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Discussion Starter #1
Hi everyone,

I'm having a number of problems that are all cropping up kind of at once. I have an australian shepherd named Moro who I've had since he was 9 weeks old that is now 8 months old. I have been socialising him and taking him to classes since he was old enough to safely do so. Recently he graduated a basic manners class after completing puppy kindergarten. He gets along well with other pets and people and is friendly to approach strangers and strange dogs. However, the older he gets, the less interested he is in what I have to say.

I have noticed that instead of finding a dog that likes him that wants to play, sometimes he will fixate on a dog that does not want to play with him, get right up in that dog's face and bark a shrill, "demanding" bark, sticking to it like glue and annoying the crap out of it until that dog either finds the kutzpah to tell him off or gets called away and leashed by their owner. He will also play "police" and get between two dogs playing rough and bark them down in their faces. When he is fixated on these activities he is impossible to recall. I could have the tastiest cooked chicken in my pocket and he will not care. This has started to develop in the last few weeks to begin making me anxious taking him to the park, and my fears were realized yesterday when I brought him to the park and he decided there was a dog he wanted to play with that didn't want to play with him, the barking started, his owner got upset with me, and when my dog got within arms reach of this person he decked my dog in the face. I took my dog and went home and we are not going back until I can figure out what to do. His barking doesn't seem to be aggressive, there is no snarling, growling, or snapping, but it looks very confrontational and I can see why other owners watching this would get upset. It's like my aussie can't "read the room". What's worse is that his brain seems to just be on fire around some dogs and I cease to have control of the situation.

Suggestions welcome. I'm in between classes for monetary reasons and when I have money for class he will be taking individual lessons from a behaviorist. Until then I feel like I can't just sit and do nothing. He has an endless well of energy and without playing at the park I need to figure out how to keep him happy because at home he is an insufferable demanding and loud annoyance, and it's sucking the joy out of my ownership experience.
 

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Stop taking him to the dog park, preferably before he starts something that the other dog will finish.

Mental stimulation will tire him out as much as physical exercise. Maybe even more so. Just because you are between classes doesn't mean that you can't train on your own. Work on behaviors he knows, to polish them up. Teach him something new. Use food puzzle toys. Throw a handful of kibble into the grass, and let him search for it. Hide treats around the house for him to search for. Also, one of the best things you can teach him is to settle down and lie quietly. One good free resource for training ideas is the Kikopup videos on YouTube.
 

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In my intial post I indicated that I would not be returning to the dog park "until I figured out what to do". I have figured, now, that I should never return to the dog park. I naively assumed in my ignorance that dog parks were a great place to continue socialization of my dog, with other dogs and other owners, to get to chat with other owners and dog lovers, and allow my dog a leash-free outlet for his energy. I have assumed incorrectly; this is apparently a pipe dream. I have reached out to the trainer we enjoyed working with to get the ball rolling on what she recommends for us as a next step toward achieving Canine Good Citizen which was my ultimate goal when I brought this puppy home. I have to take a step back and continue focusing on improving my relationship with Moro so that he looks to me for leadership and guidance. My new plan is to continue reinforcing his recall and begin trick training for his stimulation along with not giving up on his retrieving a frisbee or ball. If I ever return to another dog park again it will be for distraction training while controlled on a lead, outside the park. We are also looking to have him neutered ASAP, because the location his training is at offers doggy daycare, but he is not eligible if he is intact. At daycare, he spends one full day being evaluated by their trainers, and separated into an appropriate play group with dogs that fit his play style, so that things like what happened to me at the dog park won't happen again. I feel this is the right choice for him unless after he begins daycare more reasons for him to not socialize with other dogs present themselves, in which case I'll re-assess if it's necessary for him to have play with other dogs at all. It would be a shame if that comes to pass since he seems to really get along with some dogs and play wonderfully when he finds a good friend and I'd hate for that to no longer be a part of his life, but what will be will be. I am likely over-stressing about all this. It really feels like in the last week or so, his problem behaviors have reached a fever pitch and I'm struggling. It doesn't help that his best outlet for blowing off steam is no longer an option and the road to serenity is paved with uncertainty.
 

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I naively assumed in my ignorance that dog parks were a great place to continue socialization of my dog, with other dogs and other owners, to get to chat with other owners and dog lovers, and allow my dog a leash-free outlet for his energy.
Have you considered training for, and possibly participating in organized dogsports such as agility?

I have to take a step back and continue focusing on improving my relationship with Moro so that he looks to me for leadership and guidance.
Again, agility would likely help a lot with the relationship, leadership and guidance.

A CGC is a great start, and an admirable goal. But things don't necessarily have to stop there. There are many other dog sports to choose from as well. Barn hunt, flyball, lure coursing, herding etc ... any of these will provide wonderful opportunities to satisfy you and your dog's 'social' and exercise needs.

Also, all of what LeoRose said. And perhaps try to set up private play dates with one or two known, compatible dogs in a safe, non-dog-park environment.
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Have you considered training for, and possibly participating in organized dogsports such as agility?

Again, agility would likely help a lot with the relationship, leadership and guidance.

A CGC is a great start, and an admirable goal. But things don't necessarily have to stop there. There are many other dog sports to choose from as well. Barn hunt, flyball, lure coursing, herding etc ... any of these will provide wonderful opportunities to satisfy you and your dog's 'social' and exercise needs.

Also, all of what LeoRose said. And perhaps try to set up private play dates with one or two known, compatible dogs in a safe, non-dog-park environment.
The training facility that I use is called Stone Mountain Pet Lodge in Minneapolis. They offer "FUNgility", which is designed as a low impact but not technically real agility. I would sign him up for these things, but I feel with what money I have, I need to spend it on getting him neutered and into a class that tackles his worst problem behaviors before I spend more other places. This is not ideal, none of this is ideal, I ended up needing to leave my job for terrible reasons and ended up in medical care for several months, in intensive therapy and still in therapy, and my funds are exhausted. I could not have predicted this and I'm doing the best I can... the vet Moro sees quoted $433 to neuter him and I have cried all day. The silver lining to this cloud is that it has given me the opportunity to spend most of his life so far nearly always by my side. I definitely want to do these wonderful things with Moro. But he does things right now that are making me suffer- he shrieks at me when he wants things and he seems to ALWAYS be in need of something, he reacts to dogs on walks by trying to pull my arm out of its socket to greet them, despite working daily on recall he still only listens some of the time... I need some help and I know these are fixable things but I'm just not understanding how to show him the correct behavior. The extreme demanding he does is the absolute worst. I could be in the middle of training exercises and if half a second goes by with no activity, say I'm breaking apart training treats so I have more, he will start shrieking or barking so loud it is painful. I think I can understand some methods of curbing these behaviors in theory, but my efforts are not being fruitful and I need someone's professional guidance. If agility is more strongly recommended as a way of correcting these behaviors then I will prioritize it, but on the surface it seems like something that, in the grand scheme of things, may wait until I have a handle on the things that are making me feel like I'm failing him and stressing me to my limits.

I have to keep reminding myself that things could be worse and he has lots of great training so far. His lineage is solid, his health is excellent, he had incredible socialization and stimulus from birth, all of which I feel have given me a great head start. He is not shy and loves strangers and lets anyone approach and pet him without fear. He is appropriate around my chickens. No sounds or touches cause him weariness or discomfort. He gets along wonderfully with my sweet, gentle older Scottish collie. He's very smart and learns fast when he's receiving good cues: he will sit, down, stand, wait for food in front of him until I say he can have it, "leave it" for goodies, bump his nose to my hands on command, stay in place until I release him, and very reliably come to sit with me of his own volition if I sit on the floor. He is not overly destructive and will take food gifts kindly. I have much to be thankful for. I have worked hard with him so that he has come this far and I'm hopeful that we can continue sharing success stories.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I feel like I should mention that I am an antisocial homebody that wanted a hiking and jogging friend. The breeder who produced him recommended 18 months for growth plates to fuse before doing things like taking him for a jog with me. That is a very long time, and while I was interested in exercising him with me on my outings, I apparently need to wait almost two whole years before attempting to integrate him into my active lifestyle. I want to do what is best for him and his health, but I also do not want to jeopardize my mental health and his by keeping him unsatisfied. This is truly a monumental challenge. I did so much research before choosing an australian shepherd as my companion. My collie does not handle runs or hikes well. It is not something she enjoys and it is obvious when I bring her for these activities. I chose this kennel because she was passionate about development of the breed, AKC showing, intensive health screening, breeding pairs that resulted in babes that had no genetic predisposition for diseases, and a dedicated passion for socialization and adaptation to any environment. Two years is a long time to wait for your companion to join you doing the things you love most. I only want the best for him.
 

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While you do want to wait until maturity before doing forced exercise, like biking and running, simply going on walks and hikes are good for young dogs, as long as they are given the chance to choose the pace and when to stop if they get tired.
 

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As you have figured out, dog parks are not a good place....for many reasons.
Some easy hikes won't hurt your puppy at all, and he'll burn some energy.
As someone else said, mental exercise is a VERY good thing.
I'm pretty much a antisocial homebody, but still do agility. In the 10 years I've been doing agility, I have made more, better friends, than in the 35+ years I showed horses. Agility is a very supportive group of people. AND it's great for your dog. If you do decide to try it, your dog is a great age to start basic, foundation work. No jumps, weaves or full size contacts yet, but there is a lot of other foundation things to learn before you get to the other stuff.
Rally obedience is another good option. There is even an app that you can get that tells you how to do each sign (K9 Rally) and there are a bunch of pretty good YouTube videos that demonstrate the signs, so it's pretty easy to do on your own if you can't afford classes. (I took one session of classes when my dog was a puppy and we went on to earn her RAE)
As someone else mentioned, CGC is a good starting point, but in my experience, it's very basic. One of my dogs earned hers at 5 months.
Keep in mind, you have an Aussie. They are working dogs and need a LOT of mental and physical stimulation. So even hiking may not be enough.
 

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Many herding breeds are not great dog park dogs. I have a herding dog mix, allegedly Australian Shepherd/Collie, and my dog exhibited many of those behaviors at that age. The herders like to control movement. They want dogs running to run where they want and they want the dogs that aren't playing to play and go be with the rest of the group. You know, like a herd. He was very obnoxious. I can say that he did grow out of many of these behaviors and picks playmates based on their play style and, you know, if they actually want to play, and ignores dogs he probably wouldn't get along with, but I still wouldn't take him to the dog park. He does, however, go to a daycare/boarding facility where they separate by size and play style, and he does very well there.

At 8 months old, your dog is a teenager, so rebellion and being obnoxious is what you get with that. I felt that between 9-12 months was one of the worst times, personally. They're big, they have ideas about things, they're loud, and they throw fits when they don't get what they want. It is very difficult, and you will wonder if they even care what you think at times!

I would recommend not taking any perceived snubs personally. Their brains are pretty non-existant right now, usually flopping on the floor somewhere behind them. Don't worry, they eventually grow it back around 1.5 years old, although I felt it really started to get better after a year old. The herders ARE very vocal, and they will let you know when they are frustrated or don't understand what you want. Teenagers are even worse because they are impatient and don't have brains, remember. I take that as a cue to calm down, step back, and break a task down more for them.

Going for hikes likely isn't going to do any damage to your pup. Let them pick a pace, and walking on bare ground isn't as hard on joints as concrete. Keep higher impact things, like jumping off rocks, to a minimum. Repetitive, high impact activities like agility or running for a long time on concrete are what they want you to avoid until the growth plates close.

Also, it is okay to ignore the dog. My dog was (and to some degree, still is) a very demanding dog. He wants attention, whether that's playing with him or getting pets. If the dog has been exercised, has gone potty, has been fed, and his needs are met, it is okay to ignore his whining and shrieking. Remember, if you give in and give him ANY attention, even scolding, he's going to think that is good attention and keep on whining and shrieking and it will take longer to fix the problem. It may take weeks of ignoring him, but eventually he will learn that the behavior does not get him what he wants!
 
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