Dog Training: Progress Report


Pupdate: Junior and Bear are doing great with their training!  Things take a bit of trial and error, but here’s what we’re doing now:


Bear’s biggest issue is fear-based reactivity.  Since it doesn’t seem like he was socialized much as a pup (and was a stray for the first few months of his life), he is especially anxious around other dogs.  But, because he’s a big shepherd mix, when he gets scared and anxious (and starts barking and lunging and growling), people get scared of him!  He also has a tendency to…”take it out” on Junior when he gets stressed, and will lunge at the poor little guy.  This is probably my biggest issue with walking the two of them (by myself, I can’t separate them!!).


So serious!

Anyway, we’ve been working on desensitizing him to other dogs.  Translation: when he sees another dog on a walk (regardless of his behavior), he gets cookies.  Or cheese.  Or hot dogs.  Our goal is to re-wire his brain in a certain sense so that instead of having an immediate (negative) emotional reaction to other dogs on walks, he has a positive association with it.  So far, it seems to be working!  He still gets scruffy and sometimes growls, but he has started looking at me when he sees other dogs!  Now that he seems a little less reactive, we’re going to work on “touch” (he touches his nose to my palm, a command he’s already super good at) as a response to seeing other dogs.  Bear also seems to have a negative reaction to people speaking other languages (which makes me wonder what happened to him before he came to us!), so we’re employing the same desensitization techniques to deal with that.

Because Bear is so food motivated, training him has been pretty easy.  He’s picked up on “heel” already–he doesn’t always stay right by my side, but if I tell him to heel, he’ll back track and come next to me!

We have to continue working on his reactivity, but hopefully that keeps going smoothly.   He’s made a lot of progress so far, which I’m happy with!


Training Junior is proving to be a bit harder than training his brother.  He’s not nearly as food-motivated and he’s naturally a much more independent dog!  His biggest issue is over-excitement.  It manifests in many forms: pulling on the leash to get to the next exciting smell, jumping on new exciting visitors, trying to wiggle his 60 lb body onto every visitor’s lap…  He’s SO friendly and loving (and some visitors encourage him) but I would like him to maybe be a bit more polite about it and only be a lap dog if he’s asked to be!


He really does think he’s a lap dog

The leash pulling is what we’ve been mostly working on.  I have a harness for him that has a leash clip both in the front and in the back, so I can use the front clip when we’re walking and I want him to pull less (clipping it in the front prevents him from pulling) but I can use the back clip when we’re running together.

The front-clip harness does a pretty good job of preventing him from pulling, but I want him to actually learn that he doesn’t need to yank my arm off to get where he wants to go (we’ll walk there together!).  We worked on “heel” for a while but, unlike Bear, he doesn’t seem to be picking up on it as quickly.  If I ask him for a “heel”, he’ll come back to stand by my side but won’t stay there.  If I try to “hold” him in place with a treat, he quickly loses interest in the treat and heads forward again.

I realized that this wasn’t working very well so I switched to something that will hopefully be a little easier for him.  He and Bear both know the command “look” (pausing to look at me), but Junior doesn’t do it every time.  The food reward for looking at me isn’t enough for him to turn and stop eyeing the squirrel across the street!  So, instead, I’ve been asking for “look” and then waiting (as long as it takes) for him to look at me and then I say “let’s go!” and we get to jog forward so he can investigate whatever he’s after.  The reward of getting to move forward seems to have much more value to him than the treats I carry, and he’s getting much better at checking in with me.  My hope is that I can do the same thing with “heel”–make him realize that if he walks by me for a short amount of time, then I’ll let him charge forward and check out the interesting sights and smells on his path.

Anyway, with all of this, he does seem to be getting better at walking on a leash.  He always pulls the most right when we leave the house, but a few minutes later (after he’s burned off his initial excitement!) his pulling decreases and, although he typically walks in front of me, at least he does it with a loose leash!

We’ve been working on other little things to make him a bit more polite, too: if he comes up to us when we’re sitting and watching TV, I ask him for a “sit” before petting him (he wants to be pet more than he wants a treat for sitting), and ignore him if he shoves his nose into my lap.  I’ll ask him to “sit” and then invite him to sit on the couch with me.  He does seem to understand that sitting nicely gets him more attention than him forcing his ways into our laps, but he seems to get frustrated if he isn’t pet or loved soon after sitting.  We’re working on his patience (waiting longer in a sit before he’s rewarded with pets!) and he’s doing well so far!


Junior loves snuggles!

Finally, we come to the jumping.  Junior has been a jumper since the first day I got him.  He has a weird thing about sniffing people’s mouths…he just wants to smell your mouth, then he’ll leave you alone.  But, that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable!  He doesn’t jump on Dan or me, but he springs up on most visitors.  I know how to fix it, too: Dan ignored Junior and Bear every day while he went upstairs to change out of his work clothes, and now they both politely wait outside of the bedroom (with the door wide open!!) while they wait for Dan to hang up his dress clothes.

Similarly, if Junior ever jumps on me, I know he’ll stop jumping if I completely ignore him and walk away, but most of our visitors seem to have a hard time with that.  I’ll ask them to “completely ignore him” if he jumps up, but instead they’ll laugh or make weird noises and hand gestures or yell “down” at him, all of which IS NOT ignoring him.  It’s frustrating–training the humans is harder than training the dog!  I think I’m going to have someone I trust (and believe will actually ignore him when I ask him to) come over and enter the house over and over again.  Hopefully that will carry over to other visitors.  If not, I think I might have to leash him when people arrive, but I’m worried about doing that because he gets so frantic on a leash.  Anyway, it’s a work in progress.  Junior has made some progress on jumping and I know he can make so much more, as long as the humans actually do what they’re told.


Overall, both pups are doing great with their training!  I’ve had to get a bit more creative with Junior, but both dogs are so smart so it’s been a lot of fun to see what they’ll do.  We will keep working on Bear’s reactivity and Junior’s pulling/jumping, and I’d like to get them out to a dog park soon to practice some off leash skills (especially for Bear).  We have a lot of fun working together, so I’m excited to see what happens in the next few weeks!


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


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