Dog Training 101
October 26, 2017 5:27 PM   Subscribe

How do I make myself authoritative to a high-energy and intelligent dog without becoming frustrated?

Recently we got a dog. He is a Ridgeback/Terrier mix, about 70 pounds, a little under two years old. He was very lethargic when we got him last spring. This was because his previous owner crated him when she was at work and because she was keeping him quiet on account of a bad case of heartworm. Before living with this owner he came from a shelter.

From observing his behavior, I believe that someone worked with him at some point to teach him "sit," and to walk to the left of a person while on a leash. I also believe that someone punished him with a broom, as he cringes whenever he sees us carrying a broom, mop, or other similarly-shaped item. We've worked to desensitize him to that fear by talking to him calmly while sweeping, mopping, etc. His new life seems to be working for him - he's far less fearful than he was, and cringes a lot less around brooms than he did at first. Overall his confidence is growing by leaps and bounds. The heartworm is gone, and because we are home all the time, we rarely crate him, so he is developing all kinds of energy.

I used to walk him every morning but as he gains energy he pulls more and more. Also explodes at rabbits and squirrels. I bought an anti-pull harness, which helped, but then someone told me this will actually encourage him to pull in the long run. To just let him get off steam I started taking him to a local dog park. He absolutely loves this park, wears himself out running around, and then in the afternoon when one of us walks him again he is much better about not pulling. But. I want to be able to walk him on the days I can't get to the park without him trying to pull my arm off.

I try and read dog tips online and on the green, but I've never owned a dog before. I don't know how to make him listen to me. He knows when I am asking him something. He understands his name, sit, stay(ish) and when I'm calling and tapping my leg, trying to get him to come from, say, the other side of the dog park. Sometimes he comes when I call him, sometimes, especially when he is trying to engage another dog, he doesn't seem to hear. When on the leash, unless I stop multiple times to remind him not to pull (eventually, reluctantly, he stops), he pulls, and if he's stopped pulling he's giving me reproachful looks.

He always does do what I say, eventually, because I insist on it. But it makes me feel bad, because I have to tap his hindquarters to make him sit, or call his name repeatedly to get him to come to me. I did read somewhere to praise him lavishly whenever he does come, and I do this, and he knows he's being praised, but then next time I call he ignores me again. He is not treat motivated. Just spits treats out. I want to get him to see me as a dominant dog, to follow my commands, without coming across as mean or authoritarian. How do I do this?

I know, dog training classes. But it will be a while before we can do one of those, so, what do I do in the meantime? Any broad lists of dos and don'ts that actually work? Any book recommendations besides Cesar Milan?

Also, any tips specifically for Ridgebacks? I am not sure what else he has in him. We think terrier, maybe pitbull, because pitbulls are extremely common where I live, and he has ears like one. Also he loves to run and seems to be stubborn the way terriers are often described to be.

I know people ask all kinds of dog questions, but I am really looking for advice I can apply to my dog and his personality, and to my (gross) inexperience. Thanks hivemind.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I trained a terrier and this is what worked for us: Be patient. Stick with it. Be consistent. Use treats, whether food, praise, a bit of tug of war. Whatever your dog likes. Introduce trick training sessions twice a day, for no more than 10 minutes at a go. That’s challenging and fun and reinforces the communication skills you both need to work on.

I had the same concern about the no pull leash when the trainer suggested it. She said what did it matter if the dog pulled when on a regular leash? Always use the no pull. Nine years in and it’s no problem (to be clear: Doughty Dog wears the kind in which the lead attaches at her sternum).

Good luck! You can do this.
posted by notyou at 5:48 PM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Finding what motivates your dog to work for you is one of the most important steps in any training regimen. My parents have owned dogs that were not treat motivated and we could get around it either with "high value" treats that are especially yummy or with play, depending on the dog. Getting your dog to always "hear" you, regardless of distraction or activity, is called "proofing." Proofing requires a bunch of patience and involves training in environments that are free of distractions and gradually adding distractions/changes over time. Part of this process is developing a relationship with your dog where you are the most important thing in the world to them, and obeying your commands has more value than that cool smell over there or that weird dog over here.

You can learn to train dogs using books, but classes help you avoid common mistakes. For instance, I've watched a few dozen people train their dogs to sit after the word is repeated five times (command nagging) or marking the wrong behavior with the clicker. You can avoid this sort of thing if you use your phone to record your training sessions and watch them back. (Am I saying sit 17 times? Am I letting the dog fail more than 3 times in a row? Am I marking the correct behaviors? Am I training for too long? etc. etc.)
posted by xyzzy at 5:57 PM on October 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

Almost two years ago I got my first dog as an adult. She's older, but is mighty smart and that was a big problem for training. I also use the no-pull harness (attaching at the sternum) and it is a lifesaver and I have not observed it makes her pull more. It was suggested by my trainer.

Training every day so she gets used to obeying rather than trusting her own judgement. And it doesn't stop. Right now we're working on "wait". The first things I worked on were recall and "look at me". She still (too) often reserves the right to decide if I'm right or not, but it really does work to get her in the habit of obedience.
posted by frumiousb at 5:58 PM on October 26, 2017

Clicker training is a wonderful way to get dogs to listen to you. The videos they've gathered there cover a good selection of basics. It involves positive reinforcement & is fun for all concerned, and you don't need a clicker you can simply replace the "click" with a key word like "good". I can't speak to the Ridgeback part but as the owner of two terriers, the terrier part will love learning new things & mental exercise can also be tiring to a dog.

Work lots of little training sessions into a day, no matter what your'e doing. I have dog treats in the pockets of most of my around the house clothes so I can reinforce behaviours I want to. Your dog might be happy with a scritch, or a quick play of tug of war as a reward, try to have these handy. So say walking to the laundry I might suddenly get my dog to sit/stay for a few seconds as he's following me. It's best to start work on things like not pulling, sitting etc in low stress environments around the house before you go out not at the dog park, then work up to those situations. Consistent reinforcement of positive behavior is the way to go.

Terriers have a serious "what's in it for me" mentality which it helps to keep in mind, you can use this to help shape their behaviors to be more agreeable. So for example instead of treats to reinforce not pulling you can actually use going toward the thing he wants to go to as the reward (assuming it's safe etc), as long as he's not pulling approach the object, the second he pulls turn & walk away until he's walking nicely again, then turn back and approach the thing. You will look like a fool to passers by, but you are teaching your dog walking nicely get's him what he wants.

One thing to remember when training an intelligent dog, if you're repeating the command the dog is learning it can wait until you say thing x number of times before it has to do the command. I accidentally taught my Rat Terrier he didn't have to come until I got my seriously anoyed voice on, which took a bit to untrain. The only you really want to repeat a command is if the dog doesn't hear you or appears confused about what was requested of them.
posted by wwax at 6:03 PM on October 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

Just seconding that it's totally fine to just...always use a no-pull harness.

My dog is a nightmare on a regular leash and for a long period of time we worked really hard and consistently on it and it still sucked- he just was bred to pull and will always pull without constant exhausting corrections. We have a lot of ways to get him off-leash exercise, and for when we can't do that we keep our leash ALWAYS attached to a Gentle Leader. So if he's on a leash he's on the Leader and he doesn't want to pull and the person holding the leash can relax some.
posted by charmedimsure at 6:12 PM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't know how to make him listen to me.

Make the things that you want him to do better from his point of view than the things he was doing at the time.

Clicker training is a good method to do this. When you're working with a smart and biddable dog, it gets downright spooky sometimes.

Any book recommendations besides Cesar Milan?

Cesar Milan is an idiot. If you have one of his books, grind it up into little bitsy bits, burn the bits, bury the ashes, salt the ground you buried the ashes in, and then call a representative of your favorite deity for an exorcism.

biscotti recommends:

Donaldson, _Culture Clash_
McConnell, _The Other End of the Leash_
Pryor, _Don't Shoot the Dog_
Alexander, _Click for Joy_
Miller, _The Power of Positive Dog Training_
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:13 PM on October 26, 2017 [11 favorites]

In Laurie Anderson’s documentary “Heart of a Dog" (link to review & trailer) she says that when training other dogs, most dogs will ask “What’s in it for me?” but when training terriers, the terrier will ask “Will it be fun?”

Making it fun will make all the difference.
posted by mulcahy at 6:20 PM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Happy owner of terriers here.

As noted, the most important thing is to figure out what's valuable to your dog, and then provide that when your dog does what you tell him to do. Dogs I've had in the past have been motivated by a chance to do another challenging task, yummy treats, petting accompanied by lavish praise, cuddling, and so forth. Some especially smart dogs have different motivators at different times, so you really have to know your own dog.

Much of what I have to say you will learn in an obedience class, but until that happens... Expect your dog to obey the very first time you issue a particular command. If he doesn't do that, make him do it. Then, to keep him from feeling defeated (or whatever term you want to use), give him a command that you know he will ace so he can get whatever reward you've determined means the most to him. Always end on a positive.

Train your dog to give you his attention when you say his name in *that* tone of voice. The tone that says there is a command coming right up. Reward the hell out of him when he attends to you alertly when he hears his name. Just getting his attention and readiness to obey is a huge success.

Invest in a long leash, like a 25' training leash. You'll find it invaluable when teaching your dog to come as soon as you call him. If he doesn't come right away, you can jerk on the long leash or, at worst, reel him in. But he'll learn that when you say "come", you mean "come". That could save his life some day.
posted by DrGail at 6:27 PM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

In addition to GCU Sweet and Full of Grace's very good list (McConnell is especially good), pick up a copy of Plenty in Life Is Free

You'll want to develop trust and teamwork rather than authoritarianism. More benevolent leader.
posted by vers at 6:36 PM on October 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

(it's biscotti's list I just copied it because she is smartbrained)
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:18 PM on October 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

What treats are you giving him? Dog biscuit type treats may not be good enough to motivate him. If you give him meat scraps or little bits of cheese, does he spit those out? Have you tried peanut butter? Plain yogurt? Cat food? I wouldn't conclude he's not treat motivated unless you've tried some really good stuff and found that he still wasn't interested.
posted by Redstart at 7:39 PM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I bought an anti-pull harness, which helped, but then someone told me this will actually encourage him to pull in the long run

You don't need a fancy harness. Learn to half hitch the dog. Takes 10 seconds, use any regular leash. The dog teaches himself not to pull.

Sometimes he comes when I call him, sometimes, especially when he is trying to engage another dog, he doesn't seem to hear.

A really good way to teach a dog to come when called is to play hide and seek. You'll need to teach a reliable sit/stay. Once you can do that, take a treat, and go hide somewhere in the house and call. I use "To Me" because dogs don't hear words, they hear sounds, and that one is pretty distinct. When dog find you, he gets the treat. Once this works in the house, backyard, dog park, etc. This is hours of entertainment, honestly. It's my favorite game with my dogs.

Pretty soon, dog figures when you call, there's either a game afoot and maybe treats involved. With some frequency, there should be. But, you can train a pretty decent recall this way - I can call my dogs off a rabbit or other game pretty reliably.

Also, any tips specifically for Ridgebacks?

Ridgebacks tend to be smart, and will want to be leader if someone else is not. If you act like you are and should be in charge, they will follow you. IME, they tend to be fiercely loyal and so by the time they are fully grown (2-3 years) with work, you will have a dedicated friend. They're an excellent dog.

They are also high energy, as you have found. It's a working breed. Teach tricks and lots of work. This is not a dog that does boredom very well.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:27 PM on October 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

He is not treat motivated. Just spits treats out. I want to get him to see me as a dominant dog, to follow my commands, without coming across as mean or authoritarian. How do I do this?

To a certain extent, you cannot. Dogs respect authority, and 90% of that is acting like you are supposed to have it. You may have to physically correct the dog, but that's how they learn with other dogs - they get landed on when they cross a boundary. If you need to correct a behavior - like he nips your fingers for a treat - it should be immediate, abrupt, and decisive.

It will be far more work in the beginning than it will be when they are, say, 8. But put the work in now - 10-15 minute sessions 2-3 times per night, learning and practicing some task. This investment comes back 10x.

Dogs like treats, but not all dogs like all treats - but, hunger is a thing. Work with the dog before they eat a meal and I bet they are more motivated for treats. And shredded stinky treats - tuna, cheese, etc. tend to really get them going - and they are great because you can give a little or a lot.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:59 PM on October 26, 2017

Clicker training. Magic. You don't need a trainer. Read the books and follow the regimen consistently, without exceptions, you and everyone else in the household, and you will see results very quickly. Don't bother with dog treats. Buy some ham, or cut up cheese sticks or leftover roasted chicken skin, or turkey hot dogs, hardboiled eggs, or something your dog would actually want to eat (my pit bull terrier mutt never went for "dog treats," the real food was so much better--and healthier, and cheaper). No need to be perceived as the "dominant dog,” that's bunk science, and don't be the dude with the harness (or the horrible "I give up" muzzle leash--i owned both the harness and the muzzle leash) who wouldn't take the time to reach his dog. Just be consistent and patient.
posted by halogen at 10:04 PM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

We got started by watching Zach George videos. It's annoying that they have embeded ads but he is really positive and helpful.

Basic principles of positive training:
1) Give LOTS of treats - way more than you think
2) Catch your dog doing a positive behavior
3) Immediately "mark" the behavior with a clicker or your voice, "YES!"
4) Give a treat

Eventually, dogs all learn that that "marking" means "I will get a treat", and dog notices which desired behaviors you're marking.

For some things, you can start by leading them to the behavior with a treat. For example, teaching the dog to lie down- you can 'lead' the dog by putting the treat in front of their nose till they do the behavior, then mark it "YES!" then give the treat.

Our doggo has to "earn" anything he wants to do. Wants to walk out the door? Sit first. Want dinner? Sit and look at us first.

Positive training works! Look up Operant Conditioning and Ian Dunbar.
posted by latkes at 10:36 PM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah and if doggo doesn't like the treats, find better treats (meat!). Some dogs are motivated by a favorite toy too, but lunch meat or little pieces of cheese are pretty universal.
posted by latkes at 10:38 PM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is a trick I've learned from petsitting. Another great way to wear a dog out is to take them for bike walks. You bike, they go at their preferred pace. It's the best.
posted by aniola at 11:14 PM on October 26, 2017

Seconding zak George. Find him on YouTube; his book is great too.
posted by bookworm4125 at 12:27 AM on October 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Films with preposterously long airport runways   |   like a kong. but for toddlers. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.