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My wife and I recently added a lively ~4 year old female red heeler-type dog to our family (the two of us, our 1.5 year old son, and our ~7 year old female tortoise shell cat). My wife and I have both had dogs in the past, but never as a couple, and this is the first extended time our son has spent with a dog. But it's been a while since either my wife or I have had to train a dog, so we're a bit rusty on all this.

We visited Mei in the animal shelter twice. We noticed that the heelers were the only reliably calm dogs in the shelter, and Mei was one of the calm ones. She was found in the area, and we realized the shelter didn't know her history. Both times, we had Mei brought into a "visiting enclosure," so we could interact with her directly, and away from the other dogs.

The first time, she was jumpy, but we expected that for a dog who had been spending most of her time in a small space with limited social interaction. She calmed down in the 20 or so minutes we were there, and even rolled over on her back for us. We went back a week later, and she was a bit jumpy at first, but calmed down quickly. We filled out the paperwork that Saturday, and picked her up on Monday evening, the same day she was spayed.

The first two days, she was really mellow, which we expected. She didn't take well to food for a few days, but soon she got more energetic, and we started taking her on walks.

At first, she was still pretty relaxed, though she did pull at her leash a bit, so we kept her on a short lead to prevent her from dashing off. Since then, she's gotten more energetic, so I walk her at least 30 minutes, two times each day. Soon, when she was back to feeling 100% good, we realized she had issues with cars, other dogs, bicyclists who rode by too fast, rabbits, and 4 or more birds. And she'd get more worked up the more things of these sorts we passed on her walks.

I was pretty excited, because I read through these forums a bit and found someone mention that breaking your dog's focus on the item of interest and getting them to focus on you would help prevent aggressive lunging. That worked one time, but after a particularly dog-heavy street, Mei has been super aggressive towards any barking dogs or cars while we go on walks. I even tried treats this last time, but we only got half a block, because she was standing on her hind legs while I tried to keep her back with the leash. I didn't want to hurt her, and I realized she was too wound up if hotdog bites (which she loves) weren't enough to keep her attention. At first, I was able to generally control her with a leash without using too much pressure, but now I'm thinking I should switch to a harness, given how strongly she has started to pull at her collar.

That's not all. She doesn't reliably heed our call, or obey our commands. She whines when we leave her on the other side of a gate or door, like when we leave for work or put her out for the night. She jumps up on people when she's excited, and sometimes she gets really wound up to the point of play biting. The one night we kept her inside, she stayed on the second floor and slept most of the night in our bedroom, but she peed on the carpet some time during the night. And when she's outside by herself for too long, she'll tear up things and/or dig -- she's torn up a dog bed we got for her, and she's dug up around the few plants we have in our yard. I've placed her own feces around the plants we want to keep, but I feel that it's more of a response than a solution.

She loves to lick our son, which freaks him out. She'll usually turn away from him when we call her, but he still cringes, expecting to be licked. Oddly, he'll wave to her and knock on the windows when she's in the yard, so he's not terrified of her, just uncomfortable. Also of note, she and the cat co-habitat the house nicely, mostly with Mei ignoring our cat, while our cat slinks around the house. Mei has passed within inches of the cat and had no issues. The only problem arises when the cat hisses or lashes out when Mei gets too close, then Mei responds in kind. So far, there have been no injuries, and they generally stay apart.

I apologize for the length of my firs post, but I wanted to lay all our issues out at once, and ask people wiser than us: what should we deal with first? General obedience, aggression when out walking, jumping up on people, licking our son, getting too wound up to easily control, peeing in the house, tearing up things and digging while outside? Would it be best to get a professional trainer involved soon, as she needs an outlet, but she doesn't always like to play fetch? We'd like to take her to an obedience class, but I don't think she'd handle it well with other dogs.

Also, as I write this, she's peacefully sprawled on our carpet. As long as she can hang out with us, she's happy, but that's not always possible, because of our son.

Again, my apologies for the length of this post, and I look forward to becoming an active participant in this great and informative forum.
 

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Congratulations! You picked up an untrained dog from the shelter. ;) More often than not shelter dogs have very little to zero training. I would suggest signing her up for family dog obedience. Talk to the instructor prior to class and explain your situation (your dog is leash reactive at this point plus the other things you mentioned). Find a place that uses positive reinforcement training. The jumping on people, recall, and reactivity should lessen if you get in with a good trainer. In the mean time:

More walks at off times. Avoid dog heavy and traffic heavy areas. It's unfair to ask her to pay attention to you in the most exciting/over stimulating environment ever.

Don't leave her outside by herself if she gets bored easily. She might need a crate with an old towel for comfort if she shreds things. Make sure her crate has some appropriate chews like a stuffed Kong. Bored dog = a digger and a bed shredder. More walks or higher level activities such as jogging help tire a dog out. A tired dog = a good dog.

She might only be partially housebroken. Head off accidents by tethering her to you side. When you can't keep her within eyesight then she gets crated with a bully stick or whatever. She should be crated when nobody is home, when everyone is sleeping, and when you haven't the time to devote your eyes to her. Accidents in the house are on you now! :)

Licking people... I don't know how to correct this. I just suck it up when someone has a picky dog. *shrug* It's just how some dogs are.

There are other outlets for your dog. Jogging, biking, training, and more walking are Alternatives to fetch. Eventually, an organized sport would be good for her.

You can start tackling everything all at once with simple training. Please get a good trainer to help you out though. I've done the best I can without actually being there. Did I forget anything? Hahaha
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Everything except separation anxiety, but I've seen threads for that ;)

Thanks for taking the time to respond so thoroughly. My big question is: how do I know a trainer is good? And by "family dog obedience" you simply mean obedience for a dog in a family situation, right? Just checking.

I'm trying to find quieter neighborhoods around here, but I think this whole area is well populated by dogs and cars. I'll try to be calm and focused, and not tense up in the presence of cars, but look into training ASAP.

Thanks again, off to walk Mei!
 

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Congrats on your new dog! Rabblefox gave you great advice.

I'd recommend a harness if she's pulling frequently, and more specifically, an anti-pull harness that will help with training (note that it's not a solution, but a training aid).

My dog, Katie, was reactive to other dogs when she first came home and walking her in the neighborhood (with dogs tied out, maybe behind invisible fences, or occasionally running loose) was a nightmare. We did a two things that really helped:

- walked in local parks where there were still other dogs, but they weren't barking, lunging, and snarling while we walked by as the ones in the neighborhood tended to do (also there were no cars or bikers - those issues can be worked on later)
- learned which houses had dogs and got Katie's attention before she saw or heard the other dog (she's super food-motivated, so treats worked well)

Now, when she sees or hears other dogs, she looks at me. Even if the dogs aren't out when we walk past "dog houses" she turns her head to me as if to ask, "Where are they? Why aren't they out to see me?"

I posted this last night in response to someone else's question:
For distractions, like squirrels, I worked on attention. We'd walk around the yard, I'd call her name when she wasn't super interested in anything in particular, and mark/reward when she looked at me. We repeated that for weeks. Then, I started calling her name just as she was starting to focus on something and mark/reward when she looked at me. As with other training, I didn't call her name unless I was fairly certain she'd look. It took lots of time and I had to be super vigilant to see squirrels, deer, rabbits, etc. before she did. We had some setbacks when I was hospitalized and sick last fall, but she quickly picked up where we left off. Right now, she's pretty good with critters as long as they don't run.

You said she won't obey your commands. How did you teach her what the commands mean? Are you sure she knows them? Even if she does, it's possible that she forgets when she's excited. An obedience class would help. I don't want to speak for RabbleFox, but I suspect what was meant by "family obedience" was a basic obedience class for adult dogs as opposed to an obedience class for competition preparation. Here are a few resources for finding a good trainer:

Quick & Dirty Tips: How to Find a Good Dog Trainer
Whole Dog Journal: How To Find The Best Dog Trainer For Your Dog
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior: How to Choose a Trainer Handout

If you have a local training club, that might be a good place to start. Talk to the trainer about your concerns and usually there is a questionnaire that allows you to specific concerns and issues.

The first class we took Katie to was A Pawsitive Approach to Good Behavior Beginner Class (about halfway down this page) and we've continued at a local training club with Basic Manners Level 1, Beyond Basics, and have continued with some advanced classes. I've only listed them to give you an idea of what family dog training classes can look like.

You might want to work on impulse control; google "It's Yer Choice" and look at the "Doggy Zen" and "Rev Up & Cool Down" stickies. Control Unleashed is a good book, too. They can help with improving focus and reducing random outbursts of excitement. Basic training, time to settle in at her new home, and consistency with routine and expectations will help, too. Mental exercise (like training) is just as tiring as physical exercise, so all of this will help drain some of her energy.

My dog isn't outside without eyes on her. There are far too many things she can get into, and if she starts to get into trouble, I can quickly call her to me.

If you're having problems with inappropriate elimination, make sure there isn't a medical reason (like a UTI) and then go back to basic potty training - dog is taken out regularly, praised & rewarded for appropriate elimination, and prevented from having accidents in the house (tethers, crates, baby gates are some ways to limit freedom).

I think I hit on everything. Sorry if this seems disjointed; I've been switching back and forth between this and actual work. :p Good luck!
 

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Gee, you sound just like me a few months ago! Shelter dog, same behaviors, etc. Only thing I would add is that you back off from leash walking and any but the most rudimentary training for maybe a couple of months. She may just settle down some on her own. I was very gung-ho with my dog from the beginning and problems were getting worse and worse. As soon as I stopped asking too much of my dog she began to settle down.

I read something by Turid Rugaas that proved especially helpful. We should find a balance of exercise for our dogs. Sometimes we ask for too much all at once. Each individual is different. She writes that most dogs would benefit from us laying on the couch and watching TV more; relaxing for the dog as well! Altho I miss our 3-4 mile/day walks on one level, changing it to 1-2 miles 2-3 times weekly has proven to work better for now. We can gradually increase it and have a much more peaceful life. Too much exercise was stressing my dog out and amping her up.

I was doing potty training, leash work as well as teaching obedience/tricks all at once. Lots of excited play. Along with all of this I attempted a leadership type of class with other dogs. As well as minor health issues for my dog. Talk about stress! My poor dog just needed to have time to get used to her new surroundings.
 

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Everything except separation anxiety, but I've seen threads for that ;)

Thanks for taking the time to respond so thoroughly. My big question is: how do I know a trainer is good? And by "family dog obedience" you simply mean obedience for a dog in a family situation, right? Just checking.

I'm trying to find quieter neighborhoods around here, but I think this whole area is well populated by dogs and cars. I'll try to be calm and focused, and not tense up in the presence of cars, but look into training ASAP.

Thanks again, off to walk Mei!
Obedience where your whole family can get involved :D
A good trainer will be one you're comfortable with, your dog is comfortable with, who uses positive techniques and is willing to be patient with you and your dog and teach all of you.

Also, given her breed, I think I would offer her more physical exercise than an hour a day. Try taking about 30 extra minutes to pretty hard core throw a ball around in the yard or try a flirt pole or something. Also, jog a bit on the walks if she's not acting up too badly. Switch up your routine sometimes and take her different places to walk, offer her different toys that keep her busy, make up games, etc. This will keep her mind going too.

It sounds like you have a very nice dog, given how good she is with your child and your cat. Just a dog from a shelter with no exposure or training.
 

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Thanks for the additional comments.

I went to take Mei for a walk this morning, and she was her usual super-excited self when I brought out the leash. But instead of heading out right away, I tried to run in the yard with her and burn off some of her energy, then sit with her to calm down. That helped a bit, and I was able to get her to focus on me and away from barking dogs a few times in the first half block, but I think some of that might have been hope for more hot dog snacks. Whatever it was, she was back to lunging and barking towards barking dogs, who are all behind fences, and some are completely out of sight. I didn't think she would do well today without a walk, so I tried to run with her.

She's a lot faster and has much more stamina than I do. But while running (with her pulling in the lead, and I realize that isn't a great precedence to set), she didn't freak out about other dogs or cars. Some times she'd try to run towards a dog, but I could fairly easily re-direct her to go forward. So we ran for a while, then walked a while longer, then ran when she got worked up again, and again slowed to a walk. While walking, I tried to get her to stay by my side, which she mostly did, with a bit of lunging. Unfortunately, I got a late start this morning, so I didn't have time to do much cool-down with her. I gave her more water and a milk bone treat, and had to leave for work. I'll check in with my wife to see how Mei is doing today, then I'll try taking her for a run/walk again tonight.

goodgirl, Mei does seem happy to just hang out in the house with us, once she calms down from the "OMG, you guys are letting me inside? AWESOME!" rush. I don't have a pic of her, but this Red heeler image and description is fitting. I realize now that while she might have been good around other barking dogs at the shelter, she is a young, energetic dog. Perhaps if I get some really good runs with her, a few times a week will be enough, but for now, I don't have the stamina to keep run for more than a few blocks.

cookieface, we'll try your focus training with Mei. Like I wrote, she was looking back to me when mildly distracted, so this sounds like a good route. Thanks for all those links, I'll follow up on them today.

Regarding basic obedience, she's more inconsistent than non-responsive. If I'm holding a treat, she'll sit right away (mostly =). Other times, it seems to depend on her mood. Even with my attempts at an authoritative voice, she doesn't always listen. When she doesn't sit on command, I'll put a hand on her throat to hold her, though it's a light hold with a little push to nudge her back on her haunches. When that doesn't work, I'll force her hips down, with a light hold on her throat.

HollowHeaven, she's inconsistent with fetching. We have a rope toy she likes to fetch, but she seems to get bored with that quickly, though she may not understand that fetch is a game yet. She tries to keep it for herself, and we're working on "drop" with her. We can get the toy from her and she's not aggressive about that, but I think she needs to learn about games.
 

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Family obedience classes are for adult dogs with no prior training. You start at square one. I encourage people to go to classes that also allow visitors or viewers. The other members of the family need to see how you are training behavior so as they can mimic them. Consistency is key!

Hint: when I walk the dog at 7am every morning there are hardly any people or cars or dogs. Maybe there is a time early in the morning that you can safely take her on a big long walk?
 

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RabbleFox, unfortunately I need to leave the house by 6:30 AM, and even when I walk Mei close to 5 AM, there are a number of dogs who are in yards and awake enough to get Mei's attention. I also walk her after 7 PM, and both of these times seem to be better for lesser car traffic, but in my neighborhood, there are dogs just about anywhere you turn.
 
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