Adopting a dog as a new trainer. Travelogue.

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My girlfriend and I recently adopted an approximately 1 YO, F, unfixed "Idaho Shag" dog. I share our experience so that others can learn from our mistakes and for any free advice/encouragement from all the pros on this forum 😉

This is MY first dog. I had a couple of dogs growing up but was not responsible for their training. They were well-loved, but poorly behaved dogs. I want to do a better job than my family did. I've come here to learn from the wiki.

She is a good dog. We are lucky to have her. She kennels without too much of a problem (it takes some coaxing to get her in there, but once in she whines and paws for a few minutes and is calm). She came to us well housebroken (accidents the first night, but it was our fault for bringing her home without a kennel). She rapidly learned her name and is very responsive to us humans (she already is good with the early training goals like the 'come' game in Sue Ailsby's training levels). Furthermore, She is affectionate, has pretty good doggy manners, and has seemed to enjoy training. She clearly has some weirdness in her past, though, with distinct triggers for this anxiety: loud noises provoke excessive fear/anxiety (shrunk posture, tail between the legs, head down); the clicking from bicycles' freehubs similarly freaks her out; though generally very excited to see some dogs, others (I have not noticed any unifying characteristics), cause her to whimper and cower. Also, she seems to have more energy than I can expend with walking.

Things she does well:

Sits, when she wants to Comes, when she wants to Has a good 'leash' when off-leash. Sits when seeking attention

Areas that need work:

Leash training. She jumps, tugs, and chews at leashes, becomes agitated if the leash catches on something. Barking. Every little sound in the foyer of my apt causes a brief barking spell (only really a problem because I live in an apt). Listening. When there are distractions, she won't perform even basic obedience. Prey drive. This was the reason she was surrendered. Her previous family had bunnies and chickens that they couldn't get her to leave alone.

Already, I can see I've made a lot of mistakes with her. Her first night in the house, I was up most of the night. She was extremely anxious. I was trying to sleep. Once, she started chewing a plant and I told her no. From that point on, when I was asleep and she wanted to rouse me, she went and tugged on the same plant (as loudly a possible) to get my, "no!" and attention. Another mistake was the couch rules. The first day in the house, thinking we were making her comfortable, we let her up on the couch. Now, it is her primary comfy spot. Training her to not climb on there without permission is challenging.

It has taken some trial and error to figure out how to train. She won't listen when she's too wound up, so immediately after taking her to potty in the morning, I throw a ball for 15-20 minutes. After that, she listens much better. What has surprised me about training is how context-specific her training cues are, and how easy it can be to incorrectly associate cues. Inadvertently, when training to lay down, I held a hunched, leaned forward body position while holding my hand downward for a hand signal (a hold-over from my luring beginning). As she became more comfortable doing the skill, I stopped holding this position because I wasn't having to lure. Suddenly, she regressed, acting like she didn't know what she wanted me to do after the command. I said to myself, "okay, this is normal. Losing some skill is natural." So I started from the beginning again. She picked it up really quickly (like instantaneously). But the same thing happened again: as she became more confident, I stopped leaning forward so much, and the skill disappeared. After two or three cycles of this, I became aware of my change in body position. With this awareness, I tried the skill in our next training session with the 'leaned forward' position–instant obedience. I was the one who had to adjust my body position slowly for her to learn the skill with the correct cue.

Though our pup seems to enjoy the game of training sessions, we either haven't found the right treat for her or she isn't very food motivated. When I have tried doing some training outside, the fact that I am holding treats doesn't matter to her. I practiced, "come," on a walk this morning, but only once. She came–did the skill perfectly in fact. After I clicked and tried to offer her the treat, she wasn't interested. Her nose was on a swivel. So it seemed like the best reward I could offer was to give her some love and let her follow her nose. Given that my reward was letting her return to what she was already doing, it didn't feel like I was offering her any reward at all. We didn't do any more outdoor training.


My most important goal is expanding obedience to more contexts. When there are distractions is the most important time for commands to work! Practice Karen Overalls Relaxation Regimine. Though she already seems to have some of the skills in this program, she still has a lot of anxiety. It seems like starting from square one will make sure that she has all the skills she needs. Eventually, I think I would like to climb Sue Ailsby's levels. Our pup is pretty active, and I think agility training might be a good way to expend her mental energy without me wearing out and becoming too bored as well.

Any other goals I should consider? Any other especially helpful resources for beginner trainers like myself? Please point them out to me!

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