My Pup Listens, Except When….

Baxter Ridgeback/ 22 weeks old/ IG: https://www.instagram.com/baxter_ridgeback_mdp

If you say, “My pup listens, except when…”, then your dog doesn’t listen. A dog is either trained to do something or they aren’t. A common misconception is thinking that just because your pup can do something in one location, they can do it in all locations. You need to expose them to new experiences and train them everywhere. Each location will have new distractions, which is great, because training around distractions teaches your pup to listen to you. We will talk about exposure training, what to expect, and ways to get your pup to listen to you around distractions.

Where Do I Begin?

Baxter Ridgeback/6 months old/ IG: https://www.instagram.com/baxter_ridgeback_mdp

At the beginning of any type of exposure training, treat it like day one of basic obedience training. You should be extremely positive, corrections will be minimal, but your demeanor should be more confident instead of playful. This helps your pup understand that even though you are in public, it’s not playtime. Also, make sure you have enough time to train. The more relaxed you are, the faster your pup will calm down. Any new environment may cause your pup to become apprehensive, overwhelmed with curiosity, or full of excitement. If this happens, remove them far enough from the distraction where they can sit peacefully, but not too far where the distraction is a non factor.

When I take Baxter to a new environment the goal is to train leash etiquette. However, any time he becomes fearful, we’ll practice basic obedience commands, then I’ll heavily reward and praise him. This makes him to focus on the constant positive, me, which gets him in a relaxed mindset. If he becomes too playful and energetic, I’ll become more authoritative by practicing submissive commands like recall, “lay down” and “stay”. I will also give some corrections to help me manage his play drive, and not crush his it. I’ve noticed the more time we spend in the new environment, the quicker his response to me becomes. This tells me that even though he knows he can explore the new environment, he still has limitations.

How To Train Around Other People.

Baxter Ridgeback/6 months old/ IG: https://www.instagram.com/baxter_ridgeback_mdp

One of the biggest hurdles and distractions when training in a new environment will be other people. Your training will be interrupted, but the environment is perfect. Until this point, your pup has probably always been greeted or interacted with people in their immediate area. That is hundreds, maybe even thousands of repetitions where your pup is rewarded or praised whem someone is near them. So don’t be frustrated if it takes some time for your pup to understand that they can’t interact with everyone and anything all the time. You just need to get some solid repetitions in, where they aren’t allowed to interact with the people or animals around them.

Baxter had a huge issue of wanting to play with anyone walking towards him or simply existing in his immediate area. This is most likely because the only strangers he encountered were at the dog park or pet stores. As you can imagine, every person that saw him praised and rewarded him. This inevitably forced him to associate strangers with play time. If your pup is anything like Baxter, you will have to start training “stay” religiously throughout the day. It will be frustrating, but you have to teach them right from wrong without undermining their socialization training. Here are a few ways you can train “stay” throughout the day.

  • During mealtime, make your pup “stay” before letting them get up to eat. You should also change the location of where they “stay”. Yes, you will have to put them back in position multiple times before they finally “stay”. Isn’t that’s what training is for?
  • During walks, when people or dogs approach you, step a few feet off the path. Then make your pup “stay” as the person goes past you. It doesn’t matter if your pup is standing, sitting, or laying down, so long as they “stay”. If they are too enticed and start jumping and puling, make them “lay down” and then give the “stay” command. It’s a submissive position, and it’s very difficult for them to jump while laying down.
  • If you haven’t reached the point in your training where your pup can stay in the presence of distractions, that’s ok. Try carrying high value rewards during your walks. When a distraction approaches and gets your pups attention, step a few feet off the path to make the distraction less interesting. Then get your pup to focus on you, and reward them before, during, and after the distraction passes. Over time you will be able to lessen the food reward. Then you will be able to train moving past the distraction without a reward.

The goal is to teach your pup it’s ok to look at distractions, but they don’t ALWAYS have to interact with them. These aren’t the only ways, but it’s a start. If your pup playfully pulls toward a normal distraction (a person walking, cars, squirrels, other animals), you have to normalize the event by teaching them that sometimes nothing happens. If your pup aggressively reacts to a non threatening distraction, ask yourself how many times have you corrected/punished them for reacting. How can they normalize the event if all they remember is hundreds or thousands of times when that distraction appeared they felt pain (pinch collars, chok ecollars, e-collars). Consistent punishment is the fastest way to make a pup HATE something. Remember, frustration is the quickest way for your pup to stop learning. Remain positive and consistent whenever you train.

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