Could really use some advice... (long), dumbbell related - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 12 (permalink) Old 03-04-2012, 10:51 AM Thread Starter
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Could really use some advice... (long), dumbbell related

Hey everyone.

I'm having major issues with the dumbbell. I think he's showing complete avoidance to it.

Here's some background:
2 year old male, training since he was 4 months for schutzhund.

My first dog (so you know my level of experience when it comes to solving problems)

Loves to fetch, tug, etc. He really does have lot of prey drive, loves to chase. The club TD calls him a "drivey" dog - I know every beginner thinks their first working line shepherd is high drive etc, but people with more experience with me said he was has medium to high drive.

Started dumbbell work about 1 year ago. First with the dowel and pvc pipe to teach the forced hold. Then added the dumbbell.
The transition went smoothly - he didn't chew or mouth the dumbbell but was excited to bring it because there was no negativity associated with it at all.

As far as the dumbbell rewards:
1. sometimes I would tug on the lanyard slightly to reinforce good hold
2. Sometimes I would have him out the dumbbell and then give the "OK" to bite it and used it as a tug toy
3. Sometimes to encourage a fast return I would give the OK as soon as he picked up the dumbbell and toss a toy between my legs, then he'd run over to the toy, drop the dumbbell, and bring the toy back to play
4. Sometimes I'd have him bring it back and then reward immediately
5. Sometimes I'd have him bring it back and hold while I praised him and pet him lightly, then out him and reward with toy.

Jump forward a few months - by now he's fully retrieving on the flat and really getting the hang of it.

Jump forward more to maybe a month ago - started to get into the habit of fiddling with the dumbbell a little bit before picking it up.

Where problems started:
I wanted to correct this so what I did was if he got to the dumbbell and didn't pick it up right away I gave a verbal "No" (not strong, not yelling, just a no) and broke position so he knows the exercise is over and he's not getting rewarded for the exercise. I really thought I could send him again and if he picks it up right away I can reward him immediately with an OK and a game of tug, if he didn't I would repeat the NO and break position again.

What happened instead is confusion. After the first no, he ran over to the dumbbell and laid in front of it. Look, we all made mistakes and I did too that night. I was getting more and more angry and instead of being patient I started correcting him for not bringing it back. The angrier I got the more he shut down. He eventually had three behaviors:
1. try to hide between my legs
2. run to the dumbbell and lay down
3. stand in place and not move.
Now, when I'm talking about correcting him, I don't want you to think I abused the dog. Nothing was harder than the usual collar correction, verbal NO, and if he'd lay down in front of the dumbbell I'd pick him up into a sit by the collar and then take him to start position again. By no means am I heavy handed with him.

Now, one of the mistakes I made with him was I never worked with him using pressure. So he never learned how to "turn pressure off". Now that I want to teach him he must bring it back even if he doesn't feel it, there's no way for me to do it. There's a certain amount of pressure involved and it shuts him down.

This all came seemingly out of the blue! One day he's retrieving it fine the next this happens. After that night, he just wants nothing to do with the dumbbell. No tugging, no play retrieving, nothing. I can drag it on the floor until **** freezes over and he won't budge.

I attached a video from today. I know this was long but I could really use some advice. I can't afford another dog and love the sport I really would hate to not be able to compete in it because of this. Not to be sappy, but right now this is the only good thing in my life.

I'm on a 3 month break from the club while I wrap up grad school (this is my first break since I got the dog) so I don't have access to the TD as much as I would want to.

Any advice in bringing motivation back would be much appreciated...


P.S. this isn't how I usually act with him, at that point I just wanted to get this on video...
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post #2 of 12 (permalink) Old 03-04-2012, 11:06 AM
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I would take some steps back and get back to the basics with him. Maybe start off with a fun exercise involving PVC piping with a high value food reward. Make it short and make it super engaging for him. Get him really excited for little short 'hold' exercises and then stop playing while he still wants to do it more. Then if he is showing signs of excitement towards it, start working back up to the dumbbell.

I sort of did this with my own pup when teaching her to bring the object and she was very avoidant for the next few times we did the exercise. So I had to get back to the very beginning and make it super fun again with out any pressure. Pieces of steak helped too. I think its easy to get too serious and worked up in this kind of sport, mostly because of the time and energy invested. I know I caught myself pushing for this exercise too fast so maybe you just need to start over to the things the dog knows well and not only make him enjoy the work, but yourself also.
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post #3 of 12 (permalink) Old 03-04-2012, 11:13 AM
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It's all about when you corrected him. It stopped being fun right then. GSDs are (often) very sensitive. He senses the tension involved in that activity and shuts down. Been there.
You are going to have to drop it for a while then start over. He may never return to doing it willingly. I REALLY hope I am wrong.
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post #4 of 12 (permalink) Old 03-04-2012, 11:21 AM
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Does he know how to take it on command? I would work on this exercise with him and start over. Simple rewards for looking at, pawing at, and nosing even biting the dumbbell. Getting VERY excited and playful for him offering these things. We need to show him that offering behaviors again is OK!

His avoidance means your corrections were too harsh. He may not have been completely clear on what you wanted, you introduced corrections too soon and now he doesn't want to associate with it because he fears making a mistake.
This is why I feel its very important that if you are going to use corrections in your training, you apply it correctly, precisely, and fairly.

You have broken part of your trust with your dog. You have shown him "I can be unpredictable so careful what you do or it will hurt".

Its ok we ALL make these mistakes. Myself included.
I made the same mistake a while back. Made the dumbbell bad.

The problem with dumbbells is people overthink it too much. They see it as something that needs to be robotic and precise every time. Everyone forgets to just HAVE FUN with your dog. We build insane drive for the sleeves, for the ball on a rope, for our tugs. Yet we forget to do the same for the Dumbbells.

I think people try to apply pressure too soon to a dumbbell. We don't correct our puppies on the sleeve for a long time in training. So why are we doing so with a dumbbell? I am by no means against force training and have used it with two dogs now. However I choose to motivate first, then apply pressure and rules once the dog has enough drive for it.

A dog with higher fight drive would be more inclined to fight you for the dumbbell in a correction instead of shut down. You however do not have a dog with this desire so instead he shuts down because his fight is lower and he is a little handler soft. Not a big deal at all. You just have to work him differently.

I would build drive for the dumbbell as well as teach him targeting. I would bring in a friends dog that he gets along with, that LOVES the dumbbell and play a game of fetch with the dumbbell. I had to do this and nothing increases drive more than competition.

I let my dogs get to the point of nearly ripping each others heads off for the dumbbell. The dumbbell hangs out of their mouth so other dogs can get a bite on it and work on increasing strength of grip because the other dog might get it if they aren't holding tight.

I make holding the dumbbell near me is a SAFE place. My dog never feels pressure by bringing me a dumbbell.


I think you can definitely change his mind about the dumbbell. I was an idiot and made my show line male avoid the dumbbell when he was young. My show line male has medium drives overall and he would do the EXACT same behavior as your male. Its embarrassing to admit but I am very proud to say I turned the dog around and now he loves playing with the dumbbell with me. You can do it! you just have to start over and be very patient.

"For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear."
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post #5 of 12 (permalink) Old 03-04-2012, 01:07 PM
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I would go back to step 1. Build interest in the dumbbell and re-train it!

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post #6 of 12 (permalink) Old 03-04-2012, 01:16 PM
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Maybe try introduce more play- Drop the dumbell kick it hold him back tap his sides to make him get excited-make it fun so he really wants the dumbell-I had the mouthing problem but it has almost gone away- I take the dumbell from her when she is holding it firmly step back and then give her the reward.
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post #7 of 12 (permalink) Old 03-04-2012, 01:22 PM
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Is he clicker trained? I would clicker train it.

Start of with click/treat for even looking towards the dumbell and then any movement towards it, building up to touching it and then finally taking hold of it.

The great thing about doing it with a clicker is that you don't have to say anything so there is no emotion involved. Your 'bring' command sounded a bit stressy (understandably) and I don't think that's helping him.

That's what I would do anyway.
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post #8 of 12 (permalink) Old 03-04-2012, 01:33 PM
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For all my dogs I have used the ear pinch method, Diane Bauman has a good DVD out on teaching a compulsive dumbell .

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post #9 of 12 (permalink) Old 03-04-2012, 05:18 PM
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Go back to the beginning.....if he was already doing full retrieves it won't take long! Gently (but in a matter-of-fact manner) place the db in his mouth....hold his chin up with one hand while scratching him on the throat with the other hand, and tell him what a wonderful boy he is! Take the db, release him, move to another spot and repeat. What this is doing is praising him while he has the db in his mouth.

Other thing to try: go back to using a dowel, or use a different db like an AKC style db.

What exactly is your correction for failure to retrieve? Was this correction taught to him as part of the process, or did the correction suddenly happen "out of the blue"?

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post #10 of 12 (permalink) Old 03-04-2012, 10:17 PM
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LOL I like that the video is titled "complete avoidance", that's exactly what it looks like. He sounds like a bit of a softer dog (or like you say, doesn't understand the pressure) and has made a negative association with the exercise. What does he do if you throw the dumbell (short is fine), get happy-excited, and then run WITH him to get it? I'm having an issue lately with my young dog where he is turning the wrong way on his pickup even though I trained his retrieve using his flyball board (this is a SUPER competitive flyball dog, he turns RIGHT, every time). For whatever reason if I throw more than 5 feet or so on the flat he often turns the wrong way so the pickup is sloppy. I don't have any motivation problems but when I make the exercise fun, throw short, and then run with him on a leash, back up a bit and let him come into me, it's quick and clean.
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