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Hello!

I have a 10 month old Lab/Chow mix. She's got the lab demeanor, thank goodness, and is very smart, but doesn't follow commands. It's incredibly frustrating for my wife, but it's beginning to upset me as well. I should mention that we only got her in early January.

When I work with her for training times, I use cut up hot dogs and a clicker. She will follow commands when we're training most of the time. I used to click and give a food reward every single time she completed a command correctly. Lately, we've been fading the food rewards, but have continued to click to mark the behavior.

When we feed her, we make her do all of her commands correctly, without the clicker, but I am holding her food in a cup while I'm asking her to do her tricks. She used to sit very well. Now that she has more tricks, she tries to go through a few of them without me giving the command to do so, but I make her do only the one I want at a time. For instance, if I say sit, she sometimes does "sit pretty."

Lately, she just ignores me all together and runs in circles, or jumps up (which is a new trick we were working on, but I now see that I maybe should have waited to teach her this until she was more under control).

We used to do a lot of work with loose leash walking, but when there is exciting stuff outside, she's more interested in the exciting stuff... like bunny poop or leaves blowing around in the wind. If I have treats, she's right on my hip about 70% of the time. The rest of the time, she's sniffing around or eating whatever might be on the ground... again... bunny poop.

Any help to get her to listen to me more often would be greatly appreciated. I'm happy to supply more information if you need it.

Thanks!
 

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I'm not a trainer by any means, but I would do half food/half praise on your pup. Don't always give her food, but let her know you have some with you. When asked to "sit" and she does, praise her. Be happy, "Yay, good girl!!! What a good good girl!!!" Pet her, smile, say it in a very happy voice that you're proud of her. I heard from other trainers (on tv) that the dog won't know when you're going to give her a treat, so she'll do it to be rewarded either way.

As for the jumping, try the command "off". Don't say "down" because that's a whole other different command and you don't want to confuse your dog. She's a big dog, so if "off" doesn't work, turn your back on her until she calms down, then reward her good behavior. Also, I don't know how favorable this is, but I do it, if she jumps, you can also put your leg up/fold it (knee outward) so she'll hit your leg and then turn your back on her and give her no eye contact whatsoever.

One way to gain your dog's attention is to act excited. Act as if you're more exciting than the bunny poop or leaves blowing. Give an excited voice of something like, "Hey girl....come here!!" Or whatever you say, but say it in a way where she'll look up at you. Then you've got her attention.

I hope that helps a bit. The book that really helped me a lot was a training book by dog trainer, Victoria Stillwell. If you ever see that book in a book store, I recommend you get it; it's helped me a lot with Luke. This is it: http://www.amazon.com/Its-Me-Dog-Have-Perfect/dp/1401308554/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330642122&sr=1-1
 

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If you click, you treat. The clicker is used to teach new behaviors or improve old ones. The click is a bridge, not a reinforcer. It sounds like you may be using it in a way that will make it much less effective.

Also, you don't want food to be part of a cue. If the food is in sight when you train, then food becomes part of the training signal, or a signal to train. Treats should come from out of sight, like from in your pocket or on a variable shelf (don't always train in the same spot).

I wouldn't teach shake or jump up to a dog who hasn't really learned to learn yet! You are seeing why! Just let it extinguish!

Once you tweak what you are doing, you should see good results fast. Your dog is just waiting to see the food to start working!
 

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What you're having is a pretty normal dog... you got good replies so far. It is normal for a dog to offer behaviours without being asked or to sometimes mess up commands, it's all part of a learning process and how fast dog learns mostly depends on your abilities. You're a bit ahead of yourself, take a few steps back, play with the dog - ie click and treat for easy stuff like looking at you or coming to you, don't ask for obedience. Just have fun, seems like you're frustrated which is not good, dogs easily detect this. After few weeks of just play you can start working on sits, down from sit and sit from down... recalls, whatever you need. Don't forget to read stickies on this site.

But what I think is most important for you at this time is "engagement foundation", play with the dog, a lot - feed him lots of food in your walks, be interesting, play with him on walks, don't just move from point A to point B. This is critical, to be a fun person to be around with. Reward him heavily every time he turns to you after being distracted. Also do a Google for "silky leash", you will find resources on what I call leash conditioning. After this you won't be left with much food to work on obedience skills but gradually introduce toys (balls, tugs, sticks...) and you can later use them instead. Don't put too much stress on him, work in a laid back field with no distractions meaning no other animals or people around - if you start with lots of stress early on training could take 10 times longer (depends on dog). Your focus at this point should be all fun, no stress no frustration - control the environment so he can't get into too much trouble. Since he is a lab, introduce the ball inside the home only and reward his retrieves - after several days just transfer this game outside. This is IMO the hard part for most people, teaching sit is easy, teaching a concept of engagement is hard. If you see him chasing his tail, lunging, run in curcles, jump like crazy, nip you, teeth clicking etc. you should also check out protocol of relaxation or "doggy zen" for some self control.

That's pretty much from the top of my head, hope it helps some...
 

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Discussion Starter #5
If you click, you treat. The clicker is used to teach new behaviors or improve old ones. The click is a bridge, not a reinforcer. It sounds like you may be using it in a way that will make it much less effective.
We have been told not to provide a food reward every time but praise heavily in order to have her reliably do what we're asking whether we have the clicker or not. So we're still using the clicker as a bridge, just not for food, but for praise/pets.

Also, you don't want food to be part of a cue. If the food is in sight when you train, then food becomes part of the training signal, or a signal to train. Treats should come from out of sight, like from in your pocket or on a variable shelf (don't always train in the same spot).
That's good advice. I would say I normally have the treat in my hand when I give the command. That's how I read to train things, to lure them into the behavior. For instance, showing them food, drawing their head up, then their butt goes down so they sit. She doesn't need the lure anymore, not for the stuff she knows anyway.

Thanks for the feedback.


From SassyCat
You're a bit ahead of yourself, take a few steps back, play with the dog - ie click and treat for easy stuff like looking at you or coming to you, don't ask for obedience. Just have fun, seems like you're frustrated which is not good, dogs easily detect this. After few weeks of just play you can start working on sits, down from sit and sit from down... recalls, whatever you need.
I would admit that I need to spend more time playing with her. I might try to get into that some today. I work from home, but work is a little slower on Fridays. I am certainly frustrated with her at times, but I try not to show it. I can't always control the emotions, but I feel like I do a pretty good job. I'm patient with her for the most part. I would say I really only get frustrated when she's lunging to eat bunny poop. Mostly because I don't want her to get sick.

She knows quite a few commands, I think. Sit, Down, Shake, Stand, Bow (kind of... she nods), Watch Me, Sit Pretty (and high five from this position... but she does that with both paws, it's cute), and now UP (stand on her back legs).

How long should I spend training at a time/how many times per day?

After this you won't be left with much food to work on obedience skills but gradually introduce toys (balls, tugs, sticks...) and you can later use them instead. Don't put too much stress on him, work in a laid back field with no distractions meaning no other animals or people around - if you start with lots of stress early on training could take 10 times longer (depends on dog). Your focus at this point should be all fun, no stress no frustration - control the environment so he can't get into too much trouble. Since he is a lab, introduce the ball inside the home only and reward his retrieves - after several days just transfer this game outside.
It's funny, she doesn't really like toys. She'll chew on them to death, but doesn't retrieve, like you would think she'd do. We worked on clicker training her to fetch in the beginning, so she'll do it sometimes, but a lot of times, she just trots over to the ball, then comes back for a reward. I'm sure I messed something up with that.

I will certainly check out some more of the sticky threads and check into the silky leash and doggy zen stuff.

Thanks for your help.
 

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How long should I spend training at a time/how many times per day?
Important question. This mostly depends on your ability to read dog's drive and performance but I'd keep it strict, to 30 mins a day. From my experience it is best to split it in 5 mins per session but this is often impossible so just two sessions are also fine. Shorter the session the better, it is far better to cut it in the best moment than to risk for the dog to get tired or bored. People get carried away by good performance and push it too far instead of just closing the session on a "good note". If you end up with bad performance, make sure you do some really easy exercises for a brief but intensive 60 secs with lots of rewards and close the session while dog is engaged. Point is to never end it on a bad note, you don't also don't want certain dog's behaviour make an a immediate stop such as bolting away (make sure it doesn't happen).


It's funny, she doesn't really like toys. She'll chew on them to death, but doesn't retrieve, like you would think she'd do. We worked on clicker training her to fetch in the beginning, so she'll do it sometimes, but a lot of times, she just trots over to the ball, then comes back for a reward. I'm sure I messed something up with that.
This is a common engagement problem, dog takes the toy away and plays with itself rather than with you. If she chews on it she's definitely interested but not in the productive way. This is hard for me to explain in plain text but you could search on the net for backchaining retrieve or shaped retrieve, it's best to find a good video. Whatever the method is, start small and always in the house (a "safe zone"). Once you get your dog engaged to play ball and tugs with you training anything becomes so much easier. Since you already have a lot of work, do this at some later stage, don't ever train multiple things at the same time - always just one behaviour at a time. If I train a dog to behave on walks then I'd do only that until I get some good results.
Once you get a good retrieve, you can do some physical exercises to get her tired a bit - if you do some sport then you how relaxing it can be.

I would say I really only get frustrated when she's lunging to eat bunny poop. Mostly because I don't want her to get sick.
There are methods to teach a command for a dog not to pick up stuff from ground. This is the one I use: once you get the opposition reflex out of the way you can just block her with the leash as she lunges for it, tell "leave it" and reward for her turning away - she should stop doing it after only a day or two. As soon as she feels pressure she should let go, all you do is add the verbal cue. But always do try to train one thing at a time, the more stuff she has to learn in a day the worse it gets.


The best thing you can do is be confident, have patience, have a plan and be prepared for various situations. Dogs easily detect when you are unsure what to do. When you get frustrated it's because you're powerless and however you try and hide it dog picks it up. Unfortunately you will have lots of failures and falls but learn from it, don't let it get you down - sit down, have tea/coffee/bear and contemplate on what you should have done in that situation, determine what's wrong and how to fix it.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I think your post cut off at the end, but I get the general point. I'm going to have to sit down with my wife tonight and see if we can figure out what we want to train, in what order, and how we want to do it so that it's consistent. I am by far Yahtzee's owner. My wife loves her and takes care of her when I'm not home or not able to because of work, but I do most of the feeding/walking/training.

I'm all about planning, so that's a great way to look at it.

Just a few more questions. You said that I should close a session as she's doing well to avoid ending on a bad note. How do you close a session? Also, what do you consider "the basics" as far as obedience training goes? In other words, what should we focus on first?
 

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Just a few more questions. You said that I should close a session as she's doing well to avoid ending on a bad note. How do you close a session? Also, what do you consider "the basics" as far as obedience training goes? In other words, what should we focus on first?
I often do sessions before the walk, when it's done I just throw a mini-party and go outside with him - at this point dog is leash fluent and it's all fun, this is a reward of its own. But, when I'm on the walk still working on leash manners I cut it by suddenly throwing a party after 5 mins (2 or 3 times in one walk) and either let the dog off leash or give him a full leash to run and sniff around but keep it loose - I stay away from distractions during this time, session's done and I don't want any more stress on him afterwards. I still have extra food left to reward the good response if he happens to see something and pull on it. I have a nice woodland area where I live, it's pretty peaceful and I found that having an "off leash reward" speeds things up, dog remembers the pattern and works with me in order to get the final prize. People say that there's nothing better for a dog than a long walk - this is true but I keep it short until he gets better, 15 mins, 20, 30, 45, an hour... almost in a "levelling up" manner.

Doing training during walks doesn't mean that you can't take her places with you or walk longer, you can. Just make sure you have some extra food with you just in case. Dog actually learns when it's being trained something by the way you act and engage with it. Some people throw in a cue to mark start/end of the training but you don't have to.
Of course though, if you have her engaged without pulling or any fuss for 15 mins and then expose her to stress for next 2 hours (pulling, other dogs, cats, whatever causes stress...) you'll never get anywhere. For some time you'll have to strictly control her freedom until she gets better.

Randomly she will engage you on her own, come and look at you for no apparent reason, sit, bark, lie down, whatever you taught her to do. I just mark and reward as soon as dog approaches (coming to me is always good), give him the release command and move on. If he's pushy I ignore, soon after he goes off I call him back because I know he will gallop towards me like crazy. Some dogs don't do this but I always try to use it to my advantage.
 

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Yeah, Yahtzee is a rescue and seems to want to do stuff on her own terms. She'll come if there's nothing more interesting going on... more interesting includes anything from looking out the window to laying on her bed. It can be very difficult to get her attention.

As far as leash training goes, she is doing well on the leash, but only when we have treats. When I take her out just to go to the bathroom, so like 5 minutes... should I be bringing the treats/clicker every time? I find that when I do that, she's too distracted by me/food to go to the bathroom. When we get to her spot, she just sits and stares at me. I guess it's good that I have her attention, but then she holds her poo until the next day, sometimes.

Also, even though we always have treats for longer walks, the novelty of being farther from the house can be too much and she could care less about the treats a lot of the time. I admit that I let her pull sometimes. Not on purpose, but because I'm not paying attention to it, and she's not pulling hard. I'll work on that. I run with her sometimes, though, too, so when we go running, she's so excited to go that she'll pull me down the street until she realizes that I can't keep up. When that happens, she gets tired fast, then runs next to me for the most part. She's actually better on the leash when we run than she is when we walk. Usually.
 

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When I take her out just to go to the bathroom, so like 5 minutes... should I be bringing the treats/clicker every time? I find that when I do that, she's too distracted by me/food to go to the bathroom. When we get to her spot, she just sits and stares at me. I guess it's good that I have her attention, but then she holds her poo until the next day, sometimes.
Ha, awesome! This is a very good thing. Michael Ellis can answer your problem:
http://michaelellisschool.com/vid_qa11.htm

Running is also great. She's just not leash trained yet, simply change the direction when she goes up front. It won't take long before she runs besides you. Running is definitely by far easier to train than walk for two reasons:
1. Dog doesn't pay attention to most distractions while running.
2. Walking is boring for any four legged creature!

The sole act of walking slowly for a dog with pent up energy is frustrating. Imagine if you had to walk 1/5 of the speed you usually do - you'd go nuts.
 

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Yeah, it makes sense that she's more "jazzed up" to run than she is to go for a slow walk. She usually stays up front for about a half mile or so until she's tired of trying to make me go faster, then she'll stay next to me, or behind me. I don't like her behind me either because I can't see when she's going to stop. It's happened a few times where she stops dead in her tracks to go poo on a run and I'm still running full speed ahead, so I yank her by the neck by accident. My wife and I are training for a half marathon that is on April 1st, so we might work on leash training with her more intensely for the next few weeks and then try to get her running again once she understands the whole leash thing better. I just had her out and I was rewarding every few steps for being with me and rewarding for regaining attention after she was sniffing. She did much better.

When/How do I decrease the rewards?
 

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It's happened a few times where she stops dead in her tracks to go poo on a run and I'm still running full speed ahead, so I yank her by the neck by accident.
That's just classic stuff :) - it happens to everyone. There are special elastic leashes for running that you can get and alleviate these things.

When/How do I decrease the rewards?
It's call fading, you fade the reward slowly but never completely. Do a search on variable and random feeding schedules. Use different rewards and different schedules based on the level of distraction and level of performance. With time you will learn to precisely know what things are more stressing to a dog and require better rewards in smaller intervals.

For example, after 2 months you'd never really reward a sit command any more. You'd reward something else instead. You wouldn't mark (click) it either, dog will sit because it expects something interesting to happen afterwards, he'll sit and look at you in "Ok, what now?" fashion waiting for a next command that may produce a reward. The longer you work with the dog (2, 3, 8 months), longer can you have dog perform with no rewards because it learned well that sooner or later something awesome will happen. Also, some dogs can do 200 sits in a row with no reward, some just 20, depends on the dog. Those that do 200 sits are more motivated and/or better trained, they are always like "ok, THIS time something super will happen I just know it!".
 

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We have been told not to provide a food reward every time but praise heavily in order to have her reliably do what we're asking whether we have the clicker or not. So we're still using the clicker as a bridge, just not for food, but for praise/pets.
That's fine if praise and petting while working are reinforcing to the dog. If they aren't (and for many dogs, they aren't) then you are devaluing the clicker. Typically, a clicker is used to shape new behaviors, not reinforce old behaviors (unless you are trying to capture only the finest performance to improve the quality or speed of a known skill). It would be unusual to continue to click a behavior that has been mastered. Sure, reward it with praise, but don't click it.

It is also unusual for someone who is using the clicker for shaping to also be luring. In many circles, luring and shaping are considered slightly incompatible. Shaping leaves choices and behaviors up to the dogs. Luring focuses the dog on food to get the behavior. And a huge rule in luring is to fade the lure as quickly as possible or the lure itself becomes part of the cue, which it sounds like has happened for you.
 
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