Slow Learner?

Discussion in 'General Dog Training' started by confusedog, Mar 8, 2013.

  1. confusedog New Member


    after some advice on training a 4 month old Australian Cattle Dog puppy. Louie (puppy) came into our family as a gift after we lost our beloved Akita. We would not have chosen this puppy, far too soon after losing our old dog, and not a breed we wanted. Nevertheless he's a cute little guy and we have grown attached. The problem is that after almost 2 months with us, he is not responding to training.

    Background: we had Akitas for over 20 years, so we know about having a pack leader (me), consistent training, positive reinforcement. Our Akitas were never going to be obedience champs, but they were very good at all the basics, and frankly they picked it up very quickly. Almost two years ago we took on a timid rescue puppy (Kelpie/Huntaway cross), she is a super smart girl and picks up new things with ease.

    Problem: after 2 months it is clear that Louie the Australian Cattle Dog is very slow. Or at least that is how it appears. After daily training sessions for around 8 weeks (short sessions usually 5 to 10 minutes) Louie knows sit (100%), drop (around 90% success rate), come (around 90% success), sit for food (100%), okay signal to eat (5% success rate), shake (0 % success), rollover (5% success rate). We have not tried stay, walking on a leash (well, we have tried but it is a disaster each time) or anything else not listed. (He is on a rural property so plenty of safe walks off lead are available).

    Now after the same two months with any other dog I've had we would have all this down pat and lots more.

    Training: Always with positive reinforcement, praise, chicken, liver treats ( or combination of the above); short sessions, try for variety. Sometimes with Kelpie cross for positive role model, sometimes alone.

    Health: we have tested for deafness - since we were scratching our heads (plus I always combine hand signals with the spoken word from the start), his hearing is fine. Health in general is fine.

    The local obedience club is not a possibility - far too much negativity and roughness in the training and we will not go there again - Kelpie cross took three days to get over one training session there (we had to win her trust all over again).

    Louie is not a dominant dog, he's a soft sweet little guy. He gets on with the Kelpie cross beautifully. He's happy in himself, he likes us, enjoys life in general - but I'm totally confused. If he was a child, I'd say he's a slow, slow learner (low IQ), but how do I tell with a puppy?

    Any (positive) thoughts or advice appreciated.

    Tâmara Vaz likes this.

  2. Mutt Experienced Member

    Welcome to the forum :)
    Is he really excited about his praise? Does it really stimulate him?
    What do you think the problem is: does it take a lot of sessions before he can combine the cue with the trick or doesn't he get the general idea of training? Do you use a clicker? Is he distracted a lot when you train? How does the session go?
    Maybe it is a fun idea the play training games such as the watch me game or tin tin game.
    southerngirl, Pawbla and Tâmara Vaz like this.
  3. Adrianna & Calvin Experienced Member

    Hi there, and welcome.

    Was your puppy Baer tested for hearing? ACDs can have partial congenital deafness which is only shown with Baer testing.

    My suggestion would be to use a clicker, and start with 'mind games' i.e. shaping behaviors, training the dog to think on his own. I know when I got my dog, I was baffled that it took him so long to get things and I realized that every new 'student' has to learn to learn. They have to learn the training game, and it takes longer than we remember with our past dogs.

    Kikopup, on youtube, has lots of clicker basics videos and I do think it's worth trying with your new guy.
    southerngirl, Mutt and Tâmara Vaz like this.
  4. Pawbla Experienced Member

    Have you tried with toys? Usually herding dogs are very toy driven.
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  5. threenorns Well-Known Member

    something to consider: aussies, like border collies, are *smart*. very smart.

    if your training sessions are too basic, he might only be giving you half his attention. aussies can be poster children for ADHD.

    one thing i found worked great for my BC mix was mealtimes: i cut his food up into bite-sized pieces (he only eats raw) and for each piece, he does a trick.

    something to consider: the first few tricks take LONG for the brainy puppy to learn. each time, though, the next trick will come a little quicker. it took dandy, as a puppy, about a week to learn "sit". it took him about 20 minutes the other day to learn "roll over" - he's 4yrs old.

    teaching the dog is a double-edged sword: to learn, the dog must understand what you want from him; but that means you need to explain it in a way he can understand. if you teach him "sit" in the kitchen, don't be surprised if, in the livingroom, he looks like he's never heard the word before. once he's got it cold in the house, outside he has no clue what you're on about. but when you teach him sit in the livingroom, it'll be faster than when he learned it in the kitchen and when you teach him outside, it'll be faster still.

    also, try "flooding" the command - don't just say "sit!" in the same way with the same inflection every time bec if you do and then you say it when you're tired or have a cold or are stressed out, it's not the same word and he won't respond. each time you say sit, vary the tone and inflection so he understands it's the shape of the word that counts, not the tonals.
    Pawbla likes this.
  6. confusedog New Member


    Thanks for the replies.

    I understand that working dogs are usually very smart - Kelpie/Huntaway (that's a herding dog on both sides) rescue girl has been with us for 2 years and she is stunningly smart and has been since 6 weeks old, very quick on the uptake. This is so different. That is why I was really starting to wonder about this little ACD guy and why we had his hearing tested. I vary the training locations.

    He's not distracted during the training - poor little guy it's as if he's trying really hard to understand how to earn his treat/praise. Just breaks my heart - and of course he get rewarded for the things he does do, sit or drop. I'll check out the clicker training, it's worth trying. I guess I'd like to know if anyone had a dog that really was a slow learner (as in low IQ), and how that worked out.
  7. Pawbla Experienced Member

    Shaping and clicker training might be able to do the trick with your dog :).
    southerngirl likes this.
  8. threenorns Well-Known Member

    well, i think i found the definition of "slow learner": my bff has a plott hound she rescued from florida (she lives in northern ontario).

    three weeks ago, i gave her a clicker.

    it took her lunkhead chocolate lab 3 clicks to figure this new game out.

    she's been at it for THREE WEEKS with laddie and still he sits there with a vacant grin staring at her face. every time the clicker goes off, he jumps like he's been shot then sniffs it like he's never seen it before, lolol. oh dear.
    Pawbla likes this.
  9. confusedog New Member

    Well, I have to say Laddie gave me a smile :) We'll try with the clicker and see what comes.

    Thanks for taking the time everyone to answer the thread. Much appreciated.
    threenorns likes this.
  10. sara Moderator

    I have a "slow learner"... my little Dachshund, Boo, is... ummm... to put it politely, Oblivious! LOL. He has learned a few tricks, but takes forever to learn them, and never seems to remember he learned them! He tries hard... he REALLY wants the food, but he's not very successful. though I mostly blame him being spoiled rotten for his first 6 years, and never learning to learn. Often, deaf dogs are thought untrainable, and never trained, so he went through life getting whatever he wanted, and expecting it to be put in front of him.
    threenorns likes this.
  11. Caiti Experienced Member

    It really depends on the dog. My cousin has two maltese, one learns very quickly and knows over forty commands, the other, to put it nicely it a little slow. :p

    Make sure your rewards are big, fun, immediate and consistent. Reward the absolute second after he preforms correctly. Clicker training may be something to consider, many dogs respond very well to it.
    threenorns likes this.

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