing myself and that is what Barney did exactly, lol
    Bella got rid of it in a few seconds. I thought it is coincidential and put it again. She lied down too

    And then I tried to show a biscuit, put it on the floor and then put a cup over it, to see how many seconds it will take them to get the biscuit.
    Bella got scared of the cup and ran away. Barney smelled the cup and then sit again for me to hand him the biscuit.

    At least your dog is catching when you throw things. Mine just keep looking at me to hand them the stuff I just threw (if it is food, no interest in toys)!

    They know sit and shake, that is pretty much it. But as soon as I say sit, they both show me their paws
    I don't think they are stupid, I got them when they are adults and we don't know each others' language!
    They learn very easily from negative experiences.
    Like when I opened the door and Bella was behind it and I hurt her paw..
    She never gets close to the door when she hears me, waits in a safe distance.

    I love them soo much, wouldn't change a single thing about them, even if they are retarded
    (ok, maybe just one thing, and that is to be trained to play fetch!)
    Last edited by Elida; 06-28-2011 at 02:43 AM.

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    Quote Originally Posted by GottaLuvMutts View Post
    LOL, this thread is starting to crack me up. And at the same time, hardening my resolve to always own the most intelligent dogs I can find. As a training junkie, I can't imagine how frustrating it would be for me to own a dog that just couldn't learn.

    I just wanted to add one thing to my earlier post...
    I firmly believe that just as with humans, learning begets learning in dogs. In other words, a dog must learn at a very young age how to learn. An understimulated puppy is going to result in a dog that might get labeled as stupid. Socializing a puppy to anything and everything will challenge them mentally, resulting in a dog that falls near the top of the heap in terms of intelligence. Nature (genetics) dictates that we are born with a possible range of intelligence; where we fall within that range is largely determined by nurture (upbringing).
    Agreed, I have been working with some dogs at my local shelter, and have come across 5-6 months old puppies that know absolutely nothing, and it's so difficult to get them to understand that they can actually earn rewards just by doing certain behaviours. And of course that's a huge confidence killer as well, because a dog that knows nothing feels like it has no control over its own world. It's very sad.

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    Re: An untrainable dog? Is he just too dumb?

    Quote Originally Posted by GottaLuvMutts View Post
    I firmly believe that just as with humans, learning begets learning in dogs. In other words, a dog must learn at a very young age how to learn. An understimulated puppy is going to result in a dog that might get labeled as stupid.
    Absolutely! I used to work with handicapped children and what a waste it was that education did not begin for them until the age of 5. So many parents were overwhelmed by them, took take of physical needs only, and by the time our programme received the children, many had already retreated into their own world. Some could not be retrieved. Early intervention is key.
    I knew nothing about dogs when raising my Golden, she turned out to be a great dog in spite of me, so I know that she is intelligent. (I think I understood basic concepts of training from working with children though. Patience. Consistency. Repetition. Redirecting unwanted behaviours, Reinforcing the positive.) I am pretty sure she would have continued to catch limes too. She's highly biddable and people-pleasing, but not at all stupid. The OH's Jack is incredibly bright, but also a little stubborn and also distracted by prey drive. When you have his attention though, I think you could teach him to balance your chequebook.
    Willow- Golden Retriever b. Aug 6 1998
    Jack- Jack Russell Terrier b. may 5 1999
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