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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A month or so ago I posted a short story about my history with my dog and my desire to be able to effectively use a tug in training my dog. I received a lot of very good information on tug and training calm.

The dog I'm writing about is a pit/mutt who I found on the street when she was about nine months old. She is fearful, anxious, and reactive. I have built a good relationship with her thus far despite many mistakes with training collars and general management mistakes.

I eventually gave up on tug and trying to train the dog all by myself and hired a "balanced" trainer who was recommended by my vet. The user Canyx urged me not to use this trainer because she relied on punishment as her primary method of training. I said that I could no longer debate the issue and needed some relief from this stressful relationship with my difficult dog. I said that I would update after I was through with the training.

I'm back to say that Canyx was absolutely correct. I allowed this trainer to teach me how to use a choke chain to heel my dog. She handled my dog and roughly "trained" an abusive heel that immediately shut the dog down. At first I thought that although I was uncomfortable with the technique, I was able to walk with this dog calmly and in control and that this would be an improvement in our lives. The dog looked like a miserable mess and I couldn't ignore it.

On the second training session my dog went after the trainer for delivering a leash pop during a heel (the dog was muzzled). She ends up hanging the dog until she stops attacking and tells me that the dog has reactivity problem with hands. She says that she needs to be desensitized to hands. Ok...

Third training session I handled the dog the entire time and heel her around the trainers dog and do an exercise in which I approach the trainer so that she can make eye contact with my dog. She instructs me to hang the dog up as soon as she reacts. This happened twice with the dog going over threshold and me hanging and walking away when the dog stops. The dogs reaction was mild compared to her attack towards the trainer when she corrected her during a heel.

Final training session. I arrive at the trainers house and she says let me see what you've been working on. I heel the dog around her basement and tell her to sit. She lays down which I never really worry about because she has a damaged hind leg. I also don't think she fully understands the difference in a sit and down. This is unacceptable to my trainer and when I refused to correct her into a sitting position she took the leash and pops my dog into another attack towards her and then hangs the dog. She proceeds to heel and hang my dog for another few minutes before finally telling me that sometimes you need to swing the dog on the choke chain in cases such as this. I refused and I wish I had stopped her sooner. We politely decline any further interaction with this trainer.

The level of ignorance I witnessed from a certified professional dog trainer from a well known training school is absolutely unbelievable.

So here I am back and still struggling to train and manage my dog on my own.I have abandoned all training collars. I am currently reading Scaredy Dog and BAT 2.0. I am giving my dog a long vacation from corrections and working with some free shaping, luring, and playing fetch with my dog on a daily basis. I have moved my mailbox off the porch and covered my windows with Gila film to avoid reactions to passing humans and dogs. I'm focusing on teaching calm so that I can deal with the reactivity at some point.

While I am trying to manage my dogs life and make it as peaceful as possible, there are issues that I need help with. Basically, I can have this dog engaged with me while I have a bait bag and rewards or playing fetch, but she is going 100 miles an hour. I stopped using my verbal marker as often and started using a clicker thinking that maybe I have too much excitement in my voice. It helps a little but the problem remains that I don't really know how to reach a true calm state while rewarding with food. She has very little impulse control if I don't have food on me. Also, there are certain situations that I don't believe I can alter with food such as teaching my dog to stop playing with a cat. I'm spending way too much time dealing with her playing with the cat because I'm afraid she will knock him across the room and the cat doesn't enjoy it as much as she does. Also, the loose leash walk continues to evade me. I can mark her as she turns back towards me while walking but I find that I can't seem to teach her to yield to the pressure of a flat collar. I use chicken as my training treat and feed canned wellness if that makes any difference.

I appreciate any advice. Thanks again Canyx for your advice when I first posted.

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I'm sorry you had to go through it to realize it wasn't right, but I'm glad you could recognize it wasn't helpful for you and the dog and are now seeking a better method!

Where are you training calm? In the house, right now? Have you heard of "sit on the dog"? Basically, the dog is leashed and you just sit quietly until the dog finally lays down, then you reward. Then you work on even more calm signals (rather than lying alert, the dog shifts to their hip; eyes are not quite so large). We did a version of this for Quill as a puppy, and most recently it was how we worked on calming down between reactivity work in his reactivity training class. Now, whenever we are out working on his reactivity (we go to a large park where we can stay a good distance from everyone, but also work up to getting closer) we incorporate this as well. If he's getting too worked up, we just sit until we reach a calm state again.

I would also recommend impulse control training being incorporated into multiple aspects of your daily routine. I don't know your whole situation, but are you able to work on leave it/stay/etc when it comes to going outside, getting fed, playing with tug toys, etc? Quill gets so excited about things, we do a lot of impulse control. Excited to go outside? Sit and be calm or the door is shutting. Excited to play tug? Don't just grab the toy from my hand, wait until I give you the okay or the toy is going away. Etc. With playing fetch you can even work on it.

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I'm sorry to hear that you had such a horrible experience. I would call that abuse, not training. It is disgusting that methods like that still exist.

Honestly, I would find a qualified trainer to help you set foundations. I know that your dog currently will take treats. But it sounds like she is unfocused at worse, flighty at best. Common 'side effect' of dogs who have only learned to respond to pressure and it makes them frantic in training sessions. If she were my dog, I would not prioritize 'skills' like loose leash walking and such. With the challenges you already faced with your dog, plus the traumatic experiences she had, I think the focus should be relationship building, teaching your dog to love training again, and learning how to use motivational rewards in an effective way.

You can look on the CCPDT website for trainer recommendations in your area. Not all CPDT trainers are great, but CPDTs at least sign a code of ethics and you can be sure that they will build a foundation based on positive reinforcement. Failure to train following their humane hierarchy means losing their certification. Other good certifications to look for (in terms of training ethics): KPA (Karen Pryor), PMCT (Pat Miller), CTC (Jean Donaldson), and probably some others but these come to mind first.

Best of luck! And good job keeping your dog's welfare in mind.

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6,232 Posts
After seeing what my squirrelly reactive dog has accomplished with Karen Overall's Relaxation Protocol I suggest looking it up and using it. Since it's written down it takes a lot of pressure off you as a trainer. If dog is able to complete the exercise then move on if dog cannot then repeat and quit if dog cannot complete that part of the day's exercise. It's down stay training on the face of it. Bucky went through with only a couple hiccups and can actually stay on his mat if I go out of sight, knock on the door, open it and pretend to have a conversation. Amazing. I do a couple minutes if he gets over excited on walks to calm him down. I'm going for approximations of calm here and it keeps getting better.

She's very likely over threshold most of the time. Dogs have trouble eating or paying attention if the environment is overstimulating. Try white noise in the house as well. Bucky was quiet at night until the window fan was no longer in use. He needed that little bit of noise so the sounds of the night didn't bother him. I hate white noise but I hated his sudden outbursts at 2 and 5 am more!

Can you keep her away from the cat completely? When I introduce a new dog I keep them separated until they are basically ignoring one another.

Not sure what the problem with the LLW is. Try Silky Leash maybe? I've never and probably should try it. Bucky is a tough case, seems to enjoy bouncing to the end of the leash like it's a trampoline or something. I have to take a step and halt rather than reward random numbers of steps as one does with normal LLW clicker training.

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To start, don't be too hard on yourself. You're doing the best that you know how, and that's all we can do, really. It is so, so hard to look back at obvious mistakes and acknowledge that you first, ignored good, sound advice, and second, that a decision you've made has made things worse.

If you have the funds/time, it sounds like you'd benefit from Amy Cook's Management for Reactive Dogs class and Julie Daniels' Empowerment class. You'd probably fine some useful things in Dealing with the Boogeyman too, but it doesn't run until December. Empowerment and Boogeyman, especially, are full of really good information even at the Bronze level.

Kikopup also has some really great videos for a lot of things. She has some good tips for teaching loose-leash walking:

And for how to capture calmness:

A few other general tips:

- Food can absolutely send dogs over their arousal threshold. (I have one of those!) In that case, try using something less valuable than chicken. Not so boring that the dog doesn't care about it, but not so high value that their brain melts. It's hard to train a dog who's brain is falling out of their ears because the available rewards are so valuable they can't think about anything else.

- Don't feel bad about your loose-leash walking being terrible. It takes a LONG time to teach, and requires pretty much absolute consistency, which is extremely hard to do. There is nothing wrong with using a management tool like a front-clip harness to reduce her pulling so that you can still get out for walks and 1) have some control and 2) not worry as much about ripping your arm from its socket.

- About your dog still being excited - it sounds like she is pretty young still - under 2 yo? I know it's not much comfort when she's chasing your cat, but with time, and practice, (
and maturity she'll learn to be calm(er). It's interesting to me that you indicated that she is anxious - IME hyper-responsiveness and an inability to settle can be symptoms of anxiety. Personally, I think it may be worth seeking out the advice of a veterinary behaviorist - many of whom do long-distance consults - and start to consider the possibility of anti-anxiety medications, even if her anxiety isn't (yet) debilitating. (I feel pretty strongly that medications should not be left as a last resort.)

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A few additional suggestions:
1. Bond Based Choice Training by Jennifer Arnold: If you have trust issues with your dog, you can do food sharing exercises. Get some cubes of cheese, sit on the ground, take a bite of cheese, and offer the remainder to the dog. That's it. Have the dog take the cheese nicely, don't feed any other people food, don't feed the dog from the table or while you are cooking. Using this sharing on your terms, and only for a few minutes a day. You can also use carrots, broccoli, or green beans. The sharing helps to build a calmer, trusting relationship.
2. It's Yer Choice by Sue Garrett: Search for this method on Youtube and Google. It is a simple as closing your hand to teach a dog to take treats gently, or closing the door to teach the dog to Sit before exiting. Many, many applications.
3. Training with Kibble - rather than treats, offer kibble as training rewards. If those are not high enough value, toss them.
4. Teach to catch a tossed piece of kibble: Many dogs can't catch tossed treats, toys, or balls. Some dogs will learn in about 10 - 30 min. with patience. Ask the dog to Sit or stand, and hand a treat to her. Next, move your hand up to the dog and offer the treat, like a slow, modified, underhand toss. Do it again, and say "Catch!" Say Catch, and toss the treat, trying to hit the dog between the eyes ... it shouldn't hurt ;-) Allow the dog to pick it up off the floor. Continue doing this: Say "Catch", toss underhand to hit the dog in a gentle, predictable arc, allow the dog to pick it up. If the dog doesn't try to catch after 10 -20 tosses, then stop. Try again later in the day, or the next day. When the dog tries to catch, try to keep practicing for about 10 min. and praise when caught ... stop if the dog gets frustrated or stops trying to catch.

Not sure why, but caught kibble tastes MUCH better than food in the dish ... and can be used as a training reward!
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