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How to train dog to obey off-leash?

Discussion in 'Dog Training' started by aton, Jun 22, 2014.

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  1. aton

    aton Boxer Pal

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    I want to start by saying I'm not new to training dogs, but I was taught by the trainer I used to work with to use a slip chain (choke chain) collar, and all training I've done has been on-leash training.

    That said, I don't like the idea of using that type of collar, and have been having some success with a nylon buckle collar, but my problems with training Dexter haven't been while he's on-leash. He generally obeys well, and is learning basic obedience commands (knows how to "shake" already, go figure, but we're working on "sit", "down", and "no".

    He does well on-leash, but as soon as I take the leash off while we are outdoors, he runs away, and refuses to obey any commands I give him. He seems to become deaf when I let him off the leash. I feel like we are making progress on-leash, but I'm wondering if I'm contributing to his listening problems while off-leash by only doing training using a leash and collar. . . Any suggestions? I am working on simple commands for now, as I just want Dexter to be more well-behaved and obedient, but we will be working on more advanced commands later on. Is there anything more I can be doing to enforce positive behavior and discourage negative? Is there any place specifically I can find a general overview of how to train my Boxer more effectively?


    Dexter is approximately 1 year old, maybe younger, maybe older, but he was a rescue, removed from a home where he was neglected, and he suffers from separation anxiety, and is terrified of crates, as he was "crated" any time his previous "caretakers" didn't feel like spending time with him. I haven't used the crate, he hasn't had any "accidents" in the house, and everyone who saw him the day I brought him home can agree, he is 100x happier living with me than he was that first day.

    If anyone has any questions, or if more information about my Dexter is needed, please let me know. I look forward to learning from all of you, and watching Dexter grow and thrive in his new home!
     
  2. aton

    aton Boxer Pal

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    Another issue I've discovered, his separation anxiety is so bad at the moment, that when I leave the room, he will whine. Dexter does not listen to anyone but me, for some reason, so family members and friends trying to give commands go ignored. I've been working with my sister so he will listen to her, but I haven't done enough work with the two of them to feel confident that he will listen to her while I'm not in the room with them. My Mom doesn't think I should even have the dog (not a "dog person"), so she is largely unwilling to work with Dexter during our training sessions. It's unfortunate, but it's easier to train the dog new commands/behaviors than it is to convince her to help. I don't live with her, but frequently visit, and Dexter comes with me, as I don't want him to burden my roomates with his rather unique needs in my absence.

    Looking for suggestions. A friend suggested the Thundershirt to help with the separation anxiety, and a Kong toy stuffed with treats to keep Dexter occupied when I leave him with others. I bought him a few orange tennis balls as outdoor toys, and a large knotted rope toy for playing with indoors. I will also be taking him to obedience training, as I don't possess the knowledge or experience to train Dexter on my own, and would rather get a professional to assist in that regard.

    I will also ask the veterinarian next week about his/her suggestions for the separation anxiety, as it's a problem that I would really like to resolve, both for Dexter's well-being as well as to prevent frustration when I leave him with others. I'm just hoping someone has gone through a similar situation and can offer some insight.
     
  3. TwoDogs

    TwoDogs Boxer Insane

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    This isn't an uncommon problem at all. Dogs choose to repeat behaviors that yield good things for them and avoid behaviors that yield bad things for them. When we reward a behavior the dog learns that behavior is worth repeating (that is if the reward was rewarding enough). If we punish the behavior, the dog learns that behavior is NOT worth repeating (again, only if the punishment is actually punishing in the dog's eyes).

    If the only training done is punishment based (and traditional leash and collar training is) then the dog is only ever working to avoid a bad consequence (the collar pop). They never learn that DOING a behavior gets them something, just that NOT DOING certain behaviors lets them avoid a punishment. So in effect, the dog doesn't really learn to "heel" or that heeling is worth repeating but rather learns that pulling is not worth repeating (because it earns them a collar pop). This kind of training is called escape/avoidance training because the learner's focus is on escaping or avoiding an aversive (bad or unwanted) consequence.

    The problem with traditional leash and collar training is that dogs are very quick to make the association between the presence of the leash and collar and the delivery of the correction. No leash=no correction=nothing to avoid. Since the dog is only ever working to avoid punishment, when they no longer need to avoid punishment the behaviors you thought you trained deteriorate. Trainers call this being "equipment wise" and most will recognize it as the by-product of a poor training program.

    The way to avoid it is to implement a training program that utilizes both rewards and punishments that are meaningful and relevant to the dog. For example if you want to teach a dog that dashes out the door as soon as it's opened to stay until being verbally released you could train the behavior a number of ways. You could to it with leash and collar corrections, open the door and apply a collar pop if the dog moves toward the door. Since the dog is only working to avoid punishment it is going to be very aware of what things in the environment are connected to that punishment. The dog will come to see the presence of the leash and collar as a key element in the delivery of the punishing consequence--problematic once you want to start working off-leash.


    A more effective way to teach the dog not to dash out the door is to actually teach the dog what you want them TO DO--that is "stay". Away from the doorway setting, reward the dog for staying in position. Create an association between the action of staying and your verbal cue of "stay". Build huge value in the "stay" cue by making performing it until verbally released yield good things for the dog . Once you've got that, take the training into the doorway. Cue the stay and if the dog does it, reward by opening the door and verbally releasing them. If the dog moves toward the door, just quickly shut the door. The dog was "rewarded" (by the opening door) up until the time it moved at which point it was "punished" for moving by the door closing. A dog trained this way will see the presence of the door as the key element in the delivery of the punishing consequence. Since the door, unlike the leash and collar, is going to always be in the picture there will always be a valuable reward for the dog to earn as well as a relevant and meaningful punishment for the dog to work to avoid so you will see a greater reliability in the stay behavior at the door.

    The more "real-life" or "environmental" rewards and punishments you can establish and use in your training, the easier it will be to obtain off-leash reliability. As you are transitioning to off-leash behaviors, I highly recommend that you put a long drag line on your dog when outdoors. That way, if you need to, you can just step on the line or pick it up and reel your dog in. Most pet supply stores carry them in a variety of lengths. I've got some in 15, 25, and 50 foot lengths. Hunting and gundog supply stores also usually carry them. They are also sometimes referred to as "check cords".
     
  4. aton

    aton Boxer Pal

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    Wow, very informative! Thanks for taking the time to share! I picked up a book yesterday to help guide me, and it stresses the same type of training you describe. I've been keeping treats with me, and I work with him throughout the day. He is working on Sit, Stay, and Down. He doesn't understand Down, so I've been using the clicker and treats to reward him when I see him lie down, rather than trying to teach him by forcing him down.

    The big problem I'm having now is anxiety. As long as I'm in the room with him, he's fine. As soon as I leave the dogs sight, he starts whining, which eventually becomes howling, and he'll start barking after enough time passes. For example, I took a 15-minute shower a little while ago, and Dexter was in his crate, in the bedroom, with the bedroom door closed. When I left the room, he was lying down, asleep. When I started the shower running, he was whining loudly. After I finished the shower, he was howling. As soon as I came back into the bedroom, he quieted down immediately, and I've been sitting here for 10 minutes, haven't said a word to him, and he's been silent.

    I guess I understand how to treat behaviors with rewards, but I'm a bit confused, as his whining seems to be caused by my leaving, and his reward is simply to not be alone again, so how do I reward him? I've tried giving him long-lasting treats before I leave the room, starting out with 30-60 seconds at a time, but he ignores the treats completely. He's got a large bone, a rope toy, and a large Kong stuffed with his favorite treats, and he ignores all of them.

    I've noticed he is VERY dependent, as he won't play with the rope toy unless I'm holding the other end of it. He won't fetch, I can get him to chase after a ball, but he won't pick it up.


    I'm trying to learn the proper way to teach him these things, so I don't have to worry about making the behaviors worse down the road.
     
  5. TwoDogs

    TwoDogs Boxer Insane

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    I'll recommend two things. The first thing I recommend is working Karen Overall's Relaxation Protocol. It is an easy series of exercises you do every day that will increase your dog's ability to relax. On the surface it looks a lot like a very detailed "stay" exercise but it is more than that. It is a protocol for creating a conditioned relaxation response. Here is a link to Dr. Overall's article explaining the protocol. http://www.dogdaysnw.com/doc/OverallRelaxationProtocol.pdf And here is a link to MP3 files of the exercises so you can just play them aloud while you're doing them. Relaxation Protocol MP3 Files | Champion of My Heart ... a real-time memoir

    The other thing I'd recommend is to also teach and practice a formal distance "stay" with Gus. You're going to want start small. First just teach the "stay". Then add some duration (length of time the dog needs to remain in the stay). Then you'll add distance (the dog staying while you step away and then return). You'll want to reward well for every repetition and ALWAYS return to the dog to deliver the reward and give a verbal release. This part is REALLY important. It teaches the dog that you will always come back and creates huge value in staying in the spot. For clingy dogs this is a huge confidence building exercise. By starting small, building gradually and using lots of great food rewards, you are changing the dog's opinion about being left in one spot while you walk to another. Once you've got Gus comfortable with that, you can add leaving the room for a few seconds to the exercise and then build longer durations from there.

    It is a great behavior to have on a dog, and useful in everyday life, but that's not why I'm recommending it. The real reason you are doing it is not so you have a cue to give Gus before you leave the room. After all, who wants to have to cue their dog every time they walk away? I just want you to teach and practice the heck out of it. The goal is to practice it sooooo much that Gus learns that he can survive in a room all by himself and the world won't come to an end. Then you leaving the room at other times will become no big deal.

    Because Gus is anxious about being left alone, two things are key.
    First, DON'T use the behavior outside of your practice sessions until he's super comfortable and happy about performing it. If you get it halfway trained and then try using it while you take a shower and before he is happily "staying" it will backfire on you and you'll only end up creating more anxiety about being left.

    Secondly, as you are practicing, ALWAYS return to him and reward him in place before verbally releasing. DON'T call Gus to come to you out of the "stay". If you call him to you, you'll be reinforcing the coming to you, not the stay. He'll start to worry when you begin to incorporate leaving the room to the exercise because he'll be concerned that he might have to find you wherever you've gone. You want him to know that he doesn't have to keep track of where you go and that you're going to come back to him.

    Lastly, just realize that behavior modification and training take time. If Gus is truly suffering from severe separation anxiety it might be wise to talk to your vet about whether he is a candidate for anti-anxiety medication. In many cases it substantially decreases a dog's anxiety level and makes a critical difference in the success of the behavior modification program. If other people are acting as primary caretakers of Gus, or you'll have to leave him alone with others who won't be sympathetic to his issues and probably won't be willing to use behavior modification techniques with him, then exploring pharmaceutical options might be in Gus' best interests.

    Good luck!
     
  6. aton

    aton Boxer Pal

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    I read through the Relaxation Protocol you mentioned, I have unknowingly been working on parts of it for the last few days. I'll give it a shot, at this point, anything that can possibly help is going to be attempted.

    I also wanted to share, I took him outside to do his business this afternoon (well, Tuesday afternoon) after I got home from work, and decided to try without the leash, since he's been doing so well with loose leash work since Monday: No issues! Dexter followed me to his "spot", followed me inside, and stayed at my side the whole time. I'm amazed at how quickly he's absorbing the training I've been doing with him, it's only been a few days, and he's already much better than he was the day I got him.
     
  7. TwoDogs

    TwoDogs Boxer Insane

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    That's great news. The longer he's with you, the more he'll settle into a routine. Routines are good for dogs; they provide structure and predictability. For an anxious dog predictability=security and if a dog feels secure then they can start to relax. I'm sure things will only get better!
     
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