When do you give up? - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 23 (permalink) Old 08-19-2010, 12:34 PM Thread Starter
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Question When do you give up?

If one can posit the theory that not all dogs have equal capacity to learn (such as in humans; I will never be a nuclear physicist, or even a physicist), at what point do you come to the conclusion that the dog is incapable of learning a certain behavior?

Would you say that it is the fault of the trainer, that the trainer is just not skilled enough to teach said behavior?

Or is the dog incapable of grasping whatever concept you are trying to teach?

If it is the latter, how do you make that determination?

This is a hypothetical question.

Niko: American Showline GSD 5 years old
Rosa: American Muppet Dog (GSD/Border Collie mix) 5 years old
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post #2 of 23 (permalink) Old 08-19-2010, 01:16 PM
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Very interesting question. From personal experiance only, I can share that I have found it to be mostly the fault of the trainer, aka me. Over time I have found that I would not break out training tasks into small enough portions and ask for too much at a single time.
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post #3 of 23 (permalink) Old 08-19-2010, 01:25 PM
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Like people, environmental factors and contribute to intelligence from conception...those factors carry though the critical developmental stages. Different techniques and stategies must be used for the challenging dog.
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post #4 of 23 (permalink) Old 08-19-2010, 01:25 PM
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If what you are teaching is reasonable (not asking the dog to balance a checking account ...) and the dog is just not getting it, then it's trainer or the teaching method or both.

On the other hand there is something like a genetic ceiling to consider: I can teach an English Bulldog to do competition style focused heeling but I will never be able to get the dog to heel as energetically and intensely as I can with a high drive GSD or BC. No amount of training is going to change that.
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post #5 of 23 (permalink) Old 08-19-2010, 05:05 PM
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To me there is no point when I decide that a behavior can't be learned by the dog (as long as the behavior is, as Jason pointed, reasonable for a dog) but more of a balance of how much do I want to invest in terms on time teaching the behavior v/s the benefits of accomplishing it, by example... it is a trick to amuse friends or an useful skill?

There are other considerations too, like breed and natural disposition. Some dogs need to be taught to retrieve, some dogs just have to be "allowed" to retrieve, same with herding, tracking, barking, etc. and linked to it, there are dogs who enjoy certain given tasks more than others, just as we do, so if it is only a trick that i'm doing for fun... what is the purpose if the only one having fun is me? It doesn't mean the dog is incapable, just that the effort is not worth it.

I do think the failure is of the trainer, some times we need to brake paradigms and stop repeating what has worked with other dogs on the past but also, as trainers, is our job to make the training fun for the dog to start with. Yet, not all dogs do good with what works with the other 99,99 %. I remember a bullterrier that could not be trained with a clicker, he was so bully that he would not try any behavior, any! I taught him through compulsion and then used treats, it worked for him and he ended up enjoying the training but at first... oh man! it was frustrating to see him stood there, not even blinking no matter what I tried. Good thing is I never had to teach him "Stay".

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post #6 of 23 (permalink) Old 08-19-2010, 05:53 PM
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I think Jason hit it pretty right on.

Dogs are capable of learning reasonable behaviors. It may take some longer than others and different methods, but they are all capable of things like "Sit" and "Down".

Of course the breeds that are hardwired to work with people are going to pick it up faster but you can't exclude dogs. I once saw a Saluki working on it's UD. Not really pretty...but consider. A sight hound. Major accomplishment.

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post #7 of 23 (permalink) Old 08-19-2010, 07:23 PM
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Some dogs are better at some things than other things. So, trying to train a couch potato dog to climb the a-frame and dog walk, while not generally impossible, might take longer and be more difficult. It the behavior you are trying to train does not fit the dog, I generally question why I want that behavior so badly.

If the dog is afraid of something to do with the behavior. For example if the dog is up on the dog walk, looks down and refuses to go forward. Again it is usually not impossible, but maybe it is easier to build up to that behavior slowly.

If this is about dog aggression, which is generally seated in poor socialization and fear, I think that again, you need to approach this behavior slowly, slowly socialize the dog to having dogs a block down, and then get closer -- takes time, but not impossible.

If it is something that takes instinct, hearding, hunting, I do not know if you can truly train that. I think you can train a dog to run this way, stop, run the other way, and maybe even move the critters, but do everyone a favor and keep that dog as a pet and get another for a herding championship.

If it is simple household manners -- not jumping the baby gate, not getting into the garbage, not chewing furniture, not begging at the table. I think this is mostly leadership and management and mostly the fault of the handlers.

If it is basic obedience tasks, first decide why the dog does not seem to grasp it, is the dog afraid -- like the stand for exam afraid of strangers touching them; is the dog too distracted to pay attention -- starts to heel but then pulls like crazy to get to the other dogs; is the dog just not getting what you want them to do -- back up three steps Babs... no, don't turn around, with me, just step backwards, come on, this isn't that hard....

Once you have a good idea why the dog is not getting there, you can slowly overcome fears, remove distractions until the dog is a bit better at the task or make yourself even more exciting -- could you say STEAK??? Or, if it is just a communication issue between you and the dog, then you have to try different methods to acheive the same goal. If you remember during this that the dog DOES want to please you, then you can earn some patience.

If you can figure out how to get Babsy to go three steps backwards at my side without turning her little butt around, PALEEZE let me know!!!

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post #8 of 23 (permalink) Old 08-20-2010, 06:19 AM Thread Starter
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Very well-thought out answers everyone! I haven't given up on trying to teach any behaviors yet, but this will help me know when I need to decide if it is worth the effort.

Niko: American Showline GSD 5 years old
Rosa: American Muppet Dog (GSD/Border Collie mix) 5 years old
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post #9 of 23 (permalink) Old 08-20-2010, 08:54 AM
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I've noticed WAY more of a difference in trainability for different breeds rather than for different dogs.

As in those dratted Border Collies really are amazing. I swear they could talk if they had the proper mouths/throat.

As far as my GSD's are concerned, they all have the brains to learn but MY ABILITY to teach comes more into play. Much more about how once I learn WHAT makes them click and what a reward is FOR THEM....the learning really takes off. Some learn faster, some slower, but I've found it's more about my skills and abilities to learn new ways to teach that are key.

If I keep 'teaching' the same way and they aren't learning, turns out (brace yourself ) it's not that the dog CAN'T learn, it's that I'm not TEACHING it in a way the dog understands. So I need to have a bunch of training methods in my 'training toolbox' to pull out and use instead.

One of the many reasons I love the clicker to train is because when MY lack of training skills is showing, it doesn't result in my correcting and punishing and pulling/popping/leashing my dog into doing the whatever. Instead, when I use the clicker, I have to THINK of how to break down the behavior in a different way so my dog will understand to get the click/treat.

I'm trying more and more to use a 3 Time Only rule when training. If my dog doesn't do it the first time, I may not have had the dogs attention, I may not have done the command the way the dog is used to, or I may not have been clear.

So I take a sec to make sure I have the dog's attention and give the command/cue properly.

IF THEN, the dog again doesn't do it right, I need to STOP and do something different. REally think what's going on. Because when if I ask for the same behavior again and my dog messes it up AGAIN.......then BAD MOM BAD MOM BAD MOM BAD MOM!!!!!

Three strikes and I am out! Bad Mom, bad trainer for that session. Because I KNOW my dogs. I KNOW they are trying. I KNOW they want to be there. I KNOW they want that click/reward. So if I know they are 'in the game' and trying, but failing, the failure is MY FAULT.

Dog classes are the best way I have found out to challenge me and give me the skills to then have another thing to try, another way to go at the problem, another way to break it down to have my dogs suceed the NEXT time.


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post #10 of 23 (permalink) Old 08-20-2010, 11:50 AM Thread Starter
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Here's a question I thought of today, and in no way does it relate to any dog I own or have met, but is it possible for a dog to be "retarded?" If it can happen in a human, are dog's brains biologically similar enough to ours to expect a percentage of the canine population to be mentally deficient?

Niko: American Showline GSD 5 years old
Rosa: American Muppet Dog (GSD/Border Collie mix) 5 years old
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