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My six-year-old purebred GSD has always stopped to scratch himself when given a command he doesn't want to obey, e.g., when ordered to his kennel after he's tried to mosey over to the dinner table to forage.

In training, when there's the promise of possible treats, he never scratches.

The tendency to stop and scratch seems to have gotten worse just in the past couple of months. His only change in diet was about 1½ years ago when we switched to BARF.

Any suggestions?
 

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Sounds like he is avoiding by scratching. If he is not scratching outside of training then I doubt it is an allergy issue. More of a blowing you off kind of thing.
 

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Scratching, yawning, nibbling grass are often avoidance behaviors. If he's doing it in relation to being given a command, and doesn't do it otherwise, diet or allergy problems are unlikely and it's probably avoidance. The fact that he doesn't do it in training where there are treats, but does when given a command outside that context when there is no immediate reward, would also indicate it's an avoidance behavior.
 

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I'm no expert - so I won't contribute anything too serious here - but reading this just cracked me up.
It sounds like it's the equivalent of a person turning their head & yawning when you talk to them. I real blow off!
 

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Originally Posted By: Shandril2I'm no expert - so I won't contribute anything too serious here - but reading this just cracked me up.
It sounds like it's the equivalent of a person turning their head & yawning when you talk to them. I real blow off!
That is EXACTLY it! Gracie does this from time to time. Scratches sometimes but here's what I get.....she licks her butt. How's THAT for getting blown off!!!!!!


Lu
 

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What do you do when she scratches? Do you let her get away with it? Wait til she's done scratching? Repeat the command?

When he was younger, Camper used to try this. (sigh..Camper...the master manipulator...) He also has massive allergies and what started out as legitimate scratching, he soon learned he could use to delay doing what he didn't want to do.

What we found was that for most commands we just had to say Sit. (he starts to scratch) NO (firm 'no.' Not yelling. But very firm, like "I know what you're up to." If he was on a leash, I would give a light leash correction as well. ). Then if he didn't sit immediately, I repeated Sit again. He always sat. "Good sit." So basically, I was retraining him how to sit the first time every time.

Sometimes, on "Come" he'd try the scratching or as Chris points out, the yawning thing (like all of a sudden, he's so exhausted? Please!) We started to use a long line in the yard at all times.

Then we did the same thing as we did for the sit. "Come" (yawn or scratch). "No" (jerk the line a little as a correction). Repeat 'Come' only if necessary (most of the time, he didn't forget what we wanted him to do, as as soon as we said,"no," he came on his own). As he started trotting toward us. "Good come!"

While we didn't start using treats on simple command like sit, down, come again, we did start to ramp up the amount of praise we gave him. I've learned that when dogs start getting non-compliant on commands they should know really well, a lot of time it's because we don't really acknowledge that they've done anything special. (When I ran this theory by my trainer, she absolutely agreed.)

It took us about 2 months to get this avoidant (scratching, yawning) behavior extinguished. Every once in a while, he tries scratching. Or maybe he's really itchy? Our rule now it that it doesn't matter. You get a command, you do it. You can scratch once you're sitting, lying down, once you get here, etc. Not before.
 

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Scratching, yawning, sniffing, etc. are actually calming signals. Dogs use these signals all the time when trying to calm down other dogs. They also use them to calm down people! When they sense you are upset (they're not obeying your command!) they try to calm you down by doing these behaviors. I would work on your response. Try to switch to positive training and I bet he'll stop scratching!
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Good insights; thank you. I've been reluctant to reward him with treats for turning away from the dinner table on command, because I don't want him to turn me into a treat dispenser just by his approaching the table.

Guess I'll have to figure another way of reinforcing that act (the command is "rug," which means go to your rug in the corner) outside of dinnertime.
 

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Here's an idea: make your dinner time the time that he gets a kong with pb or a bone to chew on. He has to be on his bed AND STAYING to get his special treat. Does he have a good solid down stay? I would work on that as well. And I would work on the "Rug" command at lots of different times so he thinks it's a great option.
 

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I love dogs that do things like that because they are a great example of those avoidance behaviours you read in books all the time and think, "do dogs really do that"?

Our Max occasionally does the scratch, but predominantly does the grass sniffing. It's not so much that it's a blow-off, but they are trying to communicate something -- true, they might not like the command (I look at himm directly and say "now", then he says, "crumb, she means it), or sometimes they don't like the way you gave it, and they are trying to calm you, or are not sure of what reaction they will meet from you if they obey.

I think that BWM nailed it -- you need to work on your responses and feedback to him when he follows commands when you don't have treats.
 

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Grimm does have some allergy itchy issues, but... both my fiance and I see that Grimm itches in the exact same instances:

When something thrilling/exciting
is about to happen (when we are at the door, about to leave the apartment, when we are on the other side of the apartment door in the main hallway, about to go towards the elevators... when we sit at the elevators to wait for the elevator to come up to us so we can go outside. Also, when he is about to be allowed to exit the bedroom and he is excited about it cos he was in his crate for a nap and he wants to go out into the livingroom from the bedroom, and when his dinner bowl comes and he is excited to get it. And the most itching is: first thing in the morning when we stir in bed and he thinks we will soon open the bedroom door for us all to go out into the livingroom for him to have his piggy breakfast, get his first drink of the day, go for his morning walk. This really seems situational.

Is he trying to calm himSELF?
 

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Scratching is a normal 'calming' signals our dogs do to 'calm' themselves and to calm those around them. (so how smart is Brightelf to have figured this out???
)

As usual, I always recommend the DVD Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas to everyone. Because we 'stupid' humans are CONSTANTLY missing cues/signals and signs our dogs are tossing our way. The DVD is amazing how is shows these signals and things we can do to help.

Not saying our dogs are freaked out stressed, just NOT happy and loving what's going on.

So if we can make training a better thing for our dogs so they are confident and enjoying it. They not only will stop throwing the signals our way cause they think we are stressed, but they will stop worrying themselves..........
 

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I'm in Germany, it would be tough for me to get this DVD.. yet it sounds like I could benefit from it, for Grimm's sake. Thanks for the reference, MaggieRoseLee! Grimm doesn't scratch during commands tho.. oddly, it seems to mean "Oh my gosh, it is going to HAPPEN! Hurry, C'monnnn!!" as it's mainly before an event he wants to hurry and occur. Not sure how I can make things better for him?
 

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Can anyone advise? Grimm doesn't scratch when given commands. He has started scratching after the big transition of our move to Germany and living in a new home. The times he does it are when he is anticipating his collar and lead being put on, anticipating the door to the hallway from our apartment opening, then as he waits for me to close our apartment door to walk down the hallway towards the elevators.. then near the elevators as he must again pause and wait for the anticipated elevator to come. He does it when he anticipates us waking up, to let him out of our bedroom so we all go into the livingroom, and occasionally when his foodbowl is coming.
Grimm is a sensitive soul, even though he is warm , pushy, affectionate.
I am unsure if a firm correction during scratching will make things worse-- since it seems related to excitement/tension?
Should I drill him in obedience a bit when he does it, to show him he doesn't get what he wants by doing it... or will this add to his tension?
What's best to stop him from scratching in these situations?
 

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My one year old does the same thing. My trainer said that he is avoiding doing whatever I asked him to do. She said to get in there and make him do what I asked.
 

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Originally Posted By: AimMy one year old does the same thing. My trainer said that he is avoiding doing whatever I asked him to do. She said to get in there and make him do what I asked.
Your trainer is right about the avoidance, but your 1 year old is in avoidance because he is stressed. "Getting right in there to make him do it" will only add to his stress, and thus push him further into avoidance.

A one year old is still a puppy, and training should be fun fun fun!!! Treats treats treats!!! Play play play!!!

Ease off on the corrections, re-introduce lots of food and happy voice and play rewards. Go back to some basics. You dog may be in avoidance because he is confused about what is expected of him, or is afraid to make the "wrong" decision, so does nothing.

This is common when a behaviour isn't re-inforced with positive rewards for enough repetitions, over a long-enough time period. It might take weeks and months to really get a good solid behavioural understanding for him of what a command means, and to develop a POSITIVE association between a comman and him performing it quickly and happily.
 
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