Sheltie With Endless Energy Won't Stop Chasing Birds

Discussion in 'Dog Behavior Problems' started by cryadis23, Oct 1, 2014.

  1. cryadis23 New Member

    Hi there,

    I'm new to the forum and from Australia. Similar issues to the one I have have been addressed here, but I'm looking for a bit more tailored advice.

    I have a 6 yr old male desexed sheltand sheepdog who is pretty energetic, but not aggressive. if he's bored he tends to bark rather than get destructive etc. he is generally very obedient, undertakes agility courses and gets along well with other animals.

    I am working from home fortunately so am able to take him for a run every day. he usually gets about a three hour run on average per day.

    Our local park is off leash with a large dog running area. There are lots of little birds that dart about and Jasper LOVES to chase them. I think its his herding instincts kicking it. He seems to have endless energy- he will run for three hours straight without stopping, and gets tired for about 5 minutes before doing it for another three hours.

    The trouble is that he won't come back under any circumstances if we let him off lead and there are birds around. In all other circumstances he runs back happily to his name. its just the birds that are tricky. and only those specific birds- he doesnt give a darn about ducks etc.

    unfortunately traffic has been building up around the park area and it is not fenced off. i am really scared that one day he will get too close to a road and get hit by a car. i would love to be able to have him come when called in case of emergency, or just for those days when you dont have the time to wait around for six hours until he gets exhausted.

    We've tried keeping him on leash but i personally feel his quality of life decreases if he doesnt get the joy of chasing them. plus he gets barky and a bit destructive without a three hour run, and im not up to running at his speed for that length of time with him on lead! we've also tried a super long leash but he gets caught up in the other dogs leashes!

    can anyone offer some suggestions? we're tried everything under the sun to do with food and it doesnt work. we've tried having a special toy that he only gets if he comes back, but he doesnt care. we've tried training him on lead when the birds are around, and that works fine till we let him off. i've tried following him around, being noisy, being quiet, getting in the car as if im pretending to drive off, hide-and-seeking etc.

    any tips would be much much much appreciated! he's such a stubborn dog with birds but perfect every other time! i dont know if i should just deal with it and stand near the road to chase the birds away from it, or if i should switch to another park without them and just hope he gets enough exercise from a normal run with me...thanks!!
    jackienmutts and running_dog like this.

  2. running_dog Honored Member

    Is there any chance you could video a little of what is happening at the dog park with the birds? Here is what I'd like to see on the video:
    • I'd like to see your dog's on leash behaviour when you are training,
    • his on leash behaviour when you are not training,
    • the way he reacts to food (make it high value food) and toys while he is on leash and the birds are around,
    • what he is like on a long leash.
    • You will note I am not asking you to video him off leash as I would hate you to put your dog at risk for my sake. If there is a safe dog park then it would also be helpful to see what he does when you let him off the leash there and what his body language is when he recalls.
    I'm asking about these things because it does affect where you start with the training and I think we can get a clearer picture faster from a video showing these things than from you answering questions on the forum. BTW, hide and seek doesn't work with my dog either, using that just trained him to be comfortable with me out of sight because he knows he can track me like a champion sniffer dog when he wants me.

    Obviously we can give advice without seeing your dog in action but as you want tailored advice it would be helpful to see a video. I just use my point and click camera for the video I take of my dog, also do let us know if you can't get a video and we'll do the best we can without.

    If you can, please also tell us what sort of games you play with your dog, you say you kept a special toy, how did you use it?
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  3. cryadis23 New Member

    hi running_dog, thanks so much for your response! thats a great idea about the video, ill get on it!

    in the meantime, to answer some of your questions in text form - when he is on the leash on a walk, not training, he tends to follow slightly behind you unless he has a sniff of something. callhing his name has him right back next to you. i tend to stop when he's interested in things because im not generally in a hurry, but if i am in a rush he's happy to stay at my side. if we're running on a leash he stays by my side. if we're going for a walk or run off leash he tends to stay within 5m of me at all times, generally to the side, and he follows behind if he's tired or hot. he's never been a puller and doesnt tend to go out in front of me unless another dog comes up to say hi.

    training with the leash has most often involved having him sit whilst i walk off and then call him (either by name or with 'come'). he comes instantly and doesnt wander off. we trained him relatively early with the leash on to walk by my side. when training on the leash the lead is slack due to lack of resistance. when training on lead when birds are around the lead is tight because he paces and follows the birds.

    his body language, now that i think about it, is pretty different when the birds are around. when he's running and hears me call his tail is up and often wagging slightly, ears pricked up and forward. he turns to face me, then quickly turns around and runs off. when the birds arent around he acts like he does at home with a more normal pose. he gets a bit nervous around energetic dogs who approach him too quickly. he doesn't seem phased with any dogs when bird chasing. if he's on the lead and he sees a bird he changes from the walking by my side to trotting out in front and his ears prick up and his tail goes up (more to a horiztonal level) and his mouth closes.

    he's incredibly responsive to food at all times unless the birds are around. he almost shivers with anticipation when we do any kind of training that involves food. the toy he has is less effective than food in general training, but he gets excited when he sees it because he knows its play time. he ignores both completely at the sight or sound of the birds.

    when he's on a long leash and there aren't birds around he tends to stay near me unless he is approached by another dog and he goes up to say hi. if there are birds around when on a long lead he runs off like he doesnt realise he's still attached, and inevitably gets tied up in something or starts trying to slip his collar. we sort of gave up on it because it seemed more dangerous to him and other people than just letting him run.

    sorry for the long response! will try to film him tomorrow. figured i'd give some extra info in the meantime and in case i cant get all the things you want in a vid!

    thanks again!
  4. running_dog Honored Member

    Thanks, don't be sorry for the long response, that is a much clearer picture... and probably indicates an alternative strategy to what I was initially thinking. Looking forward to seeing the video and hopefully getting an even better idea of what is going on.
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  5. running_dog Honored Member

    I've been thinking about your sheltie, it is really nice that he has so much drive and energy. I have a lurcher and i am caught in a similar dilemma sometimes, I don't want to stop him running but I do need him to recall when there is danger. What I am going to outline for you here are things that I have used with a lot of success with my dog. A lot of what I'm going to suggest is much easier if you use a clicker but it is possible without. There is so much to say that I might not remember it all in this post!

    The easiest way to explain what is happening with your dog is that he is finding chasing the birds more rewarding than being with you. In fact coming to you is bad because it marks home time. Unfortunately you will never trump the birds in the moment. You need to lay down a lot of foundation work and perhaps rewrite your whole relationship with your dog, don't worry, it's fun!

    I use a dog's behaviour on leash as a good indication of what it will do off leash. If the dog is screaming and bucking at the end of the leash, not readily responding to verbal cues without leash pressure and not responding to the rewards offered then it stands to reason that you haven't a hope of off leash recall. The positive aspect of this is that you have lots of opportunity to safely work your dog on leash and make a real difference to his behaviour.

    When you are training the dog in the park think again about rewards. You need to be very rewarding. Doing on leash recalls as you have been gives your dog a lot of time to think about other things and lots of gaps between rewards. Your dog knows what recall is, he just doesn't think it is worth it when there are birds around. Instead do mostly close focus tricks training when there are distractions around. I do heelwork, sit, crawl, spin, down, look at that, revise tricks we've been working on, I throw treats so he has to watch me to see when they will happen. Keep the rewards rolling out to the dog every few seconds. Reward your dog highly every time he looks at you, start in easy places so he gets the idea. Also reward your dog for looking calmly at the birds and dogs this builds you into the loop of what he is thinking about when the distractions are there. When he is getting good at all this start dropping the leash as you are training and then picking it up again so your dog starts to understand that the leash is not what is keeping him with you. Also play a collar grab game where you run with your dog and reward him whenever you grab his collar.

    No, I haven't forgotten you said that your dog doesn't take treats in the park. I find my dog has a strong sense of justice and after he has done a lot of tricks he will finally start to eat them again because he knows he deserves them. Use soft treats, they are easer for a dog to eat when it is excited. Make sure your dog is hungry before you start to train him - I feed my dog half his nutrition in "treats" (actually a high quality kibble).

    Also it is better to work with your dog just sub-threshold. Your dog would be taking treats at that point as not taking food is a sign that the dog has gone over threshold. Usually we get our dog below threshold by moving him further away from the distraction until he starts to calm down and be responsive again. Then as you train him you start moving closer as he is able to remain calm with less distance. That might not work for you depending on the surroundings of the park. The other way for you to get your dog sub threshold is for you to teach your dog that not every trip to the park means chase the birds. So just call in there on the way to the other bird free park, hang around for a few minutes and then move on. If you are careful not to give your dog any subtle cues as to whether you are staying or going your dog will soon stop taking it for granted that he is going to go free and he should start to be more responsive when you arrive there and you should be able to start some training there.

    When you do release your dog it is important that you don't reel him in and unclip the leash while he is tugging away and thinking of other things. He needs to be focussed on you. Otherwise when you let him off the lead you are inadvertently rewarding him for being focussed on the birds. Don't ever call him if you know he is not going to come! I have a special call for my dog that means something like "I'd like to see you so please can you start heading back fairly soon" this is totally different from his recall cue. Don't let your dog think that coming back to you means he is going home. I tell my dog that it's "lead time" when he is going back on the lead, I almost never recall him to leash him. Once your dog is off leash and chasing, he is in drive mode and everything he has just learnt is temporarily gone. Don't call him! You need to gradually build up to him being able to work with you in drive mode. When you get him back, before you leave the park, do a nice short really rewarding training session with him again if you can.

    On the days when your dog does not get as much exercise you need to work on training him tricks and especially doing scent work with him. Scent work helps to tire a dog out and should help stop your dog becoming destructive. It doesn't have to be technical, we used to just hide treats or Zac's tennis ball in a room and send him in to find it. Clicker training through shaping with my dog also seems to tire him out quickly.

    Sorry there's just so much to communicate it is hard to sum it all up!
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  6. cryadis23 New Member

    sorry for the delay in response, been a busy week!

    thank you SO much for all those suggestions! they make so much sense! he certainly tugs at the lead heaps and i definitely let him go when he's pulling, so thats a great thing to start working on. i might try feeding him slightly less breakfast and give him more treats during a training session so i can keep the rewards going. at the moment i probably alternate between treats and pets during training. maybe he'd respond better if it was always treats and he was a little peckish.

    great idea about the different calls. when i go for my own little walk whilst he's running i call out his name a fair bit so he knows im still around, but now that i think about it i do that when i want to leave, too, so its probably not very effective. ill try some different phrases. and i think ill have to stop going immediately after he eventually does tire out and come to me. usually after 3 hours im itching to get home, but it sounds like its definitely worth investing an extra 15mins or so to do some reward training and so he stops associating coming to me with leaving.

    i love the idea of scent training. ill have to hide some things around. maybe ill do that at the park too when we go to the non-bird area so we can have some stimulating activities that aren't just walking around when at a normal, bird free park.

    ill invest in a clicker. im not sure where to get them over here so my best bet is probably online i think!

    thank you so much for all your help. i love that you have a lurcher, they have the most expressive faces! i imagine they'd be quite a chase motivated breed too (and fast), so i appreciate all the tips from someone who knows the joys (and frustrations!) of a dog who loves to run and chase! ill keep you updated on my progress :)
  7. running_dog Honored Member

    You're welcome :)

    I just remembered a mean trick I used to play on Zac to keep him below threshold up until I let him off the lead. I wouldn't let him off the lead until he had eaten a treat! That means that I know I at least have a chance of getting him to respond when he is free. Not only does Zac have to control his excitement in order to eat the treat (if he spits it out I pick it up and offer it again in 30 seconds or so, I don't let him off) eating the treat is calming so it actually helps to make him more responsive. I rarely use this now as I don't really need to but it might be useful to you.

    Also when you use "lead time" give your dog a really big reward of some kind. I used to use a whole handful of treats but you could also think in terms of taking a bit of liver or sausage along just for "lead time".

    Zac is certainly a challenge at times but I wouldn't change him. To my mind one of the most beautiful things in the world is a dog that is built for running when it is running.

    I'm really looking forward to hearing how you get on. I find this kind of training one of the most exciting and rewarding because ultimately it is about growing a fantastic relationship with your dog. I hope you find that too.
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  8. jackienmutts Honored Member

    Wow Runningdog, great job on your replies (as usual)!! (y) Just wanted to add one thing - when you're working around those birds, be sure to take some really high value treats, not just kibble. You're competing with birds, which obviously trump all in your pup's mine, so be sure to bring something your pup LOVES like chicken, hot dogs, sausage, bacon, liver, cheese (or a combo of the above), you know your dog, but you get the idea. Make sure it's worth his while, he'll know he's gonna get a great reward when he pays attention to you - he'll be thinkin' ... hmm, birds, bacon, birds, bacon (omg, I do LOVE bacon and don't get it much, better go for the BACON!!!) :LOL:
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  9. running_dog Honored Member

    Thanks Jackie. I knew I'd forget something! So glad you've filled the gap!

    I've never managed to trump prey drive with any kind of treat (at one time Zac was spitting out liver with a deer as a dot in the distance) but it is a really really good thing to try with this sheltie as he is usually very treat motivated. I missed that. LOL.

    BTW Jackienmutts, I've missed seeing you around, it is so nice to see you on here again. I hope you, Makina and Alfie are doing okay.
    kassidybc likes this.
  10. kassidybc Experienced Member

    Runningdog your reply was awesome, we all appreciate how much time and effort you put into all of your responses! :) I just wanted to add that once he has a reliable recall and you can call him off the birds (which may be a while from now, don't loose heart! You'll get there! :D) don't never let him have the birds. Give permission by giving him a cue like "go chase" and let him chase them for a minute or 30 seconds then call him off. Make a huge deal out of it, praise and reward him, have a party, then say "go chase" again and let him chase them for a minute or 30 seconds again. And just repeat that. You want to make yourself the gateway to the birds, so eventually you become of just as much value as the birds. You probably won't have to use this for a while still, but keep it in mind for when you get there!
    running_dog likes this.
  11. running_dog Honored Member


    Thanks Kassidy, I appreciate your appreciation :). I do find that writing things out like this helps me think things out for myself too so I find it worth the effort even just from a selfish point of view :LOL:.

    Have you used the gateway to distractions technique? It is something I am exploring myself and I'd be interested to hear about how other people have used it. There are 2 things in particular that I'm thinking about at the moment.
    • Firstly you must never be the gateway when you feel you are losing control, perhaps thinking "my dog is going to run away anyway so if I let him go on cue that is better than him him just legging it". Actually this is rewarding the dog for feeling out of control. You should only use the cue when the dog is close to you and actually focussed on you so the release is a reward for things you really like.
    • Secondly I'm experimenting with really really mega praise and rewards when Zac comes back after chasing even if he has run off without permission (I try to wait for a voluntary return as I want Zac to make choices I like rather than me control him). I'm thinking that chasing could then almost become a trick. Something that Zac tries to skimp in order to get to the mega reward afterwards. It is totally counter intuitive so what do you think?
    kassidybc likes this.
  12. kassidybc Experienced Member

    I'm working on a reply to this, sorry I've been super busy lately, I'll try to write the reply soon. :)
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  13. running_dog Honored Member

    Looking forward to your thoughts when you get time to share them :)
  14. kassidybc Experienced Member

    I have used the gateway technique a bit with sniffing, Chloe is obsessed with sniffing and that's our biggest problem in agility and obedience, she will randomly stop to sniff. So I have started to use the cue "go sniff" to give her permission to sniff. She has to earn being released. I won't just let her go sniff because she won't listen because she wants to sniff so bad. I only release her to sniff if she is being attentive to me. Because she is learning this she has starting offering me attention more often because she wants to sniff. So we are coming to the point where when she wants to sniff, her automatic response is to pay attention to me, instead of sniffing. We aren't quite there yet, but we are getting close.

    I'm taking Recallers with Susan Garrett right now (and I'm LOVING it) and she has been talking a lot about being a gateway to distractions. In one of our live sessions she was telling us about this dog she worked with that was obbsessed with swimming. She would swim for an hour straight if you let her, and she wouldn't listen to Susan at all when they were near water. Susan started giving her permission to swim, then calling her back, then rewarding, then letting her swim again. She said that eventually, being given permission to swim became more rewarding than actually swimming. Susan would give her permission to swim, and she would run in the water and immediately come back. And it wasn't because she really wanted the reward for coming back, it was because she began to value Susan giving her permission to swim more than she valued actually swimming. I thought that was super interesting, and after starting using Susan's methods in training, I have definitely seen that transformation in dogs I've been working with. There was this one young GSD that I was training who was like a year old and has had pretty much zero training, and he was absolutely obsessed with toys, and couldn't care less about me or what I wanted him to do. It was so cool to see the transformation in him. After only a small amount of training, the toys that used to be his obsession completely lost their value. The thing that he began to value like crazy was me giving him permission to play with the toy. The toy would be sitting right in front of him, I'd be doing nothing to stop him from playing with it, and he would sit there and cry, begging me to give him permission to play. And when I finally would, he would only play with it for a second before dropping it and running to me and begging for permission to play with it again. I thought it was pretty cool to see how the value competley left the toy, and transferred to me and giving him permission to play.

    I think you should definitely be wary about rewarding him with mega praise and rewards when he comes back on his own accord after running away. As you stated, that could become a habit, almost a trick. I think maybe you should be careful about not calling him back, and just letting him choose to come back. He is choosing to leave you, which is obviously a rewarding choice for him if he continues to do it. If he is returning to you, that means that it's also a rewarding choice to return to you, but he's probably realizing that he can make the choice to leave you and get a "reward" (sniffing, running, chasing), then make the choice to return to you and get a reward (praise, treats). I think you should try calling him back before he gets a chance to get reinforced for running away. Calling him still is presenting him with a choice (though hopefully his choice would be to come ;) ), so you're not depriving him of a choice, or forcing him to do anything.

    If you would rather just let him come back on his own, I wouldn't reward him when he decides to return to you, you can give him praise and show him that you like the choice he made, but don't give him treats or anything. Instead wait a minute (more or less) and then give him his treats for staying with you. Ideally his choice would be to stay with you and not run away at all. Do you ever reward randomly for him just staying with you and not running away? If you only reward him for coming back after running away, then he could view running away as his only chance for reinforcement. Whereas if you randomly reward him for NOT running away, then he would probably stick around in hope of reinforcement rather than run away in hope of reinforcement. Just my thoughts. :)
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  15. jackienmutts Honored Member

    kassidybc - Nothing to add, excellent!!!
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  16. running_dog Honored Member

    Thanks so much for your long and interesting feedback Kassidy. I'm not sure I made what I was doing completely clear although I don't think you would have given a much different answer even if I had been clearer. My ideas on this are a bit way out at the moment :LOL:.

    First, to clarify, Zac is rewarded for all attention he volunteers in distracting environments (at the moment), I also do a lot of focus and attention work with him. For example today Zac was off leash for about one and a half hours, he was attentive to me (either volunteering attention when "free", practising tricks/training, or playing with a ball) the whole time. I feel it is a very long gap if he hasn't volunteered attention within 20 seconds or so, he generally chooses me over sniffing and increasingly over unknown dogs (buddy dogs are different). As far as possible the appearance of a distraction is in itself the cue for him to reorient to me. This all means that on the very few occasions that Zac does run away he is not likely to recall because he has already made his choice. Often he does choose not to run off - a couple of pheasants going up almost under his feet and he looked at me and said quite clearly, "Hey did you see that? Are they worth a treat?" :rolleyes:

    My reference to chasing becoming a trick was more in terms of dogs skimping a trick to get to the reward faster. This is typical of dogs using "look at that" the glances become shorter and shorter, more and more cursory as the dog tries to get to the reward with the least possible effort, even though looking at the distraction was originally very rewarding in itself and if you asked the dog to look at you from the beginning it probably wouldn't. So can this be applied to returning from chasing? Will the dog skimp on the chase to get back to the reward? Perhaps chasing is so rewarding in itself that it won't, but surely that will vary between dogs just as the importance of sniffing varies between dogs? In Zac's case his returns seem much faster now I am rewarding him for them. But is this because he is skimping or is it because when the animal loses him it is more worth while for him to return for a certain reward than to go on looking for an animal he might not find? I'm not sure but either way he seems to come back faster.

    This quite possibly only works for Zac because I have some idea of how he behaves and I am working on impulse control and attentiveness while in prey drive as well. It is quite different to most of the dog training stuff I have read. But Zac probably can't read so he might not know that :LOL:.

    How can you tell whether a dog is valuing the repeated attention (not the reward as such but the fact that the person is giving it attention) or the choice? Ditto with your GSD friend. Don't get me wrong, I love the choice theory, I have ever since I first came across it in one of Susan Garrett's videos. But I don't know how we can be sure it is addiction to choice that is driving the dogs and not that it has just learned a new way to earn attention.

    Do you know if there are examples of choice based training that cannot be explained in terms of impulse control and the dog being able to control outcomes and earn attention?
  17. myraellen Well-Known Member

    My friend has been suggested the gateaway technique in another thread. She noticed that Kassidybc has written here about things that they, who want to advice my friend, should take into concideration.The reason my friend wants to comment them in this thread is that she finds it easier to comment messages including ours by quoting them. My friend would discuss about her dog's training rather in that other thread.

    Cassidybc is talking here about that those dogs s/he is talking about have learnt certain skills that my friend's dog Lotta doesn't have yet. So, Lotta should first learn those skills so that my friend could better use that technique.
  18. running_dog Honored Member

    Cryadis23 I'm sorry I've just realised I've derailed your thread into some rather way out theorising on my part.

    Kassidy, I really really appreciate your response. All being well when I get time I'll post a new thread (and link to it from here) where if you have time, we can maybe finish discussing my derail.
  19. kassidybc Experienced Member

    Yes, I would love to do that! :) Sorry I've been meaning to respond to your last post but I haven't had time. Sorry I obviously didn't understand what you were asking haha. :) Just wanted to say now, I love how your training is so outside of the books. That's how you discover the best ways to train. I can just imagine you finding this amazing training technique that no one has discovered because they aren't trying new things. :)
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  20. kassidybc Experienced Member

    I guess I can't really tell... It would definitely be interesting to try to find examples of choice based training like that. I'll keep an eye out and let you know.

    By the way, Susan is having a live session with the recallers students on Nov 5th. Is there any questions you'd like me to ask her? I can't guarantee she will answer them, but she invites us to ask questions, so I can at least ask. And I'll tell you what she says if she answers. This is our last live session before the course is done, this is your only chance R_Dog! Ask wisely! :p
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