Please don't eat the other dogs!
April 9, 2010 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Some advice or tips needed about dog training/obedience for a new dog (not a puppy).

About a month ago I adopted a 3 year old fixed male golden retriever-ish, german sheperd-ish, greyhound-ish dog. He's a fantastic dog and someone did a rather good job of establishing some baseline obedience for him but he has one rather difficult problem and a couple of other things that I think I just need some simple direction on in order to improve them. So here are some questions:

1) He's incredibly dog aggressive. I haven't risked letting him off the leash to see if it's just posing or if it's some kind of prey instinct. Off-leash in isolated environments he will chase a stick but run past it and not bring it back. I was thinking of getting a muzzle and trying to slowly socialize him by muzzling him then bringing him to a dog park. Is this an incredibly bad idea that will improve nothing or is it good, simple first baby step?

2) He will 'come' when called like 75% of the time. What am I supposed to do that other 25% of the time to improve this? Do I just wait for him to come on his own then reward with treat and encouragement or do I need to do some kind of immediate intervention/punishment? What's the best way to improve this?

3) He doesn't fetch. He plays tug of war and if I throw the toy he will chase it and either grab it or just run past it, but he won't bring it back. How do I train a dog to fetch?

4) Any books or websites that are good for basic instruction around this kind of thing?
posted by spicynuts to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Take him to obedience classes. Learn to clicker train him (there are great books out there on clicker training).

Those breeds can be very high maintenance. How much exercise is he getting? A couple of hours a day minimum.

How old is he?
posted by TheBones at 8:27 AM on April 9, 2010

Our cocker spaniel still tends to refuse to fetch, but I found that when we're in a long hallway (or its equivalent outside the house) and I throw a toy, he'll happily run after it and bring it back for me to throw again. This is followed by lots of praise and rewards, as punishments are much less effective. He was starting to get the point, and I think when we're in an open space his little brain just gets distracted. When you're training a dog for anything, try to do it in a controlled, semi-quiet environment.

I don't have advice for aggression, as that's an area I'm not well-versed in, but "come" will also be easier with treats. Practice indoors, then outside when he is leashed. Do this also when he isn't distracted, otherwise he's going to get used to ignoring the word. If he's paying attention but just sitting there looking at you, give the leash a tug until he's where you want him, and lavish him with praise. All it takes is lots of practice. Seems like he's on his way to mastering the command, and just needs a bit more.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 8:29 AM on April 9, 2010

Best answer: Definitely do NOT take your dog to the dog park. It's a really chaotic place and my trainer told me under no circumstances to take my dog-dog aggressive lab/collie mix there. See her blog post here. My dog is quite fearful, which makes her aggressive, so I enrolled her in socialization classes with a trainer, which helped quite a bit, and I try to keep my anxiety down because the dog picks up on. I'll take her for walks on a leash, so she can see other dogs, and then keep going with a safe distance between them to try to make it a more normal situation for her. If we hadn't moved, I would have kept up with the training as well. See Tara's other blog post here on dog/dog aggression, but I would recommend finding a good trainer familiar with this issue who has small class sizes in a highly controlled area.

As for coming when called, use treats and then eventually remove them. Lavish lots of praise. And follow through once you've started- don't give up in the middle if your dog doesn't come. Consistency is key.

With fetching, your dog is actually fetching the toy, just not giving it to you. This is a sign of control, and the fact that you're still working to establish yourself as the alpha dog. Follow your dog when they run by with the toy, tell him to sit, and then say "drop it" or a similar command as you pull on the toy and pull up on your dog's mouth- not hard, but so they get the idea. When you get the toy back, lots of praise and a treat, then throw the toy again, and repeat. I'm still working on this with my dog- she still doesn't bring the toy back to me and drop it, but she'll bring it near me and release nearly immediately once told to do so. Especially given the lab part, it's in your dog's blood to fetch so it's just a matter of establishing control.

Aside from Tara's blog, other good resources are "No Bad Dogs" by Woodhouse- incredibly old, but still a great book and relevant. Also, many of Richard Wolters' books would be helpful- again old, got from my dad when I got my dog, and still good.
posted by questionsandanchors at 8:44 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

P.S. I realize Wolters is more geared toward training your dog to retrieve game while hunting (which my dad did but I don't), but it is still helpful with training especially with regard to fetching.
posted by questionsandanchors at 8:46 AM on April 9, 2010

Best answer: He sounds like my rescue Aussie, whose 2 year adoption anniversary is coming up in a few weeks. In general, I really recommend picking up Karen Pryor's books, especially Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind, as I agree with The Bones that clicker training is the way to go -- it has sure worked with my Aussie.

As for specific answers:

1. My Aussie was dog aggressive too. We went to see a (great) dog behaviorist at one point. The approach which has worked over time, which she recommended, is this: keep a packet of string cheese or some other treat your dog is nuts about. ONLY give this treat for seeing other dogs. On walks, as soon as your dog (not you) spots another dog, and hopefully before your dog starts reacting, say your word for the treat, like "cheese!" in an incredibly happy voice, and treat. Keep feeding small amounts of the treat as long as the other dog is in sight. Eventually, your dog is going to figure out that other dogs mean fantastic treats. My dog now sits and looks at me expectantly as soon as another dog comes into view. As for muzzles, please no unless your dog is actively biting. I wouldn't do dog parks until you have a solid recall. Speaking of recall --

2. The best way to get a solid recall is to make coming to you one of the most wonderful things that can happen to your dog. Whatever unpleasant thing may lie ahead for your dog (vet, claw clipping, being put outside), make sure that the thing that happens when your dog comes to you is simply outstanding. A big petting celebration, a great treat, a belly rub -- whatever. After awhile you can just be positive and occasionally provide something out of this world for a recall. Use ONE word for recall, too, and a hand command as well because most dogs pick up and remember gestures much better than words. Also, start small -- recall at first from close to you, with treats, and don't start recalling when there are distractions around until you've nailed the easy recall situations. When your dog expects nothing but good stuff from a recall, you'll get solid responses. My dog races to me now when I call him, even in the dog park.

3. When I got him, my canine guy much preferred grabbing the toy and having me chase it to fetching, but he is now a pretty good fetcher. What I discovered is that he really, really loves tug of war. So I hold a toy he likes, like a sturdy one with a squeaker, and squeak it. Then we play tug of war with it, complete with mock growls. Then he "gives" me the toy (you can train this with clicker or by saying "give" and just not putting any tension on the toy so it gets boring for your dog to hold it in his mouth) and I throw it. I praise him for getting it and say "Bring!" If he brings the toy we play tug of war again -- that is his reward for bringing. Well, anyway, now we have a fun fetch setup. My dog has developed the rather cute habit of bringing his toy when I'm doing something else and nudging me with it -- dogese for "let's play fetch!"

Have fun. Working with your dog is a blast. And clicker training is super easy and will make your dog extremely happy. And by the way clicker training works on people too . . .
posted by bearwife at 8:49 AM on April 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Sorry, here is the link to Reaching the Animal Mind. Karen Pryor has a fine website, too.
posted by bearwife at 8:59 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I suppose other people will have differing opinions but we found The Dog Whisperer was a huge help in getting our dog to be more controllable. It got me out of the mindset that our dog was being willfully disobedient and instead, we focused on consistently sending her the right behavioral cues.

He deals with tons of dog/dog aggressive cases.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:59 AM on April 9, 2010

You might consider a Gentle Leader Headcollar instead of a muzzle. I know many dog owners who have successfully used this product for obedience/socialization training and they all swear by it. (I have no connection with this product or its manufacturers, and no personal experience with it.)

As far as books, I cannot recommend more highly the work of Patricia B. McConnell, especially The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs and For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend .

Good luck -- enjoy your new best friend!
posted by trip and a half at 9:05 AM on April 9, 2010

Muzzling your dog in a place with loose dogs will protect your dog against biting other dogs, yes (if it's applied correctly). But your dog would still, presumably, engage in aggressive posturing, which might in turn get *him* attacked by other dogs. Please keep your dog out of offleash parks, period.

Agree with The Bones: 2 hours of exercise every day, rain or shine. A tired dog is almost always a better behaved dog. Also agree about clicker training (it's how they train dolphins to do tricks), but you could use someone to show you how before going it on your own. See if any trainers in your area will teach you how to clicker train.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:32 AM on April 9, 2010

Please don't bring a muzzled dog to the dog park. I have a small dog (beagle/jack russell mix). She can stick up for herself just fine and loves to play with big dogs (her best friend at the dog park is an English Mastif that weighs almost 100 pounds more than she does). She goes to the dog park, a minutes walk away, once a day- maybe twice if she's lucky so she's VERY comfortable there. With that said, the second a muzzled dog enters the park, we leave. It's absolutely terrifying to me that someone with a dog that has issues (whether they are socialization issues or agression issues) would bring them to a crowded, hectic environment. You may think your dog is fine/that you can watch him/that the muzzle will protect, but just a few months ago I watched, horrified, as a dog caught it's muzzle on a piece of the fence, ripped it off of it's face, and proceeded to rip into another dog (a lab mix that was so surprised he could not fight back). That dog is still recovering. Not to mention that they can still be really intimidating...your dog might not be able to bite, but he can still tackle my dog, get in her face and growl, etc.

What worked for my pup back home (she's a wimp, and used to be very aggressive when she got scared/intimidated by big dogs) was very very careful interaction. She could interact with other dogs, but only when she was on a leash, they were on a leash, and the other dog's owners knew that she got aggressive when frightened. She got a ton of treats (we used string cheese just like bearwife describes) during each of these sessions. She eventually began to realize that other dogs=good things. It took about a year before we could let her off leash around other off leash dogs, but now she goes to the dog park all the time and loves it. All it takes is a "Bella! No!" when she's playing too hard and she'll come back to me.

But definitely keep playing with him! It takes some time to learn fetch. Again, bearwife's suggestion of how to teach your dog fetch is a good one. The only reason my pup fetches is because she knows she gets to play tug of war afterwards!
posted by kro at 10:29 AM on April 9, 2010

The dog park is full of smells, noise, people, as well as dogs. My dog tries to be dominant, and behaves accordingly with other dogs by using a dominant stance and other cues, but he doesn't bite, growl or otherwise cause actual trouble, and he's puny, so mostly the other dogs look at him with bewilderment, while their owners laugh. I talk to other owners to be sure he's not causing trouble. He makes big-dog friends and off they run.

Your dog isn't ready for the dog park. When the dog is coming to you anyway, like for supper, say "Come" and reward the dog. Treat is accompanied by praise, of course. Practice calling the dog when she's on a long tie, and reward her for success. Look for a place where you can take your dog off leash. Maybe a dog park at an hour of day it's deserted, like very late in the day. Make sure your dog knows you have treats. Practice calling her and treating her. Over time, as she gets used to coming every time you call, she'll be trained.
posted by theora55 at 11:17 AM on April 9, 2010

Response by poster: Great feedback everyone, thanks! Just so no one thinks I'm completely irresponsible - there's no way I would have done the muzzle thing without talking to a local trainer first, it's just that the idea popped into my head and I figured I'd test the waters on it here. You've confirmed my reservations about it anyway.
posted by spicynuts at 11:40 AM on April 9, 2010

Best answer: Dog parks are not suitable for many dogs, yours is one of them.

Train a really reliable recall:
1) take a handful of tasty treats (and some of your dog's meal) into the most boring room in the house (usually the bathroom), call dog's name, feed treat, lather, rinse, repeat. The dog DOES NOT have to do ANYTHING except eat the treat. No sit, no down, no eye contact, nothing. This is classical conditioning (Pavlovian), where you are building an association in the dog's mind between his name and something good. Do this twice a day at least for 15-20 repetitions every day for at least a couple of weeks, and then at least a few times a week. Call name, feed cookie. Nothing else.
2) a few times a day, grab a cookie of some kind, walk up to dog, call dog, feed cookie. Again, the ONLY requirement is that the dog hear you call it, and you must be close enough to the dog that the reward follows immediately. Do this a few times a day for a few weeks.
3) from a few feet away, call the dog and reward it for coming. Lather, rinse, repeat. Gradually increase the distance and distractions.

Basic rules:
1) DO NOT EVER, EVER, EVER punish the dog for coming to you. If you call the dog and he goes about his business and makes his way back to you in a leisurely fashion eventually, reward the heck out of him. We train our dogs NOT to come more often than we train them TO come by: calling them in an angry, mean voice; punishing them for what WE think is disobedience, but what they think is coming when called (eventually) - protip: what the dog thinks is all that matters here; punishing them inadvertently by calling them and then doing something unpleasant (brushing, crating, nail trimming, etc.); punishing them inadvertently by making calling them mean fun is over (counteract the fact that sometimes fun IS over by regularly calling them over, feeding them a cookie, releasing them).
2) REGULARLY reward the dog for coming to you, especially when called. That means food, belly rubs, playtime, whatever. You can never reward your recall enough, and you should never stop rewarding it at least some relatively high percentage of the time.

Finally, definitely get into training classes with someone experienced who uses modern, science-based methods, not outdated punishment-based or "dominance" based methods.
posted by biscotti at 3:54 PM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

We have two medium sized dogs that just aren't well socialized. Our local trainer offers socialization time at the dog daycare he runs. Basically he watches them very carefully, and introduces selected dogs into the subdivided pen one at a time based on their reactions. It hasn't been a magic wand, but I do think in time they'll get better with other dogs. Not exactly a book or a website, but something that's worked for us in a similar situation.
posted by korej at 6:03 PM on April 9, 2010

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