Unusual advice for struggling owners with dogs who "aren’t treat motivated" and can’t get attention on walks

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sourced from: https://www.reddit.com/r/Dogtraining/comments/il4l26/unusual_advice_for_struggling_owners_with_dogs/

Here`s another great article:

I see so many of these types of people on this subreddit and want to share my own experience which may help you.

I am not a professional trainer but have read multiple dog training books and watched hundreds of hours of YouTube videos. I've also tried various methods.

Most of the advice is either bad or at least didn't work with my dogs. What I'm suggesting below may seem strange or controversial, but it has helped massively. I want it to be direct and with no BS. I want to help. If you see yourself here, this isn't an attack. It took me years to learn this stuff.

1) Don't use a walk to help your dog release energy. This is a coping mechanism to get you through the day and get your dog to 'settle' or sleep. One of your biggest responsibilities as your dog's guardian and leader is to 'manage their state'. That means not letting them get overexcited, stressed, anxious, fearful etc. You have to learn to recognise that state, what triggers cause it and then train calmness and confidence with that trigger or situation. A walk should only be for you/your dog's exercise and/or enjoyment. It is for their cardio and socialization. That's it. You need to train calmness and settling at home. If they are continually destructive or nagging – you correct and then isolate if necessary so they can learn that such behaviour doesn't get them anywhere. There's plenty of resources and ways about doing this. If a dog cannot behave calmly on a walk, you don't go on a walk. Or you go without your dog if you want to go. If you want to eventually go on a walk with your dog, you need to train them to behave calmly. This starts with walking around your house, your garden/yard, outside your front door, within sight of your house, etc. Go back to basics. Freedom must be earned. To earn it, they need to know how to earn it, which requires training from you. If they get overexcited/stressed when you start looking like you are about to go for a walk, you need to desensitise them to your leaving cues. Again, there are many resources about how to do this.

Our experience: We used to do this until this year when I decided enough was enough. We were up to 3 hours a day of walking with plenty of off-leash time. They were not badly behaved, but not well behaved either, and certainly not interested in me/my wife while on a walk. Despite the high amount of exercise, they were still quite reactive at home. We eventually learned that essentially their cortisol levels were always high. We now manage that very carefully.

Now, we play at home a LOT more. On some days we may only go for a 30-minute lead walk, mainly for our enjoyment and for their socialization. If they start getting overexcited or anxious, we head back home or turn away from the trigger. Focus is always on us. We manage their interactions very closely. They have learned that we decide if, where and when we go for a walk, how long for, and what we do on the walk. It really comes down to training, training, training.

We also increased food intake for one dog despite a lower amount of exercise, so they had MORE energy which they could direct towards us and play.

Results:

More settled at home than they have ever been, despite 80% less exercise. Still WIP though. Less exercise, WAY more engagement and focus on us. They play with us significantly more. Reduced focus on distractions like other dogs. 2) Don't 'over-routine' your dogs. Dogs string cues together. If they know that first thing in the morning, you go for a walk. As soon as they see you they will start the emotional state of however they feel about walks and it will be difficult to get them back to calmness. Some routine is good, but don't become a slave to it. Mix it up occasionally. If your dog is over-routined, you may need to mix it up a lot at first.

Our experience: Our dogs had a very structured routine. Up > walk > return > Kong > rest/sleep until afternoon > meal > rest > walk > dental chew> rest/sleep. One dog, in particular, was anxious about going for walks, yet we didn't realise. So… we stopped doing that to him and started to work on his anxiety about going on a walk. Now some days they get 1 big meal instead of 2. Sometimes we feed first and then go for a walk. Sometimes we walk, then feed. Sometimes we wait all day then walk. Sometimes we feed them outside. Some days they get some of their food in a Kong, sometimes they don't.

We have also started gesture eating (prepare their meal then have a small snack while it is ready to show leaders eat first).

Results:

Our more anxious dog has significantly increased his confidence level and looks to us way more for leadership and guidance. Why? 'Over-routined' dogs can get it into their head that they are dictating the structure of the day: how and when they are fed, when and where you go for a walk. They see themselves as the pack leader. Taking this away demonstrates that you are the leader. Our more confident dog is less reactive than she was. Both dogs see us more as leaders than before. 3. If your training isn't working, you've gone too far too quickly. Here are the stages that a lot of people think you go through to train your dog to walk to heel and give you focus: In the house. In the garden. Outside. In the dog park. This is not correct. Instead of ~4 stages, it needs to probably be 15+ stages. Example: In the house In the garden/yard. Just outside your front door. Within 10 metres of your front door, pavement. Within 20 metres of your front door, pavement. On a quiet road, pavement. On a road that is a little busier, pavement. On a familiar patch of grass (smells) close to your home with no distractions (ie dogs) around. ….etc etc If at any point a dog won't take a treat from you, a) see the next section, and b) go back to a point where they would. Don't 'compete' with the environment with treats. You don't need 'super-premium' treats like pan-fried liver or something. Some deli ham, or turkey, or cooked chicken, or cubes of cheese or whatever is fine. Something they don't get very often that is smelly and they enjoy. Quick fact: for every 1 minute your dog plays with another dog, they need to play 3 minutes with you just to maintain their level of interest in you/humans. If you want to increase their level of interest and focus in you, you need to do way more than this ratio. NB – play doesn't have to be fetch, can be trick training, acrobatics, scent work… anything.

Our experience: Our dogs would 100% not listen to us in the park. We could have chicken rolled in bacon and peanut butter and they still wouldn't be interested. They'd be too distracted by dogs and smells. Now, they simply aren't allowed to 'fail'. That means if we want to do something with them, ie play a game, they go on a lead or long line, and then we play. If they don't want to play, that's fine (although it means we haven't trained it sufficiently well) but they don't get to go back off lead and do their own thing. If we want to let them off for a while and do their own thing, we let them.

Results:

Considerably more obedience on and off-leash. Much more energy and focus directed towards us. Stay closer to us when off lead. Our walks (for now) are to less 'interesting' places where we go to play, not to simply let them sniff around or run around with dogs. 4) If a dog is not food motivated, they are not hungry enough. Dogs can go for weeks without food. They are by nature a feast-famine creature. In the wild they might not eat for 1-2 weeks and then consume 20% of their body weight in a day. Your dog will be absolutely fine without food for a day or 2. Quick fact: a dog under human observation once went 117 days without eating. A record. The humans had to stop the observation since they got too worried. Absolutely, unequivocally, do not 'free-feed', ie putting a bowl down and letting them graze all day. They will never be hungry and learn that food will always be available. You need to train them that it won't be. Put their bowl down and take it away if they don't eat it or walk away. Try not feeding them for a day then seeing if their motivation for food increases. If not, try 2 days, then 3 etc. However long it takes until they are hungry enough to want to 'work' for their food. Don't 'force' treats or training. If you have a nice bit of smelly cheese or chicken and they are turning away from you, that means they don't want to play. Don't force it. Come back later. It's ok to give a freebie or 2 to get their initial interest. Dogs – usually – LOVE working for food. Dogs love to have a job which they get 'paid' for. You just need to find the thing(s) they enjoy. Tying in with the 'over-routined' point above, mix up when/where/how you feed. If they always know food comes in the morning and you try training just before, they'll know they won't have to 'work' for their food since they will get it for free soon anyway. Note, this is mainly applicable for the initial part of training – in the house. See above re not competing with the environment with ever-better treats. If they are not willing to work for a nice bit of cheese/chicken in the house with no distractions, they need to be hungrier. If they are really motivated by play/toys, then this is irrelevant since that can be their reward.

Our experience: Our boy was always food motivated in the house, never on a walk. For him, it was less about making him hungry and more about breaking training down sufficiently. Our girl has never been hugely food motivated despite being a Labradoodle. We have never free-fed. If they leave their bowl (with some exceptions like water breaks) then the bowl is picked up and not fed until next meal.

We stopped allowing both so much freedom, mixed up feeding routines, and played/worked more. We didn't change the girl's food intake and increased the boy's intake (since he's always been a bit low energy) but their exercise has gone down. So they both actually have more energy.

We broke their training down into tiny increments so they were always in a calm enough state to take a treat and want to work for one.

When starting the new regime, they both went 1 day without food to allow for an appetite to return.

Results:

Girl is significantly more interested in treats and working for food. Still WIP but both are WAY more interested in treats when on walks. This is probably partly because they don't have an option to go and do their own thing. So much of training is about not letting your dogs 'fail' (do what they want, not what you want). 5. Don't talk to your dog. Use body language and gestures over words wherever possible. Try training almost without speaking a single word. Be REALLY specific and clear if using your voice. 1-word commands, spoken clearly and neutrally. Don't speak to them unless you want them to do something. Otherwise, they will learn to tune you out. Be intentional. If you need to speak 'about' them (ie to your partner) use a codeword (we use Dog-1 and Dog-2). Don't repeat commands. Your dog's name is a command, usually for 'Look at me'. If you keep repeating your dog's name, and it keeps ignoring you, that command will become meaningless. Instead, go back to a point where they would successfully respond to that command. Quick fact: for every 1 failure for a dog responding successfully to a command, they need 3 successes in order to maintain the success rate of that command. If you want to increase the reliability of that command, you need to significantly improve that ratio.

Our experience: We used to do this all the time. Now we don't.

Results:

More intentionality. They know if we call them or speak to them, we want them for something. They are not tuning us out.

———

Remember: dogs aren't intentionally annoying, disrespectful, naughty, or badly behaved. They just need training. If you ever get frustrated and are about to take it out on your dog, remember they are just doing what comes instinctively. It's not their fault. You need to train them. I know it's hard and takes time and energy (it took us 3 years to get where we are now, and it still isn't perfect), but you are their guardian and leader. It's on you.

I hope that at least some of you find this helpful and gives you a different way of thinking about your training if you are struggling or have struggled in the past. If you disagree, please at least be respectful.

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