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Hey there everyone,

I posted a long while back when I got a new pup, 8 weeks at the time, Winston, the german shepherd. He's now 8 months (and 80lbs, damn!) as of yesterday! So a long time with him now. I absolutely love him, great with people, strangers, on walks, has adorable tickle spots and high pitched excitement barks when we all play with him. and his training has been going fairly well.

Things have been changing with him however as he grows. He is super high energy. My current schedule with him is this:

8am - Wake up
8am - 9am - Potty, breakfast for the both of us.
9am - 10am - Both digesting, some petting and generally hello's.
10am - 12pm - Play time with Winston. He gets 20-30 minutes in the yard playing tug, flirt pole, and fetch while continuously practicing take it, drop it, leave it, and other commands. By the end of the 30 minutes, he is panting moderately, and is super happy. After the backyard play time, we go in, he drinks, takes a breath as I change, and we go on a walk. Minimum 45 minutes, max 1.5 hours.

He is generally quite spent at this point, as in at home, he lays down, is quiet, and just follows me around and lays down in whatever area of the home I am in. He doesn't play with toys. At all. If I am not on the other end of the toy, he doesn't play with them, so he just follows me and watches me until the next time we play.

Around 3 or 4pm - I play in the yard with him again for 20-30 minutes, fetch, tug, etc. Keeps him spent until the evening.

5pm - Was his dinner time. What seems to have changed with Winston is that he doesn't care for food. Some days he eats a ton, the next day or 2 he will barely nibble on his food.

7pm - 9pm - Same as the morning play schedule: Play outside running and chasing, followed by a nice walk.

Now, for the rest of the evening, he struggles to stay awake. He will still follow me, but usually by 11pm, he's quite tired and drifts into deeper sleep. I generally crate him around midnight, sometimes later if he is relaxing by me as I work or watch a show on Netflix or something.

He basically needs a minimum of 2 hours of play and walking a day for him to stay seated at home.

Training periods are spread throughout the day inside and in the yard, and his walks are basically all training periods as he is learning to heel on command. He loose leash walks like a champ in basically a heel position at all times, generally ignores people on walks (If they get super close, he might get a side sniff as he walks by, but doesn't break pace or move to the sides. More frequently with people carrying groceries, of course.)

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Now. At home, he listens well. He in the yard, awesome. On walks, will down on command at intersections even. Neighbours dogs come over for play dates, and he is super gentle when playing, rolling around smiling, sharing toys and food, tail wagging. Super awesome with both males and female.

The issue is on leash. He is reactive. Not extremely so during walks. He wont be barking at dogs while lunging crazily or anything, but fixates on them, and sometimes breaks his heel as we walk by one and walks in front of me, looking really excited. If they are across the road, no problems other than the fixating, but won't break his walk or pace.

I've been working on it but seem to hit a road block. He isn't food motivated anymore. He is, however, toy motivated. I've been using toys to train him now as treats don't even really work in rooms with minimal distractions when they did when he was around 5 - 6 months old.

I am training in more distracting environments and proofing commands.
Easy to do with treats, I find it difficult with toys using release commands, however.

Example:
Winston, Sit.
He sits.
Good job buddy! I rewarded him before with food. Now, with a tug rope for a couple seconds and hope he doesn't break the sit as rewarded.
Okay - He is free to move around.

Hard to do for downs and stays, or more complex things outside.

Now I have to do it this way:
Winston, Sit.
He sits
I wait.
Okay!
He moves
I reward.

Not a problem for static commands, however, for reactive situations, it's hard.
The whole thing I want to train him for in those situations is to keep calm and relax. Toys get him excited. What ends up happening is that he looks at the toy, gets excited, or worse, dog and toy end up in front of him, and he loses all control of his sanity with excitement.

I've tried foods like steaks, grilled meats and BBQ leftovers, turkey breast, and cheeses but he doesn't really care for it in any form of distracting environment (minimal or more so). Even at a distance from a trigger, generally outside, food he doesn't care for. He doesn't even finish his meals!

It comes down to this:
How do you train dynamic behaviors and modify behaviors using toys?
This is all for more distraction areas and proofing.


If you have suggestions for my schedule, changes, play time suggestions, any tips, they are all welcome!
 

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This is where a clicker is super useful. The click becomes a temporary stand in for the reward, for just this reason. Kikopup has great videos on youtube explaining the basics of clicker training. Just replace food with the toy as a reward. So, to load the clicker, you would click as you play with the toy. Once you have the clicker loaded, you won't have to immediately produce the toy every time you need to reward Winston, just click instead.
 

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I agree with using the clicker, so you can bridge to the toy. Remember that the click ends the behavior - so if he's sitting, you click and give a toy, and he gets up, that's what happens. You've effectively released him by clicking. So I think you're basically on the right track, you just can't expect him to stay in a stationary position while playing - play is movement and that's why it's rewarding. I actually like clicking the trigger, so my dog sees another dog, I click or say "yes!" then reward. For you that would mean saying "yes!" and then having him come to you to tug as the reward. Then out him, he looks at the other dog again, you mark and reward with the toy. Or just keep him tugging when you are close enough to the trigger that he would react, so that he's putting his energy into the toy.

I think the main problem you will run into is that toys are fundamentally arousing rewards. I use toy rewards when I want my dogs to be really excited and energized for agility or competition obedience work, but I don't use a toy as a reward when I want them to be calm and quiet. Food is a fundamentally calming reward, but his food drive is so low. I would see if you can increase his food drive so that you have another tool to work with when you need calm. But keep in mind that if his food drive is low he will always have a hard time wanting food in distracting environments. One of my dogs loves toys at home, but outside he is way too distracted to play with toys, though he will still work for food. But there are ways to build that drive.

Is it possible that there is something medical going on? I have seen dogs with lower food drive, but never so low that they won't take steak or cheese or something.

One common way to build food drive is to make him work for every piece of food he gets. I would probably increase his basic food to something a little more exciting (like pre-made raw, or Nature's Balance food rolls, or something). Something with full nutrition but better than kibble. Then he only gets it while you are training. You can start in lower distraction places first. If he won't focus on you at all, he doesn't eat that meal and gets to try again later. It's his choice to eat and he won't starve himself.

This is also a good article: http://sue-eh.ca/page24/page39/

Also look into food play. It can make the food seem more like a toy and thus build the dog's desire for it. Of course it's also arousing and not calming, but it may help bridge his enjoyment of play with getting food and thus make the food higher value. Michael Ellis has some fantastic DVDs on play and his food play stuff is really good. Here is a YouTube video that shows some of it:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CciIIMXJ2_M
Once you have the clicker loaded, you won't have to immediately produce the toy every time you need to reward Winston, just click instead.
You would still have to pull out the toy and play after clicking or you will break the association of the clicker with the reward.
 
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