At my wit's end
I work at home and spend almost every waking hour with my dog. He is crated at night, but otherwise goes everywhere with me in the car in a caged off section. We go walking for hours, we go to fields and play fetch and intense tug games on a long line, and we do obedience training in sessions and throughout the day, every single day. He gets tonnes of exercise and mental stimulation. I mark behaviours and keep my training as positive as possible and give him lots of dried treats I make for him myself. He is fed raw at a fixed time and does NILIF for everything. I take him for weekly herding lessons after spending a couple of months on basic obedience with the same trainer.
After all this, I feel like a complete failure.
He is 18 months old. I didn't own him until he was almost a year old, but I was heavily involved in his life on a daily basis since he was a puppy. His previous owner pretty much cultivated every bad behaviour you could imagine. He was allowed to run wild. He lived in the country, had a dog door and no fence and would visit the neighbours whenever he pleased. He was free fed more food than he could ever hope to eat and would hide it in the house and garden. He was put in a crate with no crate training and would just cry until he exhausted himself. He spent hours every day freely interacting with numerous other dogs off leash. He had no training whatsoever and would leap out of the car when the door was opened or wander around to the point of frequently knocking it out of gear during operation. He had no leash training and was impossible to walk on a leash when I got him.
He lives with an older female. You may remember me from intact male behaviour issue with older spayed female. I'm happy to report that after an in-home session with my trainer and many, many intense desensitization sessions, he is mostly manageable and no longer attacking her at the door. Aside from that, his living situation is a completely disaster. I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle with training and behaviour modification because he spends his entire life with the one thing he finds more distracting than anything else. When I let him out of the crate in the morning, he wants to get to her. When she barks, he wants to get to her. When she goes outside, he goes wild to get to her. If I'm sitting in the basement with him he will move heaven and earth to get to her if he thinks she might be going outside. His home life revolves around her and the back door.
Even the big back garden here, the one really great place I should be able to spend time with him off leash without distraction, is completely poisoned for him. My neighbours have two huskies who live outside and think he is their number one source of entertainment. He will get into intense fence fights with them any time he's outside without a leash. This has only happened a couple times in the last few months because he's under constant control, but it's frightening to see, and he is so far gone mentally he has to be physically grabbed and restrained to get him away. My trainer said she was surprised he hadn't tried jumping the fence to get to them already. It means I can't do proper training in the garden because they sit there watching him from the fence the entire time.
I've tried crate rotating the dogs, and it's not feasible long term. She has somewhat advanced DM and I have to be careful about his behaviour with her. He is constantly on a collar and leash at home so I make sure he's under control. If it's not a correction collar, he doesn't care and will pull to get what he wants. The slightest reaction from her is an instant distraction for him. We can be playing an intense tug game and he will simply drop the tug and leave, or we can be in the middle of a training session where he's completely focused on me and he's instantly gone, mentally. She's an incredibly vocal and agitated barker and will spend the entire day at the window barking at everything that moves if allowed. She's also quite old and doesn't belong to me, and her owner has very little interest in working on this properly. I can't work both of them at the same time, which usually means the best I can hope is simply keeping him away from her rather than training proper behaviours for him.
I feel like a prisoner at home because everything I do has to be planned around his behaviour with her. He has to be on a leash. I can't sit in certain areas of the house where I can't control him properly. To go outside he has to be on a prong collar so I can control him at the door and under the distraction from the huskies. I have to be constantly aware of people coming to the door because of her barking. Every little scrap of training he does is under intense distraction. He is always on edge and alert. Training is an uphill battle. It's an absolutely dreadful thing to say, but it's like he's in limbo waiting for her to die so he can finally get on with his life. A few months ago I was not far from rehoming him because of the issues in my previous thread.
When I watch Michael Ellis videos about building engagement with young puppies to set them up successfully for good handler interaction, I just feel incredible despair. Sometimes I find a deserted location and we have a really great session free from dog distractions where he is completely focused on me, and it just makes me think about the amazing dog he would have been with a proper upbringing. He was set up for failure from day one and I really don't know how to fix it. I love him and I know he loves me, but he simply has no real engagement with me most of the time. His behaviour is manageable, but I don't know what to do with him anymore. I can probably post reams and reams on the subject because I've barely scratched the surface of how it affects obedience training with him when you have no distraction-free environment.
To be fair, he has made enormous improvements since I got him. I trained him properly with the car and he now waits to be told he can go in and out. He is mostly okay with loose leash walking on a prong as long as I accept a lot of forging (flat collar is still pretty bad). We're still working on leash reactivity because of his intense interest in other dogs. We do tonnes of obedience work and lots of silly little things like waiting at doorways or standing stops. His recall has improved quite a lot (still worthless in most dog situations). He's even rather good at the herding. The door thing from the previous thread was the hardest thing I've ever worked through with a dog. He does really well in obedience without distractions. He is pretty engaged without distractions but easily loses all focus and interest. Unfortunately he is almost always at the edge of distraction.
Is there anything that you can do with both dogs, a short walk? Maybe someone you know can walk with you? He just doesn't understand he can hurt the other dog, right now I think that is the most important thing to work on. Getting them to live together peacefully for their safety and your sanity. Take a deep breath and look at the situation like an outsider. You will find a creative way to fix this. You have done well with this dog and I feel it sometimes gets worse before it gets better.
I hope some others will have some answers for you but I just wanted to say that I think you're a special guy for taking on such a challenging pup.
Lynn and Traveler
I agree, you deserve a pat on the back for what you've accomplished already :)
The situation with the neighbor's dogs sounds awful to me, and I wonder if you can make any changes to that? Do they bark or just watch your dog? I know it must be very frustrating not to use your own yard, especially when you're rotating dogs yourself, it's a real bonus to have that. I was rotating dogs last summer and I feel your pain - my own pup would cry and carry on if I was out playing with my temporary foster, and my DH was working nights back then too, lol. Since my foster was DA, I would muzzle/leash him and take both dogs out at once, and my pup had to "leave it" which did work fine for us. Better than separating them would have been, in my case.
I also think that training takes time to sink in, if you're doing it that same way I do. When I adopted an adult GSD years ago that was almost impossible to walk because of how he reacted to other dogs, it took many months for me to get him to the point where he could ignore them. Maybe this seems like it's going on too long for you, but 6 months isn't a long time in the grand scheme of things, and it sounds like he's really coming along. His old life must have been a constant party! LOL! He'll take time to understand things aren't like that any more. Good luck, and keep thinking about how far you've come already.
Because it is so difficult with distractions at home, continue going to deserted areas to work with him. Build on his ob till rock solid. Slowly move to areas with more distractions - as in a reverse of what would normally be done with training at home and then moving out into the world.
Something you didn't ask about but throwing it out there anyhow - check the protein level in his food. Shoot for a max of 23/24%. In some dogs, higher protein levels will cause them to act out stronger and quicker. Now I have Woolf at 24/26%, at one point he was kept at 21%. The level of protein makes a huge difference with him.
Easier said then done, but stop feeling the despair, thinking about what could have been. It is getting in the way. This is the dog you have now. With all the insanity, find ways to laugh at some of his antics. Continue working on the relationship, find ways to think outside the box.
Yesterday we went for a 5 km run followed by a swim. 30 minutes of obedience work with a tug in the afternoon, and a nice walk in the evening. Chicken quarters and beef ribs for dinner. I was home all day with him like usual, but had to go out for a couple of hours after dinner, so I put him in the crate with some treats. He was extremely unhappy and destroyed the crate by bending the door in half while I was out.
When I got home he was loose in the house and in an excitable mood. I couldn't control him because he had no focus on me and no leash. My female with DM decided to get up and run around (as much as she can). We ended up in the main room with the back door, which set off his door obsession. He leapt on her, causing her collapse and defecate all over the floor. This has happened several times in recent weeks because of his behaviour when she's excited.
I took a 3 1/2 hour walk to clear my head and looked up some training information on my phone. I randomly came across a list of things that make you a "bad" trainer, which I felt described me perfectly. Another nail in the coffin for my confidence in my training abilities.
The door thing is getting worse again. If I stand up he will often growl and rush over to her, and he always has to be on a prong and leash to let them out. Back to the daily door training and desensitization I suppose. It seems incredibly irresponsible to have him interacting with her off-leash in the house, but crate and rotate never worked out. If she's in the crate, all he wants to do is whine and cry and get to her. His threshold for reacting to the back door is literally anywhere in the entire house, and his reaction in the crate if he thinks the door is opening is so insane it makes me afraid he's going to injure himself. He's not really properly crate trained, but she's too much of a distraction to work on that at home anyway.
I do all my OB work outside the house in a great area I found with very few distractions; then he comes home and spends the rest of his life living under constant distraction with an elderly dog I am constantly worried about him hurting. Logically I know I've improved many of his behaviours significantly since I got him; looking at videos of how he used to react at the door, I can't believe I didn't have to rehome him. It still all seems like a huge waste of time. His entire living situation is completely inappropriate for him, but I can't change that.
Just feeling very down about it all, I guess.
This heart breaking Chris.
You aren't the failure here though...
Can you take your pup to a training class? It might improve his focus on you and teach you how to train him interactively with others (as opposed to taking on such a burden by yourself).
There are two things that stood out to me: 1) you exercise him physically but do you try to mentally stimulate him (and this is where I think a training class can come in handy as well). 2) He got out of his crate. I understand that he is resistant of it but IMO if you could get a stronger crate and let him get used to it...
I don't know what else to suggest :C
I had two outdoor dogs (in my care) for two years. When I transitioned them to indoor, they didn't have too many problems. And I was so naive I didn't know anything about 'training'. So it's not your fault. It's the doggie and his previous lifestyle...
Do you have a basement or a garage, that you could put up a STURDY 5'x10' kennel? Garage would be better, and if possible use a doggy door to a SECURE kenneled area outside.
But if you do this, then make sure that you protect the siding of your garage or inner walls with fencing.
The thing is, your older girl does not deserve what the pup is dishing out. And it isn't good for him to have his way all the time either. You should not feel like a prisoner.
With a decent routine, you can probably kennel him in the morning for a few hours, regularly, have him eat in his kennel, and have some time for your girl to be in without him being a nut.
In the beginning, the whole time he is out of his kennel, he is on task. You are walking, he is heeling. You are throwing the ball he is fetching the ball. You are working on your computer, he is on a down-stay, with a leash on next to you. You are watching TV, he is doing doggy push ups during the commercials, or you are sitting on the dog.
He is maturing, but slowly. You have seen some progress. I have a dog that is 18 months right now. Well, I have two. They have tons of energy. But they can and do settle in the house when they are in. They do not get the run of the house all the time. I put them down in their kennels, and let Babs have the run of the house. I put Babs in a crate, and I will let them in or out either alone or together.
But they do not need 100% free access to me or to the house. I don't buy the baloney about dominance theory, but I do agree that the one the dogs understand is the leader, is the one who manages the resources. We manage where our dogs can go or not go, who gets fed what and when. Who goes into town and to training, etc. And the dog's respond to having boundaries.
The crate you had is not sufficient for the dog with your dog's power. I really don't like crates except to temporarily contain dogs while we are traveling, or if I am moving others around. Occasionally I will crate one for a few hours in the house or even in the kennel, if I am bathing dogs or brushing people out. A kennel, in the basement or garage, with a stuffed kong or raw bone, or indestructable toy can be a good way for your dog to give the old one a break, and for him to understand that you are the one with the thumbs.
Outside kennels work better if you have more than one dog out there, and you have them on concrete, so they cannot dig out. And still you can have a nuisance barker. And depending on your neighborhood, it may not be safe. But in your garage or basement, a kennel can be a life-saver.
BTW, you can get a decent doc-bob kennel from TSC for approximately $300. 5x10' at 6'high.
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