You know those dogs that pull hard, all the time no matter what lead or technique is used to train her to slow down. Meet my sister, Gypsy. She has actually pulled my mum off her feet landing down on the payment with a thump. The lead goes flying out of mum’s hand and only then does Gypsy stop, turns around to look at why mum isn’t playing pull anymore. Mum has tried all kinds of harnesses and even tried a choke chain really scared her but not Gypsy. Mum found this video and tried following the trainer’s advice for training a dog not to pull on a lead. She took us out for a walk. Every time Gypsy would Continue reading →
Although the reason for pulling and what rules you must teach is the same for all dogs, some dogs are more of a challenge. My own GSP was one of those “super crazy pullers”. The thing to keep in mind is that law of learning applies to all dogs: Dogs Do What Works. In other words, whatever behavior the dog does that results in getting what he wants, even just a tiny bit of it, will be repeated. The more value the dog sees in the desired outcome, the stronger the behavior, even over-riding any equipment that might cause discomfort.
So for training not to pull, the answer is two-fold. First, use equipment that will mechanically and humanely reduce the force of pulling. I prefer something that controls the head like the Halti for strong pullers. Actually a few years ago I switched over to a Newtrix head halter for my dog because he seemed to be more comfortable in it. The mechanics of how it works is different from the Halti. You can find an explanation here: http://www.newtrix.ca/index.cfm?page=ourProducts It’s a little confusing at first learning how to put it on, but once you practice and follow the directions carefully, it’s not hard.
The second and more important point is to recognize how you are inadvertently reinforcing your dog for pulling. If you take even a single step forward while your dog pulls, he learns that pulling works. Going forward to explore the environment is the most powerful reinforcer there is. It was sure more powerful to my GSP than grilled steak when we were outside.
In training not to pull, the key is to teach your dog that the fastest and ONLY way to move forward is to turn toward you to make the leash loosen so that he feels absolutely no tension whatsoever on his collar, halter or harness. Then and only then will you allow him to continue forward. As soon as the leash tightens again stop and plant your feet so he is unable to take another step forward. This rule has to be black and white, not fuzzy where sometimes pulling works and sometimes it doesn’t. You will have to suspend your walks to really entrench this new rule into your dog’s brain. (Think about how hard it can be for us humans to break a bad habit.)
I used a clicker to mark (click) the precise moment my dog turned toward me to loosen the leash. Then I said “Let’s Go” and took a few fast steps forward until the leash tightened again. (Be very careful if using a Halti or Gentle Leader that can turn the dog’s head. Don’t let the head whip around if the dog suddenly hits the end of the leash. Use a short leash and soften the impact to prevent injury to the neck. It’s another reason why I like the Newtrix design better.) I like using a clicker because it is a much clearer form of communication. It means only one thing and the click sound is like nothing else. Black and white! This training takes a lot of discipline on the part of the human because the slightest inconsistency will impede progress. If pulling works occasionally, the dog becomes a gambler because the payoff is huge!
I highly recommend having someone take a video of you walking your dog so you can observe how you might be reinforcing pulling. Even extending your arm slightly after you stop walking so your dog can stretch his neck forward an inch can be enough to keep the pulling habit strong.
1. Stop focusing on correcting or punishing bad behavior. Saying “No!” or squirting your dog with water might relieve your frustration but it can maintain or worsen your dog’s bad behavior. Corrections are deceiving. They momentarily suppress unwanted behavior so it seems to have worked. But if your dog does it again, it didn’t work at all! If you correct your dog often, you can diminish his willingness to listen and cooperate.
I recently got my 8 month old female GSP “Charley” from her board and train program. She has received e-collar training for every command. The e-collar is not a punishment tool, but a communication tool. She is amazing in the house – no accidents, knows how to place/down/heel/sit/stay/come/off/etc. She has been introduced to agility and will start scent games and snake avoidance in the Spring. She plays fetch well and also has met my nieces and nephews this weekend for fun time in the backyard. She even did great while one nephew played the ukulele in the back yard. She does great off leash on hikes and while doing training at the training center we visit each week for polishing classes. We will be starting doggie day-care once a week this week! She really is so sweet and amazing…
However…. My problem is that she absolutely is fearful of getting on the leash to go for her morning and afternoon walks that last anywhere between 20-45+ minutes. It’s like she knows it’s coming and cowers/pouts. I try to put the leash on and just walk in the backyard/house and she’s totally fine, but going through the front door is a chore. The first couple days we had her she was exposed to some fireworks on a walk that were very very loud and ever since then she is pretty skiddish about loud buses/diesel trucks/construction noise near the house. Inside the house – fine. Backyard – alright, looks around at super loud noises and then proceeds to keep playing. We live in a busy neighborhood with lots of distractions and new houses are going up each day. I am doing my very best to remain calm yet assertive and even give her treats when we pass an object that gives her the shakes. Her whole body trembles. It’s really sad and makes me feel terrible because she NEEDS to go walk to get pushed through some of these issues, but I can’t help but think I may be making everything worse. 🙁 Sometimes she tries to run/escape away from me, but eventually settles back in with a “come”. It is taxing as I know she needs her walks along with some off-leash fun in the yard and neighborhood dog park, but the walks are difficult to start. I also know she is only 8 months old and has only been in our home since Dec. 29th. I’m running out of new ideas.
Do you have any suggestions to help her emotional state? Is there something else I should try? I really want the best for our GSP. Again, thank you for the blog. 🙂
Rachael from Texas
When doing behavior modification for fear, it is crucial that you understand that Charley’s behavior is not voluntary and she is not being stubborn or defiant. Fear is a survival state and is thus treated differently than regular training. If food is used, it plays a different role(that of creating a positive association rather than as a reward for a voluntary behavior that is offered by the dog). Charley has clearly demonstrated a deep fear of going for a walk. The fear starts with the leash, then going out the front door, and peaks outside. This is a classic example of a negative association created with a scary experience and the events that led to that experience (which now are predictors of something scary. If you press to get the leash on her and coax her to do something she is afraid of (even when you try showing her there is nothing to fear), you risk sensitizing her to the situation and making her more afraid. What is desired is de-sensitization, which must be done gradually to be effective. A good explanation of the concept can be found here- https://positively.com/contributors/counter-conditioning
It would be best to enlist the help of a force-free trainer that is knowledgeable in science based behavior modification to help you design a program to help Charley overcome his fear. Make sure the trainer does not employ any kind of flooding technique (making a dog “work through” scary situations) because of the risk of overwhelming and sensitizing that I mentioned. You can do a search for a trainer near you through this site – https://apdt.com/trainer-search
My advice to you would be to temporarily suspend your desire to take Charley for a walk and find ways to exercise her with games and enriching mental activities (lots of examples can be found on Youtube). Start with desensitizing very gradually (without eliciting avoidance) to the act of leash clipping leash (with professional guidance). If she runs away at the mere sight of the leash, that would be where you would start, not with attaching the leash to her collar. If she is not afraid of car rides, try taking her to a different neighborhood or a park for walks, but only if she enjoys it.
Fear is best addressed with a willingness to make her sense of safety be your top priority. Being assertive is counterproductive because this is not a disobedience issue. When an animal (or person) is so afraid that she trembles, the mind is not in a state to learn. Survival mode has kicked in and that primal state will overshadow “logic” or obedience every time. That is why helping her feel safe while you train in small baby steps is so important. http://somuchpetential.com/the-value-of-empowerment-to-our-pets/
Hope this helps steer you and Charley in a positive direction.
We just received the following letter from one of our readers. This is not the first on the subject on potty training an older dog so I decided to post it.
Hello German Shorthaired Pointer Greatdog GSP, hope you can help us with a potty training issue we have encountered with our newly rescued German Wirehaired Pointer. We rescued an 18 month neutered male German wirehaired pointer 10 days ago and we have been following your website with interest, as it has been very helpful in settling our new dog down. I have attached a doc which explains the help we are looking for in helping our new adolescent dog potty outside. We would be very grateful if you could perhaps give us some pointers as to how we could best approach potty training an older dog as what we have been doing doesn’t seem to be working.
The dog we adopted, Breac, is an AKC registered neutered male German Wirehaired Pointer, age 18 months old. He was born, Aug 2015 and at age 4months, our new dog was purchased from the breeder and brought home to live indoors with a family with three kids (age 9, 12, 18) and their two dogs. The dog has always been “a handful” and needs daily exercise. Family fed him 5 cups quality dogfood daily. Dog let himself out of the house into the family’s 18 acre property on a regular basis as the door handles pulled down when he stood on them. He is VERY prey driven.Continue reading →
When your dog starts his “back-talking” at you, just turn and leave the room without further talking. Do it immediately (at the first bark), and resist the temptation to repeat your command or “reason” with him. Go into another area and close the door behind you if possible to make your point clear. After 20 seconds, come back to him for another chance. Repeat as needed. Every time. And abide by my 10 to 1 Rule – Reward good behavior 10 times more than you correct bad ones. Teach him what to do instead of barking at you, and reward that replacement behavior more frequently than you would like for 7 straight consecutive days. Pretty soon, he’ll change his mind when his old behaviors do not pay off or aren’t fun anymore.