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Dumb dog, smart dog...dealing with frustration

5855 Views 23 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  ThoseWordsAtBest
I'm having a difficult time dealing with my frustration with training more than anything. I have two dogs. One is a 1.5 yr old cocker spaniel. He's a very sharp dog, eager to please, motivated by food and affection and learns very quickly. I can usually teach him a simple trick in just 5-6 repetitions and can get it down very solid in just a session or two. He's fun to train because he learns so quickly. My other dog is a 10 year old basset hound. I swear he's as dumb as a box of rocks. He's motivated only by food and even then, he's very easily distracted. I can be holding a hot dog and he's distracted and wondering what's on my counters or what's in the trash or what's behind the refrigerator or whatever. I'm still working on getting him to sit on a regular basis. He will sometimes do it on command to get something from me but other times he looks at me like he has no idea what is expected of him. Getting him to sit and getting him to sit calmly are a completely different thing. The latter seems to rarely happen. At one point I thought I had trained him to not jump on the counters. He never did this when I was around at least. Now he doesn't seem to care and seems to have forgotten all the training.

How do you deal with frustration in training two dogs with such different learning speeds and capacities? I'm afraid I'm getting really frustrated with the hound and it's not helping the training process.
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I have seven dogs, and they are all individuals when it comes to training. What I rely on most is proper management. There is no point in training for desirable behaviors, only to allow the dog to rehearse undesirable behaviors when you're not around (especially those as self-rewarding counter surfing, for example). That means the house is puppy proofed to the max (trash cans are put up and away, nothing of interest is left on the counters, things are picked up off of the floor, wires are well hidden, etc.) and some of my dogs are crated or baby gated when I cannot supervise them.

What sort of training method are you using? My dogs are all trained using a marker. Some of my crossover dogs had to spend a lot of time with shaping games like 101 Things To Do With a Box, and learning how to play before I could really get into training them anything, and then I had to be sure to keep a high rate of reinforcement. I learned that premacking behaviors can be very benefitial with distracted dogs. (Think: sit to sniff that bush, etc.) I suggest looking into Leslie McDevitt's "Control Unleashed" (http://www.controlunleashed.net) as well as Jane Killion's "When Pigs Fly" for more information.
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Is there a window the dog can see out of if he gets on the counter? That may be what's reinforcing him if he isn't getting food or anything else up there. If not, being what he is, he's probably being reinforced by simply sniffing a place where there was food at some point. LOL

The problem I see with what you are doing is that you are punishing your dog in your presence, on leash, and for simply looking at the counter. That's a very different scenerio and behavior than when he is alone, off leash and getting on the counter which I'm sure he is able to sneak plenty of looks at inbetween training sessions without correction (inconsistency).

For their safety when we are cooking, I taught my dogs "out." When we are around the dogs can now be told to move out of a space or room when told, and stay out until invited back in. This was all done using reinforcement, no punishment. As for when you're not around, why not crate your dog for his own safety?

I also agree with Poodleholic. Thinking things like "Dumb dog, smart dog..." can really become a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand:

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Here's what I would do: I would make the floor very, very, very rewarding. I would make standing with four on the floor very, very, very rewarding. I would be sure that the counters are spotless so that they are very, very, very boring. When you cook, I would make staying out of the kitchen very, very, very rewarding. Think lots and lots and lots of little, decadent treat jackpots. And when you can't watch your dog, manage him so he cannot practice the undesirable behavior. Notice the lack of punishment. Nothing is interesting about the counter. He's not even going to get negative attention out of it. (I've noticed that sometimes negative attention makes the desire that much stronger. My little Poodle often gets plenty of negative attention from our Boxer when he tries to take a ball from him, but all that does is create a frenzied Poodle over the ball which he then wants more than ever.) When you have time to watch your dog and you see him going near the kitchen, I would call him calmly and have him do something for you for a treat, then release him. Perhaps take him to his toys. Redirect and reward, reward, reward. Instead of focusing on what you don't want your dog to do, focus on what you want him to do instead.
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