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We rescued an intact 2-3 year old female Gordon Setter. I don't know many of the details of how she was kept, but when we got her a month ago, she didn't know how to be a dog. My understanding is her life was pretty miserable. We had to teach her basic commands like 'here' and 'sit' - we were either given the wrong name, or she didn't know she had a name. She was pretty much house trained, but there were some accidents early on. She now responds to 'Lady'. She has a sweet disposition, is very loving, and has no problems with our other dogs.

I'm not a professional dog trainer by any stretch, but I have attended training classes with other dogs (with good results) and I feel like I know what I'm doing. This is my first 'troubled' dog - so any advice I can get, I'll listen to.

When in the house, she comes when she is called - if she wants to. But on walks, getting her to engage with us at all usually doesn't happen. She has got out of the yard a couple times and does not come when called. She isn't playing 'chase me' as we've seen other dogs do - when we do finally catch her, she comes along happily. She just wants to see the world.

I don't think she's particularly frightened of the outdoors. She likes the back yard and is very happy to go on walks. But she does not engage with us - and is so intense she won't take treats. She usually loves treats. She pulls on her leash - hard.

She doesn't like to be trained. I worked with her a couple days on 'sit' and 'down' - now if she thinks I'm going to train her, she'll avoid me. If she's on leash, she usually won't obey any commands at all. Because she's a rescue and had been abused (probably), I'm not pushing her. I do take her on at least 2 short walks a day (or 1 very long walk) to try to desensitize her to the outdoors - but as far as engagement, we've made no real progress on regular walks. I try to get her to engage a little, with treats and praise. Sometimes I'll get a wag when I call her name, but usually not. On regular walks, she won't take treats. I'm not constantly badgering her - just once or twice on the walk, after we've been going a couple blocks, I'll attempt to get her attention. If I get any response, I'll give her praise and pet her and usually offer her a treat (which she won't take). But as a rule, she ignores all of it.

I mentioned above - she pulls on the leash. A lot. Because of her history, I'm not bringing out the prong leash yet. My goal is just building trust and communication - but I wonder if there is a better, more effective way. As I said, we've been at this a couple weeks and I really don't see we're making progress. I'm happy to keep at this - but if there is a better way to get her to engage enough so 'real' training can begin - I'd love to know about it. Lady deserves a happy life and I'm determined to help her get it.
 

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You will need patience. Lots and lots of patience. It will take much longer than a few weeks.

The best dog I ever had, or will likely ever have, was abused terribly as a young dog. Beaten into unconsciousness, burned with cigarettes and just generally put thorugh hell. I was able to learn about some of his history from the guy who "rescued" (re: stole) him from his abuser.

For many months there was no training - just confidence building. By the time he came to us, he was supremely confident, easily trained and exhibiting only a few quirky bahaviors. He could become quite intmidating around men with cigarettes, for example. (I had a pretty good idea where the abusive owner lived and I regularly fantasized about taking his victim, who had grown to become a powerful 116-pound brute, to pay him a visit.)

No magic cures. Just give her time and love.
 

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One thing I wouldn't do with a dog like this is use a prong. With rescues, even those with no abuse history, I used a clicker to teach the easy things like sit and down. Use lots of treats and make training worthwhile from the dog's point of view, and her attitude towards it will change.

Fix your yard.
 

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I agree with the above. Build the trust between you and the dog by being positive, consistent, and understanding.

If she's not taking treats during walks, it is most likely because she is in high stress mode. Pushing her to do more than she can handle can create reactivity. Keep walks short - even just a quick walk to the mailbox and back. Let her develop a sense of security on her home turf first, then slowly build on that.

Don't use a prong collar. She isn't being disobedient - she is stressed and insecure. Using a prong collar will simply damage any trust you have built.
 
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Try using a harness with a chest hook point. That worked wonders for me to get my GSD/husky mix to not pull. The good thing about that setup is you are not going to physically hurt the dog when you need to correct bad behavior.

The trust and interaction should come in time. At least the trust and minimal interaction. Who knows, someday down the road your patience could reward you with a dog that suddenly loves you.

I was the fourth owner of a papillon/sheltie mix alpha dog years ago. At first he did not care for me because he thought I was just a temporary person caring for him. With a lot of work and patience he suddenly decided I was his person and how he interacted with me changed drastically.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
One thing I wouldn't do with a dog like this is use a prong. With rescues, even those with no abuse history, I used a clicker to teach the easy things like sit and down. Use lots of treats and make training worthwhile from the dog's point of view, and her attitude towards it will change.

Fix your yard.
Yard is fine - she gets out when we're not paying close enough attention to the doors
 

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There's a lot to be said with any newly adopted dog for just spending time with/around each other, no great training initiatives or expectations. Just letting them get to know you, set a baseline of what's normal in their new household, let their stress hormone levels drop, settle into a predictable daily routine. This goes doubly for dogs that were previously abused, neglected, or ignored.

I might get jumped on for this but I think 'walks' are massively overrated. It's not much exercise for a young healthy dog and there are more engaging forms of mental stimulation. A good game of fetch or flirt pole in a fenced area provides better cardio. If the dog likes water, swimming is fantastic exercise. For a dog that's already overwhelmed I wouldn't even try to teach nice leash manners on a walk where they're all overstimulated. Do it somewhere boring like the living room or the backyard, then gradually transition to proofing the behavior in slightly more novel locations.
 

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Lots of great advice offered already, but I thought I'd jump in as well.

Management is very important initially, so the dog doesn't get out and possibly get hurt! So that's first for sure.

Beyond that, as @parus said, walks are massively overrated! And so is the impulse many of us have to jump right into training a new dog! Just spending time, quietly, without expectations of any kind, is also massively underrated!

Before you can train any dog you need their engagement and focus. And to get that, you often have to spend some time getting to know the dog you're working with.

Your dog, from your description, doesn't need to be "desensitized" to the outdoors, she needs to really understand what it is you want. Her perception of that dynamic, being out on a leash, needs to be changed. And that needs to take place at home with minimal distractions!

I recently watched a great interview of a very well known, world class champion IGP trainer, Dave Kroyer. And in response to a question on what he works on first with a new dog or puppy he said, "the first month or so is all about preparing the dog/puppy to learn"!

That sums it up nicely. Slow down, spend time showing the dog that you can be trusted, and that paying attention to you will be in the dog's best interest (really good, fun things happen when they do!), then and only then will the dog be "ready" to learn.

Then start with simple stuff, at home, like recall and sit etc. It's not so much about what as it is about engagement and reward - in the dog's eyes! Remember, you're the one with the agenda, the dog simply wants to feel safe and have fun!

Again, since you said after a bit of training your dog wants to avoid it, that should be a HUGE wakeup call to slow down and rethink the approach.

Take your time, stop the walks and up the time you spend just being quietly present. Seize opportunities to reward engagement and learn how to play with the dog in a way that particular dog likes!

Slightly structured play is the best way, IMHO, to begin any training with any dog/puppy! Give it a try...and good luck with your new best friend!
 
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