Training is Oddly Stressful

Discussion in 'Dog Training Forum' started by pinkspore, Aug 15, 2014.

  1. pinkspore

    pinkspore Bat Ears Only

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    This is Ulysses. He is approximately five years old and spent a month in the Orange County Shelter after coming in as a stray. The front half of him is Australian cattledog and the back half of him is Australian shepherd.
    [​IMG]

    Ulysses is extremely anxious like many stock dogs, but when overwhelmed he just sort of blanks out. When he first came out of the shelter he was damned near catatonic. He is my foster, and my job is to turn him into a functional dog with my reactive/spazzy dog training skills. I've had Ullie off and on since mid-May, this time I've had him for almost a month and he'll be here until he is ready for an adoptive home.

    Low-key, all positive, no pressure training is stressful for Ulysses. When he's relaxed he is very food motivated, but training is somehow not very relaxing.

    Clicker training started something like this:
    Me: *click*treat* (repeat 20x)
    Ulysses: "Sitting here eating one piece of kibble at a time is too much pressure, I need to wander off and stare vacantly for a while."

    This evening Ullie was reliably targeting my hand with his nose, so I attempted to pair it with a voice command.
    Ulysses: *nosebonk*click*treat* *nosebonk*click*treat*
    Me: *anticipating nosebonk* "touch"
    Ulysses: "You said a word, and I think it means you want me to do something, and I don't know what you want me to do, so I have to stare at the wall and have a scratch now."

    Ullie is always off leash and in the house when this happens, he can leave anytime he wants and there is no pressure on him at all. Still, the mere possibility that I expect him to do something seems to stress him to the point of checking out. He is also strangely afraid of targeting objects, even if I'm hold them. Getting clicked and treated for sniffing the completely retracted extendible pointer I use for a targeting stick is somehow aversive.

    I'm fortunate that Ullie does default to sitting and looking at me when he isn't completely shut down, though he is often too nervous to offer any other behaviors. In a month we've worked from a near-panicked fidgety sit to a ten-second sit-stay with zero distance/distraction. He has a down (sometimes) and nose targets but immdiately stops offering either behavior if I try to pair it with a word.

    I'm not frustrated with him, I just feel so bad that training stresses him out. (This is a totally stressed out picture of him, he has a gorgeous intense focus that I get glimpses of now and then.)
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2014
  2. Raegan

    Raegan Member

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    I had a student dog like this not long ago. Adult Scottie, hands down the most sensitive dog I've ever known. She was the same way, any hint of expectation and she statued.

    What finally worked for her was lots and lots of play. Scatter, the Treat Tossing Game (tm).

    ...............O................
    x------------------------>------x

    Trainer (O) stands facing the dog (>). Alternatively toss treats to the left and right (x) so the dog runs back and forth in front of you chasing and eating treats. As he's turning back from eating Treat A, he should see Treat B skittering away the other direction.

    Sounds complicated, not that difficult in practice. Toss treats for your dog to chase and eat. It gets the dog moving, chasing, and eating, but it's predictable, and the trainer is hardly a part of the game so there is no pressure.

    My Scottie client went from hesitantly plodding to a treat on the floor to bounding and pouncing in about 20 treats.

    When the dog really loves the game, you can start adding in just a little bit of control, wait for eye contact or a sit or even just an ear flick. Your rate of freebies should still be really high, like no more than one toss in ten should have control. For this kind of dog.
     
  3. sassafras

    sassafras mushinois

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    Maisy can be a tiny little bit like this, but nowhere near as extreme. She I used to think she was being "stubborn" but eventually I realized she was checking out when she would disengage and suddenly become fascinated with sniffing the ground. Heck, it's not that uncommon for people to shut down and do nothing when they're overwhelmed by how many things are on their to-do list.

    Anyway, a couple of things helped her. One, keeping training very short and with a LOT of play breaks. She's one of those dogs for whom praise and attention are just about as rewarding as food or toys, so it was both a fun break for her and a nice reward/motivation to keep her engaged. Two, free shaping helped her a lot to build some confidence. Just the simplest end goal, broken down into as many steps as I could think of. Three, stumbling into a sport she loves (in our case, joring) made her overall confidence just blossom. That she got involved at all was complete serendipity, so I got lucky there.
     
  4. Ozfozz

    Ozfozz Highbread Dingbat

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    All of this ^^^^^

    It's what has worked best with Rigby as well
     
  5. pinkspore

    pinkspore Bat Ears Only

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    Sounds like fun! We'll give it a go. Was your client scottie always waiting for something bad to happen? Ulysses looks like he's pretty convinced the world is about to end, and he would like some snuggles before the impending doom.

    I always wanted to try joring! I even have an urban mushing harness for Brisbane. Naturally he hates wearing it and hates pulling. Also dog scooters are kind of expensive and hard to find locally, and we're pretty sure snow is a myth around here so skijoring is right out. How did you manage training with a checked-out dog? I can't imagine hitching Ullie to a scooter without first teaching him stop/go/left/right/line out, and he's a very long way from knowing enough to participate in any kind of sport.
     
  6. pinkspore

    pinkspore Bat Ears Only

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    Scatter is not going according to plan. Apparently the only reason kibble is worth eating is because it comes from my hands, once it falls on the floor it becomes worthless.
    [​IMG]

    Free shaping is also not going according to plan, he sat there and stared at me fixedly for the next 5 minutes before laying down. Upon receiving treats and praise and petting for this behavior, he sat back up and stared at me without moving for the next 15 minutes.

    I guess I don't know how to free shape a dog that doesn't actually do anything. Am I being too impatient? What am I supposed to be doing while I wait for him to move?
     
  7. sassafras

    sassafras mushinois

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    Oh, that's where the luck mostly came in. Pulling was immediately its own reward and nothing else mattered, she doesn't check out while joring. But yea it was just all dumb luck that happened to work out great in other areas of training, really.

    Ha, that's almost exactly what Maisy did the first time I tried to free shape her. It was actually back when I started doing the tricks of the week here, the first trick I did with her was the one were we tried to teach them to close a door. I was actually using the drawer of a small end table. We stared at each other for 15 minutes. As I recall, I think I finally cheated and scuffed the table with my shoe to get her to look at it so I could click and treat. Never did get her to close it but I did get her to the point where she would bump it with her nose.

    He'll get better at it. Some dogs need to learn how to learn.
     
  8. pinkspore

    pinkspore Bat Ears Only

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    But how did you get to the point of having her pull? I thought about taking Ullie out with my bike, but since he has zero training I'm not anxious to hitch him to a thing with wheels and then put myself on that thing. Sorry if I sound obtuse, I'm just trying to imagine how to train brakes/steering while the dog is already running, and my brain is only coming up with bloody crashes and runaway dogs.

    We tried the scatter game again, this time with hotdog bits. It seems Ullie just finds kibble boring, because he was totally up for chasing hotdogs as long as he saw me throw them. After that he would come over and sit and wag his nub furiously at me, and occasionally do a lap around the kitchen to look for missed hotdog bits. I guess it makes sense, he won't bother getting kibble out of a puzzle toy either.
     
  9. sassafras

    sassafras mushinois

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    I never had to teach her to pull, that was the dumb luck. In fact, getting her involved at all was a desperate attempt to try to encourage Squash (who was originally going to be my sole joring dog) to pull, because she was always an incorrigible puller on leash walks. Basically, she is just a natural born puller and lead dog, and she taught him to pull and keeps him in line.

    In any case, you start out doing the training for commands on foot. The book Ski Spot Run is a great resource for this. The book is about skijoring as a whole but the principles of teaching the commands are the same for all joring.
     
  10. pinkspore

    pinkspore Bat Ears Only

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    I guess what I meant was, how do you teach them to turn, stop, and not eat other dogs/people while pulling? I don't think I'd feel comfortable having a completely disconnected and reactive dog running out ahead of me with zero obedience skills and meeting other people/dogs head-on, or running alongside traffic. Maybe I just have extra-horrible dogs?

    I've read a bit on scootering but nothing on skijoring. I only ever see snow after driving 100+ miles to the tops of mountains and I've never heard of anyone cross-country skiing here. Teaching the commands on foot makes sense, I did it with Brisbane when I still had ambitions of scootering with him. He just didn't find pulling at walking speed to be remotely rewarding and refused to participate.
     
  11. mrose_s

    mrose_s BusterLove

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    All learning is stressful.
    Freeshaping for a dog that is unfamiliar with the process is often extremely stressful and frustrating.
    We play a freeshaping game with all the students that come through the Dog Behaviour and Training course and we do it largely so they can appreciate the frustration the dog is going through without any guidance.

    We also install the clicker with a dog over a week with the students. We close down the training shed, make it as low distraction as possible and just randomly click and deliver a food reward. Very soon we also have a chance to point out displacement behaviours. Dog's scratch, they check out, they yawn, they sniff random stuff. And this is all "no pressure, all positive"

    I would help him out with some luring or make the exercise easier in some way to support him.
    Or play with luring a bit, if he is interested in treats from your hand, teaching him to follow your hand to earn rewards.
    To teach him to target, start with treats in your closed fist, when he approaches it, mark him, open your hand and deliver the reward.
    Then fade off needing the treats in your hand, then fade off having your hand closed and work with an open palm (maybe bringing back the treat tucked under you're thumb to help him out)

    The learning isn't "better" in any way because the dog worked it out entirely on its own. It has it's benefits of course and I will be the first to say I LOVE free shaping and I use it a lot with my own dog, but the end behaviour is made in the proofing phase not the teaching phase and we need to use the method that works best for the dog.

    Buster, my anxious dog, loves his clicker but once I start withholding he will often pull back quickly and not want to keep offering behaviours. He doesn't like getting it wrong, so I assist him a lot and take tiny steps.
    Quinn on the other hand has done mountains of free shaping since she was 8 weeks old, she gets it. She has amazing stamina, I can withhold and withhold and withhold and she will just.keep.working... She once did a 45 minute session for some students I was demoing to, didn't miss a beat.
     
  12. BostonBanker

    BostonBanker Active Member

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    I was going to say pretty much what mrose said.

    Meg is my worrier, and she really does not enjoy free shaping. Any attempts by me to up the ante, or wait for a different behavior, which of course means that she doesn't get a click for something she tried, means that she becomes worried that she did something wrong. And if she isn't getting things right every time, she figures it is safer to just not play.

    She has improved dramatically, and I *can* free shape with her now, but I still don't very often. And that improvement is the result of over 8 years of building our relationship and her confidence. It was a couple of years before she could really free shape at all. She like luring much better.

    I also did not skimp at all on treats when I was working with her when she was younger. Kibble and dog treats were rarely used for training. Hot dogs are good. In new environments or working on harder things, I did not hesitate to drive through McDonalds and get her a cheeseburger. I needed something tempting enough to overcome her anxiety.
     
  13. sassafras

    sassafras mushinois

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    For real, if you are serious about trying it read Ski Spot Run. It is a great beginner's guide to teaching those commands on foot as well as encouraging a dog to pull.

    For the record, I'm not saying that joring is the answer to all YOUR training challenges. I'm saying that it serendipitously helped with MY training challenges. I think for any individual dog you could replace it with whatever sport they find self-rewarding, it's just a matter of being able to find that sport (where the luck comes in).
     
  14. pinkspore

    pinkspore Bat Ears Only

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    You were getting displacement behaviors when just clicking and treating too? Ullie still doesn't understand the clicker because just standing there doing nothing while I shove treats in his mouth is somehow too much pressure.

    Most of the time there is literally nothing to lure, all I want him to do is understand that the click means good. He didn't seem too get frustrated when I tried free shaping, he was perfectly content to sit and stare at me the entire time. He responds weirdly to a lot of things, too. I had him doing an open-palm hand touch reliably for several training sessions before attempting to pair it with a command, the first time I quietly said "touch" he immediately stopped offering the behavior and had to learn it again from the beginning over multiple training sessions.



    Interesting that free shaping has worked to build confidence for some anxious dogs, but others find it too scary. We're just not at the point of being able to even try free shaping anything yet.

    I'm glad Ullie isn't the only dog that finds kibble unexciting, I hear from a lot of people that insist every piece of kibble should be a training reward and it's frustrating when I can barely get him to eat at all.


    I totally get that, I'm just having a hard time getting him to the point of being able to try anything at all. Most sports seem to require at least some level of connection and basic obedience, and at this point trying new things just shuts Ullie down. Agility jumps are scary, swimming pools are scary, tennis balls are only slightly motivating, standing on things is scary...
     
  15. Beanie

    Beanie Clicker Cult Coordinator

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    By and large I ditto what mrose has to say.

    Can you video your training sessions and post them?

    I would never allow a dog who stresses to stall out for five minutes, let alone fifteen. I wouldn't even allow Payton who is very resilient to stall out for five minutes. At a certain point your session is no longer productive and you need to stop and come back to it later. If your dog isn't moving, reset the dog. Sometimes this is as simple as just getting up, walking away with them, then coming back. Some dogs will do better if you move entirely, so walk ten feet away and try again at the new spot. Like sass said, sometimes you need to stop and play (even just as quickly as 30 seconds of play) and then reset. It will also not kill you nor the dog to pass a cookie behind the dog to get them to get up and move.

    When you are shaping a sensitive dog, forget what you typically see people do. Do not sit there and stare at the dog and stay silent. Talk to your dog while shaping. If you sit there for twenty reps not saying anything and then suddenly start talking at the dog, he IS going to think something is different and he WILL have a reaction. If, however, you've been talking to your dog throughout the session, verbals aren't going to be a new thing and should not cause stress. I talk to my dogs quite a bit while shaping even if it's just to tell them "you are so cute." I laugh at them, I smile at them.
    I also don't really stare AT the dog as in making eye contact. I stare at the item I want them to interact with, I stare in the direction I want them to go (easy-peasy to get a herding dog to move that way), or if I'm looking for a particular physical movement I stare at that body part (usually feet.)

    It sounds to me like Uli is offering eye contact because he thinks that's what you want, and you are staring back at him, thus rewarding his eye contact, therefore he keeps offering it. He doesn't realize you want him to do anything else so... he doesn't. Also if you're just sitting there staring, how boring. Is that really going to get him to enjoy training? NOPE. To be honest, I wouldn't really enjoy somebody staring at me trying to shove M&Ms in my mouth either. What part of that really sounds like "no pressure?"
    If all you're trying to do is introduce the clicker, get your body moving and the dog moving with you. Click and treat while playing.
    Also, don't think that just sitting and staring means he's perfectly happy and not stressed. If I allow her to, Pepper will stare at me during a training session and it's because she has no idea what I want. She stares at me because she doesn't know what else to do. That is stressed for her.

    I also move around a lot while shaping, even if it's just getting up to grab another handful of cookies. If I'm shaping something while I'm on my feet, I walk around the dog plenty. This usually gets the dog moving around as well even if it's just to paddle feet or take one step or two in any direction.


    If you have a way to video your session and post them, I think that will be very helpful to give more specific instruction.


    Also remember there is a difference between free shaping and shaping. Free shaping means you are just clicking different behaviors with no real end goal in mind; shaping means you are clicking for something specific.


    You've only had him for a month, and he's only a temporary dog - he isn't yours. Some of this is just relationship related, and some of it is too much pressure too soon. When Pepper first came to live with me, it took weeks before she would even lay down and sleep outside of her crate. There is zero way I could have realistically expected her to go out and do something that even 100% normal, well-adjusted dogs sometimes have trouble with, like interacting with an agility jump. There's also a large measure of changing your expectations of what it means to interact with things. For Pepper, CO-EXISTING with something was the same as interacting with things. Something scary in the back of the yard while we are up in the front of the yard is a success to be rewarded. Looking at a scary thing from a mile away is a success to be rewarded. It is an entirely different level of sensitivity and needs to be approached in an entirely different way. To put it another way, you might not think it's a big deal for a ten year old to be able to tie his shoes, whereas a ten year old special needs child being able to do his own velcro on his shoes is a big deal. Each dog is unique so each situation should be treated with it's own individual value related to that dog's uniqueness.
     
  16. BostonBanker

    BostonBanker Active Member

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    Great stuff from Beanie.

    Heavens yes. I glanced over that without really processing it. With Meg, who can now do some shaping, I wouldn't let her stall out for 30 seconds. If we are stuck in a stand-off, I will laugh, chatter at her, get up and move and try again. And all of our training involves a lot of happy, goofy talk. Both my dogs require me to be every bit as enthusiastic and engaged as I want them to be.

    Even with Gusto, who learned shaping early on and is brilliant at it, I wouldn't let things stall for more than a minute or so before I would change my criteria, move to something else for a bit so I can reward something, or try to help him in some way (border collie mix, so, like Beanie said, looking at what I want him to interact with is a huge clue for him).

    If he isn't catching on to the clicker, try not using it. Lure and give a cookie with a verbal marker. If he seems to default to just sitting in front of you staring, put the hotdog in your hand at the end of his nose, lure his nose around a few degrees in a head turn, tell him he's brilliant, and give him the treat. I wouldn't worry so much about what "The Rules of Training" tell you to do, and rather focus on teaching him that playing these games with you are fun and rewarding. Nothing productive is going to happen until he sees you bring out the treats and thinks "Oh, boy! Here we go!"

    And remember that stress and frustration can look very, very different from dog to dog. That was a huge lesson I learned the hard way. I figured that after training Meg (who would do all the obvious stress signs of pinning her ears, looking away, falling over on her back, and even submissive peeing) that I knew all about stress and soft dogs and how to work with it. And it took me almost 2 years of training Gusto to recognize that all the times he would put his nose down and wander off sniffing was him telling me how stressed he was.
     
  17. pinkspore

    pinkspore Bat Ears Only

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    Nope, I'm not even sure where one would stand in attempt to get both me and Ulysses in the frame. This and anything that begins with "walk ten feet away..." always remind me that everyone else's house is bigger than mine. Also I really don't need to show off the unmitigated disaster that is my kitchen right now.

    Me either, we were just trying something new.

    See, I talk to him all the time, and have been told by various trainers that I probably ought not talk so much so the dog understands the difference between a command and a conversation. The thing is, it doesn't seem to make a difference with Ullie. I'm not trying to follow hard and fast training rules, he's just so different from the other dogs/rats/birds/cats I've clicker trained. Everything scares him. Whether I'm talking or not, clicking or not, enthusiastic or calm and quiet, Ullie reacts really oddly to training.

    Example: He is apparently afraid of touching my targeting stick. He might venture to sniff it once it it smells like food, but attempting to let him know that was the correct thing guarantees that he won't go near it for the rest of the day. I've tried praise and petting quietly, praise and petting enthusiastically, clicking and treating, saying "yes" or "good" and treating, treating with no other sound or movement, casually treating while talking to him, and every combination of praise/food/pets/silence/talk possible and everything seems to be bad. Staring at the stick doesn't help, moving around doesn't help, and he doesn't start acting worried about it until he touches it and gets rewarded.

    Likewise, he has been really reliably doing a hand touch with a hand signal for several days, but attemting to pair it with a quiet voice command completely kills the behavior and then we have to start all over again the next day and work up to a reliably offered hand touch over several sessions/days again. No, this isn't the only time I am speaking to him during training. No, I am not doing anything else that he finds visibly overwhelming or stressful. No, I am not using a special command voice or tone. The very fact that I say a word the moment his nose touches my hand appears to be the scary thing.


    Ullie's entire purpose in life appears to be staring fixedly at me. If he is awake, not concerned about anything in his surroundings, and I am in his line of sight, he is usually staring at me. Charging the clicker consists of him doing what he normally does and me offering him food, I don't really get what is supposed to be stressful about that.


    Moving is scary. He doesn't eat while moving, he doesn't eat while playing. If I try to feed him while we're walking, he attempts to shuffle along beside me in a sit. Staring at me is pretty much the only way he'll take a treat.

    I guess it depends on the dog, Ullie will happily chase a ball over my 6" jump, but trying to lure him over the jump with a food reward just gets him trying to sit and step over it at the same time. He's got a pretty good handle on existing in the same environment as other things, he flops on the ground and rests his head and snoozes at my feet when I stop moving, whether we're at home or on an outing.


    Enthusiasm is scary. Effusive praise or energy on my part shuts him down, I have to be calm enough to keep him taking treats. Likewise, enthusiasm overloads Brisbane my clickerdog. The more relaxed and reserved I am, the slower Briz approaches the frustration-yapping stage. Briz is also a stress-sniffer.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2014
  18. BostonBanker

    BostonBanker Active Member

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    How does he respond outside of any training to praise and attention? For example, if you are sitting on the couch and he's in the room, if you make eye contact, smile and quietly tell him he's the best dog ever?

    How does he interact with other people if you aren't present?

    Just trying to get more ideas to think outside the box.
     
  19. Beanie

    Beanie Clicker Cult Coordinator

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    You don't need another person. Just set the camera on the floor or a book or furniture and turn it on. Use the backyard if your house is too small.

    You're making this way too hard and making it too much like "training." If he approaches the training stick and interacts with it, throw a cookie on the floor by the stick and THAT IS IT. He doesn't need to continue interacting with it after that. Put it away. Exercise finished.

    So don't. That's not how training works anyway. You don't say a cue while a dog is doing a behavior, you say it before the behavior. That's why it's a "cue." And if everything you say is true, that you talk to him all the time and he's totally fine with that happening while he offers behaviors until you say it WHILE he does the behavior - you should have no problems.
    Unless there's something else there. Hence the videotaping. I see things all the time in video that I missed while actually training. You can swear up and down that you aren't doing anything differently and then you watch yourself on camera and bam, there it is.


    The bolded is what's stressful.


    I'm confused. Which is it? Is moving scary - and agility jumps are scary like you previously said - or will he happily chase the ball over the jump?

    If he plays with TOYS happily and the problem is when you try to stuff food in his face, you're looking at a potential solution right there.
     
  20. yv0nne

    yv0nne Vizsla mom

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    Videotaping is a godsend in terms of being able to really see yourself& your interactions. It's awful& horrible because, let's be honest, no one loves themselves on camera.. or, at least, I don't? You can videotape anywhere ..and if he is equally stressed absolutely everywhere, the location won't make a difference so go videotape in a field or something :)

    If he won't take treats when you are offering them to him in a 'formal' training situation, there are two things that I know worked for me (granted, Penn wasn't nearly as stressed as your dog seems?)-

    1. Offered her the reward by tossing it away from me to relieve the pressure of having to come into me for it (if it's a toy& he won't return it, attach a string!)

    2. Start giving rewards randomly when you are just chillin' on the couch or chatting to him


    These are probably already mentioned because everyone in this thread has more experience than me but I figured I'd toss my little scrap of knowledge out! Good luck
     

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