Sometimes It Seems Like The Training Isn’t Working

Ira our 16 month old Kuvasz is having an especially destructive and annoying teenage dog phase. I have raised a female Kuvasz, my dog AJ,  before but I don’t remember this much difficulty. Maybe I forget!

Sometimes it actually seems like he has forgotten all that I have been teaching him for the last year.

One particularly irritating habit he has is biting at our feet when he gets overly stimulated. That can happen just by us walking into the dog pen when he is outside. We have never done anything to encourage this and have never rewarded this behaviour yet is still exists.

These behaviours can be part of most dog’s young lives, but especially the Livestock Guardian Breeds. Many LGDs stay playful and destructive for years even with regular consistent training. They often cannot be trusted with livestock until two years of age, of left alone in the house even for a few minutes without doing damage.

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This time can be referred to as a dog’s teenage time, when she/he will challenge the training you have been doing. This happens even if you have been training with no corrections or “force free” and using food rewards to train. It doesn’t mean the dog is trying to be “dominant” over you, it means he is trying to figure things out.

Livestock guardian breeds especially, were bred to work without you and think on their own to solve problems. This is what is happening. Your dog is likely trying to figure out a different way to get what he wants.

Don’t let a dog’s “teenage” phase rattle you. This is something I have been telling myself continually for several months.

It is important to remember that if you are training any amount or spending time with your dog where you do a particular activity, such as walking, fetch, hiking etc, then YOU ARE TRAINING YOUR DOG.

Don’t forget that any time you are with you dog you are training her.

This can apply to even sitting on the couch watching tv, or relaxing in the backyard. No your dog is not learning by osmosis, but by watching you and thinking about how to get the things she wants and that are pleasant.

One thing you can do to make sure you are reinforcing the behaviour you want with your dog is to be prepared. If there is a behaviour that you are not completely satisfied with, then you need to be ready to capture the correct one.

Most people reward the behaviour they don’t want because it is so annoying that they inadvertently pay attention to it, which can be reinforcing to the dog.

Instead, pay attention to the dog when he is NOT doing anything that you don’t want. Like, nothing for instance. When you do this, you will most likely be rewarding the dog for being relaxed and calm. This also keeps you relaxed and calm as well because you are not jumping up to stop your dog from doing something he shouldn’t do, or yelling at him to stop doing it.

Most people don’t pay attention to their dogs when they are lying there quietly, do they?

Of course you are not going to totally IGNORE the behaviour you don’t want. This means that if your dog does something that you don’t want him to do, you won’t just ignore him and let him do it.

You still must take action.

Depending on what your dog is doing you would move him away from the trigger, stop him from chewing that thing by exchanging it for something more appropriate, or just stopping what ever behaviour it is you don’t want in a calm and relaxed manner.

Then you ever so calmly change the situation so that your dog is doing something else.

No getting upset, yelling, etc. Since the situation was created because of a lack of paying attention to the dog in the first place, you can’t rightly be angry at the dog. Simply take action, make the change and continue on.

There is always some time between the training that is being done and the result that you want to see in your dog. It takes time.

This is especially so when a dog is going through her transition to adulthood. Dogs want to find out what works to get the things they value. So dogs will often test to see what works.

This is often when you will look at your dog with wide eyes and think “I thought we already worked on this???”

I did this yesterday with Ira. Since he was a puppy, I have been working on door manners with him. I even have it in a video. I prefer the dogs not rushing to the door to go out. I have taught Ira to stay back from the door so I can reach it easily and open the door. Then he can go through.

I have NEVER reinforced anything except waiting nicely with space between the dog and the door for me to walk in and open it.

The other day as I walked towards the door, he ran right up to the door and stood there and would not back away. This is completely opposite of the training that we have been doing for the past year and I couldn’t have been more surprised.

It took only a short while before we worked it out. He had already been trained to do the behaviour of waiting, so it didn’t take much to “re-show” him what was needed using a few pieces of cooked chicken.

When your dog does something like this, continue on the same as you have been with the training.  Calmness and patience help.

You will come out the other side with an amazing dog.

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5 thoughts on “Sometimes It Seems Like The Training Isn’t Working

  1. I can totally relate to this post! Siggi went through a pretty rough teenage phase, and being a reactive dog it’s often hard to tell what is remnants of his adolescence and what is just reactive dog behaviour. I love that you write about reinforcing behaviours we like. I’m trying to get my partner to understand that concept and not only leap into action when Siggi’s ding something less desirable…
    Thanks for the post!

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  2. “No yelling,” haha yeah, so I tell myself all the time and still fail occasionally. To be honest, the best thing for me would have been to adopt an adult dog but oops… the heart speaks louder than the brain I guess. But I love my crazy obnoxious puppy and I will always try my hardest to do the best I can with her. Which means no yelling!

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  3. Once upon a time a fair few years ago I owned and almost despised one little dog that just took the piss out of me at every possible opportunity. She and I locked horns and fought at every single corner I could have drop kicked her clean into the river and gone home pretending she’d slipped her lead and run away.

    Thing that really irked me is I knew she understood. I KNEW she understood perfectly and I’d tested that theory many times but as and when it suited “Don’t know what you’re saying I’m just a puppy me…”

    Long and short we happened to meet the friendly farmer whose land we live in the middle of and he took a shine to that annoying dog instantly. “Christ you’ve got a strong dog there.. that’s a proper dog” and I remember as he said it she was eating sheep shit off the back of his trailer and made me ask “Really? Really? What is you see in her that I don’t because right now I could kill her”

    He smirked, asked a few questions and then invited me to go with him and put her in with some of the older lambs to see what she did. I knew she’d be an arsehole and just chase after them and not come back but he was adamant “They’re my sheep. Put it in the field. Take off the lead and don’t interfere. It’s gonna chase after them that’s what I’m expecting but I want to see HOW it chases”

    I unclipped her lead and sure as off she went not after the sheep but running flat out towards the right and as I’m starting to bumble an apology he shouted “I KNEW IT!! I BLOODY KNEW IT!

    Turned out she wasn’t running away she was running out wide and around the sheep to get up front and drive them back. Now that didn’t mean much to me at the time but he explained most sheepdogs need to be trained to outrun and drive the sheep back to their handler but every now and then you’ll find pups that instinctively do it and those he said were rare as rocking horse shit. Right there was a little fluffy four-month old rocking horse shit disguised as a puppy.

    With that I had a new friend and trainer and to this day the best advice I ever heard was “Stop trying to force and fight nature. You’ll never win. That instinct is there – it was born a sheepdog and it will die a sheepdog you will never ever get that out of it nor should you try. Work with what you have, tweak and tailor it to your advantage but don’t ever force or fight that dog’s instincts. Be willing to swallow your pride, step back and let it teach you a thing or two because I’m telling you – that dog knows what it’s doing. It’s you that needs to be trained”

    On my life learning to let go all the knowledge and habits and go right back to basics saw us turn a corner almost overnight. I’m naturally a foul-tempered person and get easily irritated but learned to keep a lid on it. I stopped forcing and falling out with her and every “WHAT THE HELL IS SHE DOING THAT FOR???” became “I wonder why she does that?”

    Best teacher, trainer and best friend I ever had.

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  4. And when I did lose my rag once and there were sheep going in all directions, a dog that suddenly turned deaf and me falling about and getting even more annoyed the farmer shouted “See now all you have is a field full of sheep watching two bloody idiots falling about it’s not dignified really you should stop and take a breather” 😀

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