Dog Is Nervous/skittish During Training

Discussion in 'Obedience Training' started by MagnoliaMountain, May 12, 2012.

  1. MagnoliaMountain Active Member

    Hi all,

    Recently I've been trying to train my Aussie Cattle Dog to do some harder commands. She knows all the basics (sit, lie down, stay, paw, etc.), but any time I try something more advanced, it's like she just gives up immediately. Whenever she doesn't understand something right away, she'll flee to her "safe spot" (a dark, secluded corner in my apartment) and lie down. Or she'll just lie down on her back and look up at me with this sort of miserable look in her eyes (it's both adorable and sad). For example, just now I was attempting to teach her to retrieve objects, and I started by throwing a ball a few times and telling her to fetch it. She did it once or twice, but then she immediately went into the submissive/scared/running away behavior, which is really weird because she'll gladly retrieve the ball when there's no pressure.

    I've tried using a clicker, but it seems like she's even more afraid that way--she'll run away whenever I click it!

    I've also tried building her confidence by going over and over the commands she already knows and giving her tons of praise, but whenever I start on a new one it's pretty much game over. Just for the record, I have never, ever punished her for not performing a trick correctly or gotten frustrated with her when she's not getting something. But I'm sure that there's something about my approach that I should be changing, because clearly she is associating the training with something negative. Speaking to her soothingly/reassuring her hasn't worked, either.

    I don't want to ascribe human emotions to dogs (that's always dangerous territory), but it really seems like this is some kind of performance anxiety thing. My dog is so, so eager to please everyone, even strangers--that's sort of her M.O.--and I get the sense that she just can't handle the idea of not giving you what you want, so she just gives up. How can I let her know that it's okay for her to not understand something right away?

  2. tigerlily46514 Honored Member

    This will be an interesting thread!
    No idea what to do, but, it sounds like you are doing a lot of things right already, imo,
    so hang in there! Someone around here will know what to try.

    Some dogs prefer various types of methods of training, not sure if that info will help you with this particular problem or not, but, some dogs seem to prefer targetting,
    or shaping,
    or capturing,
    or luring.
    You *might* want to try "shaping" for a while, to help your dog develop more confidence about tricks training,
    but, i'm not sure if that will help or not. but, worth a shot.
    "Shaping" basically, is you get clicker and treats,
    and often an object is presented to the dog,
    and you CLICK/TREAT when you like what the dog himself invents for the trick.

    Maybe for this particular dog,
    maybe it'd be good idea to keep it simple for first shaping lessons, not expecting very complex moves at first,
    jsut to give dog idea that he can pick out and create the trick. MIght be worth a try.

    btw, Magnolia, you write a very good note, not leaving out needed info the way some ppl do. You explain things very well.
    You made this very interesting situation very easy to understand what you are looking at, or at least, i thought so.
    I don't know the answer for this,
    but, HAVE BIG HOPE,
    cuz i do imagine, someone around here will know what to try!!! I'd bet this is solvable.

    One thing, this dog is not a new dog for your home, right? How long have you had this dog? How old is the dog?
    Tâmara Vaz and Dogster like this.
  3. tigerlily46514 Honored Member

    One other thought,
    i hear that some dogs dislike loud clickers, you *might* want to consider adding a bit of "play-doh" or tape to soften/muffle the sound of the click.
    That probably doesn't explain your dog's running away during training, but, just one small thing to consider doing, just to be sure.

    Does your dog do this with all various types of advanced tricks,
    or just for fetch?
    (my dog loathes fetch with a passion:ROFLMAO: ) My dog also readily "quits" for fetch,
    but, he doesn't run away, instead, he sits there and looks at me with unmasked disgust when i try to get him to fetch more than 3 times.:ROFLMAO:
    Sometimes, buddy also throws in a groan and slumping down when i try to get him fetch more than 3 times, too,
    makes it very clear, he hates fetch.:rolleyes:

    but your dog would also do this running away,
    say, for jumping over a stick, or rolling over, or all types of tricks???
    Pawbla, Tâmara Vaz and Dogster like this.
  4. bekah1001 Honored Member

    What about using a verbal marker?
  5. sara Moderator

    Or a light like I use for my deafies :)
  6. Tâmara Vaz Experienced Member

    Really a puzzle! I'm thinking, but I don't know...

    MAYBE something that she doesn't like is passing unnoticed when you're teaching a new trick ?? Like an object, the place, a treat, a body language that remembers something bad...

    " What tricks have you tried to teach?"
    tigerlily46514 and Dogster like this.
  7. running_dog Honored Member

    Does click=stress or click=treat to your dog?
    If you have only introduced or mostly use the clicker into a situation where the dog is already feeling stressed (did/do you?) then the click may have become synonymous with the stressful situation. If so you may be better changing the marker for now and using a light as Sara suggests. "Load the light" really carefully so she only associates it with success and treats and praise - use it to mark a reward for something she is really confident with, signal a treat moment while you are playing, when you are sitting together all relaxed signal a treat and tell her she is wonderful... show her the marker doesn't have anything to do with stress just that it = happiness, relaxation and treats.

    Other ideas about clickers and confidence in no particular order....
    • Does the dog understand yet that a click=treat?
    • You could put on some background noise so the click is less startling.
    • You could just randomly click when the dog is at a safe distance and toss her a treat to try to make her comfortable with the clicker.
    • Personally I don't actually think shaping would help here... though my gut feeling is that capturing might work - just see the dog doing something naturally (like laying down calmly, or sitting, or standing, or wagging it's tail, or ANYTHING) and CLICK/TREAT. A novice clicker dog can "fail" and shut down easily during shaping unless you are rewarding it every few seconds... and if you are a novice clicker person (are you?) it is hard to notice enough activity from the dog to click every few seconds (Been there, done that, got the T'shirt :().
    • Never let her fail... always reward her even if she is wrong but give her better treats or a jackpot if she is right.

    Training = Game
    What was the "pressure" that stopped your dog retrieving during that training session?
    Training is just another game after all... so how did she know this was "training" and not "game"? If you can figure that out you will probably have your solution.

    If she shuts down after 2 balls then stop at one, praise her, treat her, play a game, hide some treats and let her find them, have fun... then throw one ball, have fun all over again etc. Gradually the play/reward sessions get shorter and you have longer to train what you want. The same for all the other things she finds worrying.


    Train 20 seconds and play for 5 minutes used to be Zac's motto, (three repetitions was probably one too many)... now he'll train for 30 minutes at a time because it is all a game. If Zac thinks heelwork with eye contact is a ball game :rolleyes: I'm sure you can make retrieving a ball game :D.
    Pawbla, orpheum, jackienmutts and 3 others like this.
  8. Anneke Honored Member

    Like Running dog says, be aware of your posture.
    If you bend over to take the ball from her mouth, that is something we all do naturally. BUT to a dog this is dominating/threatening.
    Even looking into your dogs eyes could be seen as a threat to some dogs.
    If you are playing fetch, get down to her level. Sit on the floor and throw the ball. That way, you can't bend over her and your hand comes in from below.
    Reward with whatever your dog likes to do. For instance, throw ball, she fetches it, you play tug(if that is what your dog likes)
    I have been putting pressure on my dog Cooper too. I trained obedience and he hated it. I did reward with treats and with play, and would repeat over and over again. But he still didn´t like it.
    But when I trained tricks, he would love it. I couldn´t figure it out. Untill I took a long hard look at what I was doing.
    Tricks I considered fun, so if he didn´t do it, no big deal. But I WANTED him to down/stay, to heel, to come. It was my approach in the training that caused him to dislike obedience.
    So now I make EVERYTHING a game. I look at everything as a trick. So when he doen´t do a propper retrieve, I still play a treat, play a game of tug. I look for tiny steps forward. If last time he sat down, but let go of the ball before I could take it, then I will reward for sit down and a hold the ball for one second. And then stop.

    Now if she lies down on her back, try to lure her up again and keep going. Don´t comfort her, just act as if it didn´t happen.
  9. volito Active Member

    All great opinions here! Just curious if dog is ever showing this behavior in other situations besides training or playing games "like on a simple walk"..... also didn't notice if it happens in certain environments? Like dog performs awesome in house and yard but not in a park or school environment. Sounds like it might be a generalising thing or dog as some fear issues and some kind of stimuli in the environment might be shutting dog down. One more thing "sorry if it was mentioned" dogs age, sex, where did you get dog, and socialising history might tell us something :)

    "your doing all the right things keep working at it socialising and training is a life long thing :)"
    Tâmara Vaz likes this.
  10. running_dog Honored Member

    Ugh! I hope this hasn't just started since you joined DTA?
    It isn't that YOU now feel under pressure to make your dog perform because you have seen what the other dogs on here can do?
    I've been there once... and succeeded in training nothing :(. Now I figure that dog training is often about the journey not the destination, we're traveling along together and it often doesn't matter whether we reach the destination as long as the dog and me get to understand each other better along the way, I even feel like that about recall from chasing now - I do believe we'll get there but in the mean time I'm enjoying the journey.

    I guess I post lots about what Zac will do but there is an awful lot more that he won't do (like formal retrieves, or sitting squarely in front of me, or sitting without reversing, or doing rollover, or holding a soft object in his mouth, and sooooooooooooo on :LOL:), some tricks he just says "Nah!" as soon as I suggest them to him :cool:. So we try to have fun and Zac learns tricks along the way and so what if he'd never get an Advanced trick dog title - because he thinks it is too funny to knock all the pots over instead of playing the shell game properly? He's Zac and he's the best dog in the world to me.
  11. Tâmara Vaz Experienced Member

    Laika does the same with the pots!!!It's funny!!She ends choosing one to destroy!!
  12. JazzyandVeronica Honored Member

    Your dog sounds an awful lot like my Veronica - who can be skittish and has some weird fear issues. I have noticed I have to approach training a certain way with her, if I am too intense, if it isn't fun enough, if she feels too much pressure...she shuts down.

    We have been doing pretty well with bridge and target training; because it let's you "coach" the dog; you can tell them they are on the right track, doing well and should I think it has a more interactive feel to it.

    There are a couple of SATS/B&T yahoo groups that you can join and get the training instructions in their files. I couldn't figure out how to link to the document and I don't know if it's kosher if I try to copy the whole thing into a post.

    The other thing that works for me, that I try to remember to do and fall flat on my face when I don't , is - keep training sessions short; not too many repetitions.

    And if you don't tape yourself; start - you might discover something. The other day V. was "off" and acting skittish and I happened to be taping...when I watched the tape I was horrified by my tone of voice. I wasn't feeling angry with her or frustrated, in fact I was sort of "teasing" her...but it didn't translate well. When I heard it on tape my first reaction was "Oh hell. I wouldn't want to be anywhere near me either"!
    southerngirl and sara like this.
  13. jacobite Well-Known Member

  14. Pawbla Experienced Member

    What do you do when you train? Do you have a special pouch, object, collar, etc, for training?
  15. jacobite Well-Known Member

    no, I just throw the ball and encourage him to fetch. If we go out, I take one of those sticks that you use to grab the ball and some treats for each fetch, but that is all.

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