Dog Training: The Beginning

Welcome to a new mini-series: How to train your dog!  This doesn’t have much to do with baking, but I figured this was a good a place as any to detail my adventures in dog training.

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Junior and Bear both came into my life as adolescent shelter dogs.  Bear had come from a previous owner who’d clearly put some time and effort into training him–he knew how to walk nicely on a leash, was house-trained, didn’t jump on people, and didn’t counter-surf.  He also seemed to know the command “can I have it?” as a cue to drop his ball/rope/toy/etc.  However, he didn’t seem to know anything about sit, stay, or come, and it didn’t seem like he’d ever been on an off-leash adventure before.  He certainly didn’t have any socialization–he was scared of every dog that came his way!  And, of course, when a 90 lb shepherd mix gets scared, he comes off as ferocious to many other dogs and people…. No good.  Bear had (has) a lot of anxiety in general; he freaked when he saw other dogs, stepped in something soft (sand, dirt), was passed by large trucks, saw bikers, walked through tall grass, and a myriad of other seemingly innocuous things.

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As for Junior, well, he didn’t know anything.  He wasn’t house-trained, yanked my arm off every time we went outside, was incredibly mouthy (the play-biting puppies do), and jumped on every single person he saw.   In short, he was nuts.  He’s a smart guy, so easily learned to sit, shake, lay down, roll over, etc.  Because of his energy level, we spent a lot of time at dog parks, and by some miracle, he loved every other dog.  At the park, he learned pretty quickly to “come” and not to jump on other other humans.

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Today, Junior and Bear are pretty good dogs.  I wouldn’t say I know much about dog training, but I could at least teach them the basics.  However, they’re not great dogs.  Junior still jumps on some of our house-guests and still pulls my arm off on a leash and Bear still has anxiety–he is still afraid of dogs larger than him and gets pretty reactive when he sees other dogs on walks.  He’s also not very good at coming when called at parks and off-leash adventures.

Therefore, I’m starting a new mission: teaching Junior and Bear to be well-mannered in every aspect.  I want them to be able to come with me to dog-friendly bars and restaurants and I want to be able to walk them calmly on leash, even when they see distractions.  I want them to have access to as many parts of my life as possible!  So, I’ve armed myself with a clicker and a mountain of training treats and am using my free time to work on some of their skills.

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We’ve entered the world of positive reinforcement training and my goals for this include:

Junior:

  • stop pulling on leash
  • stop jumping on people
  • get better at the “leave it” command
  • be less reactive toward squirrels and cats
  • work on calming down in exciting situations
  • develop the ability to sit still or lay down for longer periods of time
  • have a rock-solid “come” so I can take him on more off leash adventures!

Bear:

  • get better at “come”
  • decrease reactivity towards other dogs
  • decrease anxiety by identifying triggers and avoiding them
  • walk next to me on leash, don’t lag behind
  • don’t beg for food in the kitchen or by the table

Ultimately, I want to teach both of them the skills they need to calm down; Junior needs those skills when he gets over-excited (it leads to pulling on walks, jumping on his favorite people, lack of ability to sit still) and Bear needs those skills when his anxiety kicks in (which leads to his reactivity).

We’ve started training already and Bear is responding wonderfully to the clicker and treats because he’s an incredibly food motivated dog.  Junior is less food motivated, so it’s proving to be a bit more challenging with him.  I hope to keep you posted through the milestones of our training adventures!

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2 thoughts on “Dog Training: The Beginning

  1. I’m very impressed with what you’ve done up until now, from when you first got them. You are right, Junior was totally nuts. Best of luck. I can’t wait to see them at Thanksgiving. Also, nice use of “Innocuous.”

    Word.

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