German Shepherds Forum banner

1 - 10 of 10 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
16 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
I'm training my first dog...so please bear with me...

What type of collar/training have you seen work best with a shy/nervous/timid dog? My dog is not aggressive at all...definitely has the "flight" response." If he hears a loud noise and gets started it's tail between the legs, visibly shaking, trying to get out of there ASAP.

I had always used a regular flat collar (no physical corrections) and I started an obedience class and the trainer uses a choke collar with corrections so I switched. She does "snapping" corrections and pulling up if the dog doesn't sit (which just seems wrong to me). I've seen improvement in his behavior in some areas like walking on leash but it has hurt in other areas. I feel like our "bond" is weaker...he doesn't like to play as much...just kind of lays there...acts sort of depressed. I'm careful to not make the corrections too severe and I try to only correct at the right times (though I have made mistakes). I also try to add in plenty of positive reinforcement but it seems like the corrections really effect his psyche.

What would you suggest? He is a mix breed, I am not training him to compete in anything, maybe learn some agility or scentwork or something like that just to give him something to do but nothing serious. I just want a good, happy pet.

Thanks in advance
 

·
Super Moderator
Joined
·
32,333 Posts
With a nervous, timid dog I would ditch the collar corrections and make training as motivational as possible, so it's a fun and positive experience. Does this trainer use food or toys in training? If not, I'd find another trainer. Being rewarded for getting it right can build confidence, too many corrections could have the opposite affect on this kind of dog.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,574 Posts
Yeah, with a soft scared dog it's imperative to build up confidence and make training a fun, positive, bonding experience. Harsh training is not likely to help. Motivational training (using treats, toys, or just enjoyable interaction and praise -- anything and everything your dog likes, adjusted to the situation and the moment) will.

Very often if a frightened dog does not respond to you, it's because the dog is too scared to focus. Punishing that just worsens the fear. Improving the dog's bond with and confidence in you, on the other hand, can really make a huge difference.

If your dog pulls a lot out of panic, I would suggest using a body harness instead of a collar at all. The instinctive bolting can cause your dog to inadvertently choke or damage his trachea. If you have problems with pulling, I would recommend a front-clip harness like an EasyWalk or Freedom Harness (which is better depends on your dog's build).

Even if you don't intend to compete, training your dog in something like Rally, freestyle, or tricks can be a huge help. These sports don't require your dog to interact with obstacles (which can be a stumbling block for neophobic ones like my Pongu) and can be tailored so that they only ask for close interaction with the handler, which most timid dogs find reassuring.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
377 Posts
Get rid of the choke chain. That is so 1950s.
Especially for a timid dog.
Back off on the training and spend more time socializing and making
life a fun place for your dog. Build confidence slowly.
With dogs like that, your patience and acceptance is important.
And work with socialization. If you are going to teach anything,
teach fetch and find and basic obedience on your own.
Timid dogs improve very gradually because of all the mental/emotional
obstacles in their way for everything they do.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
16 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
Thanks for the responses. I'm glad to hear that it seems like my intuition was correct. I'm going to take it easy, just try to have fun with with Otis and let him be a dog. With the choke we would get in this situations where he would get scared, try to run, hit the end of the line therefore "correcting" himself while he is terrified and I just knew that more damage was being done than improvement.

The trainer does believe in using food as positive reinforcement...and the mix of occasional corrections with positive reinforcement makes sense to me...I just don't think it's right for my dog. At least not right now.

Do you have any thoughts on what of the dog sports are best for a dog such as mine or does is really vary?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
27,249 Posts
I would do some informal tracking/nosework which builds confidence. Also agility does the same. Anything where the dog is enjoying what s/he is doing and getting praised often will build up the confidence.
Does your dog have food or prey drive?

Very often if a frightened dog does not respond to you, it's because the dog is too scared to focus. Punishing that just worsens the fear. Improving the dog's bond with and confidence in you, on the other hand, can really make a huge difference.
Like Merciel posted, if the dog can't focus due to fear, usually taking a treat is not going to happen either.
I agree that getting a collar the dog can't back out of is important as well,especially a dog that doesn't need corrections. Martingale is a good one for this type of dog if you don't want to use a harness.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,574 Posts
Like Merciel posted, if the dog can't focus due to fear, usually taking a treat is not going to happen either.
That's true, and an important point that I overlooked.

My dog Pongu is extremely fearful. The first time I took him to a training class, he shut down completely. At that time, he was about a year and a half old. I had been working with him at home and at the dog park, and in those environments -- where he'd been practicing for over a year and was by then reasonably comfortable -- he could perform a pretty decent variety of freestyle moves and tricks.

But when I took him to a training class (and it was a purely positive reinforcement class taught by an excellent and very sensitive trainer), he just shut down completely. Staring, shaking, drooling, shedding handfuls of fur, totally unwilling to move. He was literally paralyzed by fear.

So we spent that entire class, six full weeks, just sitting in the back of the room behind a cloth barrier and trying to get Pongu to relax. Every session, that's all we did. I made no demands on him. I just sat with him and offered petting (which sometimes he wanted and sometimes he didn't) and offered the best treats I could find (warm grilled chicken and hot dogs, which, again, sometimes he wanted and sometimes he didn't) and waited for him to relax.

By the end of the class he would take treats about half the time I offered them. That's it. That is all the progress we made in six weeks of doing nothing else. Meanwhile the rest of the class was pretty much about ready to take their Canine Good Citizen tests (a test that Pongu still has not passed and never will).

It's hard working with a severely fearful dog. I hope your guy's not quite that extreme. But even if he isn't, any timid dog takes a lot of patience and a lot of love. You have to develop a detailed awareness of your dog's moods and honor what he's telling you. This is not to say that you should coddle him or keep him insulated from life's stresses -- it's to say that you should respect how much stress he can take at any given moment, in any given situation, and work in very small increments to improve that.

There's a good sticky on this board with a list of resources for fearful dogs. I also found Leslie McDevitt's book Control Unleashed to be supremely helpful (in fact, we ended up actually working with Leslie privately in person, since she lives not too far away, and I can't say enough good things about her).

As for what dog sports I'd recommend -- as I said previously, I had great success with tricks training, freestyle, and Rally. But it really depends on what you and your dog enjoy.

One of my friends has a fearful GSD who really loves agility and is thriving in that sport. Pongu, on the other hand, is afraid of all the obstacles and would have great difficulty with the noise or movement of the teeter, or with going into the confined space of a tunnel. It took me weeks to teach the jump exercises for Rally, and right now we're still having difficulty with the RL3 exercises, which combine Stays (i.e., distance from handler, which he hates) with jumps (because all trial jumps are BIG SCARY MONSTERS in his deranged little dog brain, and totally different from the bar jump we have at home. somehow. sigh...).

You know your dog best. Watch and see what he enjoys and what activities seem to relax him. If in doubt, just teach a bunch of foundational exercises and build off whichever ones seem to come most easily to him.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
16 Posts
Discussion Starter #8
Went for a good walk today. Regular flat collar...just brought some treats along and gave Otis one when he was to the left and behind me. Didn't take him long to catch on and he stuck there for most of the walk. Much more eye contact than I had been getting also which was great.

He got startled once...jumped and ran forward...paused and then turned back and looked at me...I gave him a treat for the eye contact...is that a good way of handling that?

He definitely has prey drive when we are out...if he sees a squirrel or rabbit he goes after it. But that doesn't really translate to toys...he kind of has an attitude like he can take it or leave it with his toys. Not one of those dogs that just goes crazy for the ball or something like that. I would like him to be though so I've been reading up on it...put most of his toys away and only bring them out for short periods of time and try to add a lot of enthusiasm myself. Seems to be working but sometimes he will still just stand there and look at me like I'm crazy and lay down...kind of demoralizing...any thoughts on this?

Definitely more food drive...he doesn't go absolutely crazy but treats motivate him...it's how I taught him sit, down, stay etc. Like you suggested he often won't take treats in public. When he goes into alert mode it's like he could care less. Even say for example he is intently scoping something out across the parking lot and I ask him to sit, he will usually sit unless he is really spooked, but he won't be focusing on my or any treats that I have, just the construction guy across the way or whatever it is.

Merciel...thanks for sharing about Pongu. It is encouraging to hear that you have had success with a similar issue. Honestly...I don't think Otis' problems are as severe as Pongu's. So if you can do it with hard work and patience I know we can too. I've made mistakes in the past trying to make him "tough it out" when something scares him...I know now that's not the correct way...and I'm trying to walk that fine line between not coddling him but also not over-exposing him to fearful situations.
 

·
Super Moderator
Joined
·
32,333 Posts
Sometimes adding movement can help refocus a dog on you, so rather than just standing there and asking for a sit or a watch, I'll quickly back up a few steps as I do it, and then mark and reward when the dog turns towards me. Keep your demeanor happy and upbeat, and your body language calm, relaxed, and matter of fact. He will feed off you if you're stressed or worried about how he'll react to something, so pay attention to that.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,574 Posts
He got startled once...jumped and ran forward...paused and then turned back and looked at me...I gave him a treat for the eye contact...is that a good way of handling that?
Yep, I would definitely consider that a good sign that he's looking to you for guidance, reassurance, and connection. And that's something worth rewarding. :)

re: building your dog's interest in toy play -- there are many ways of doing this, although you will probably never get a total ball fiend who is hypnotized by tennis balls on strings. (Personally, I think that's fine; it's been my experience that the extremely toy-driven dogs sometimes have a hard time fading that motivator out.) Some dogs just prefer playing with or interacting with their people, not objects. And shy dogs often don't engage with toys when they're feeling stressed, just as they'll turn down treats.

One thing that has worked well for me with Pongu is making the toy the focus of a mental challenge. In the Miscellaneous Dog Sports folder, I posted a couple of his youtubes on the Trick Dog Challenge thread. The Easter Egg trick, margarita trick, and birthday box trick all use objects as props. Pongu is now very excited when he sees those props come off the shelf, because he knows that it means he'll get a chance to do some work (and he LOVES work). He's so neophobic that he does not like to engage objects initially, but once he understands and becomes comfortable with a "work challenge" associated with those objects, he gets REALLY into mastering them, and then the mere sight of the props puts a big smile on his face. He is a big huge nerd, my dog.

Another approach, which is more broadly successful with dogs who aren't such big huge nerds, is to link the toy to food and/or interaction with you. Kongs and other hollow stuffable toys are great for this. You can ask your dog to find/retrieve the Kong (challenge: brain puzzle of the find/retrieve; reward: interaction with you and praise) and then hold a Stay while you fill and place the Kong (challenge: impulse control on the Stay; reward: food, more praise).

IMO, pairing challenge with reward, and varying that reward whenever possible, is much better for building motivation than always using the same reward and/or giving out rewards for too-easy/nonexistent challenges. Most dogs I've met like to work for what they get. They know when they've done a good job, and it builds their pride and confidence.

Try using different types of toys, and keep the sessions short and interspersed with work (eventually blended into work such that there's no clear line, from your dog's perspective, between work and play). If you can tell your dog is losing interest, that's okay. It's not a failure, it's valuable information that will help you do better next time. Make a mental note of what mood he was in when you started, what toy you used, how you presented it, and how he responded. Refine your approach with the toys and presentations that worked, and stop a little bit short next time, while your dog is still engaged.
 
1 - 10 of 10 Posts
Top