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Thread: Excitable boy (need some attention-seeking games)

  1. #1

    Default Excitable boy (need some attention-seeking games)


    Thought I would ask some advice.

    Jacob (newly adopted, 4yo Mastiff x) has settled in well at home, and I have been taking him to the local dog training club each week. I know what I'm asking is probably all very basic stuff, but he's my first dog, and so I'm learning on the fly.

    Jacob is capable of good focus (when there's treats to be had), and knows his basic sit/drop/stand/heel, but as soon as there are other dogs around... forget it.

    Last night it got to the point that I couldn't even get to the table to sign up -- as soon as I had him quiet and approached the table, someone else would approach with their dog, he would lunge and bark (usually playfully, but not always) and I'd have to withdraw to regain his attention and start over. It was frustrating. I looked at the beginner group lining up (which we are repeating due to his lack of concentration), and they were all tiny and/or puppies, and I decided to not try to join the class, for all our sakes. (Actually, I initially thought "bugger this, I'm going home", considered a bit of a sob, but I gathered myself together and decided to get over myself and make the most of it.)

    So, I spent the hour walking in the empty corner of the field with Jacob, doing heel and sit and drop, lots of direction changes, some sit/recall at the length of the leash, and made up a little game based on his dinner ritual, where I had him sit, walked to the leash's length, put a treat on my shoe, and made him look at me until I released him to come get the treat. I've been working on encouraging him to walk on a loose leash this week, stopping when he pulled ahead, and rewarding when he turned, made eye contact and sat. So I did this around the oval as well, closer and further from the classes. Every time I stopped, I wanted him making eye contact. If he got excited, I'd walk backwards with kissy sounds and the like, until he turned, made eye contact and sat.

    He was much calmer by the end of the classes (although I intentionally stayed away from any of the dogs that I know set him off), and I let him have a meet/greet with a collie that he knows. He adores her, and she ignores him, so it keeps things calm(ish).

    So... can people advise other exercises that I can do on my own during training club? I don't want to give up the classes, and I understand that my needs fall outside the class grouping environment, so I'm happy to work on this on my own, but don't want to bore Jacob silly in the meantime.

    (I have booked in to see a professional trainer, but there are a few more weeks before our appointment, so I have a few more classes before then and would like to make the most of them.)


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2009



    It's pretty normal what you are describing.

    Distractions - all these other dogs and stuff are distractions for your dog. The closer the distraction - the harder it is for your dog to ignore.

    So asking him to ignore a distraction that is right next to him - is like asking a 5yo grade 1 kid to pass a 3rd year university exam. It's easier if you start with pre-school level distractions. Which usually means getting some distance from the distractions. And then asking for all your training tasks (heel, sit, drop, leg weaves etc).

    OK maybe not leg weaves cos they're hard to do on lead.

    So I would go early to next training class and ask the instructors for help. If you have a phone number, ring up and talk to them about it.

    What I would do, is find out how close you can get until he starts getting distracted (looking at, not lunging at) by the other dogs at class (or anywhere else), and then take a few steps away from the distractions until he's calm again and paying attention to you - and give him a treat for that. Don't use the treat to lure him away from the distractions and to lure him into focussing on you - that just rewards him for being naughty (I made this mistake and now I cannot let my dog say hi to the lawnmower man).

    So when he's focussed on you and the distractions are over there, ask him for a bunch of training stuff, and reward all that when he gets it right.

    when he's got all that going on, then try a few steps closer to the distractions...

    keep working the distance from the distractions back and forth by small but varying amounts 2 steps forward, 3 steps back, 1 forward... until you gradually get back in with the class and he's being nice.

    Mostly dog obedience class - is about working with the distractions, and all the work - you have to do over again at home without the distractions (or with fewer of them).

    The other thing that helped my dog - was to get to class very early so she could say hi to all her class mates (with your permission - important, not stealing it by dragging you in) before class, and then she'd be much better during class.

  3. #3


    Hi, Hyacinth.

    Thank you for that response. It is very practical, and doable! (This is training me in patience, which is a good thing.)

    At this stage I am not letting him talk to the other dogs before the class, simply because there are a few other reactive dogs in the group, and as there's a new intake each month and lots of drop-ins, I'm not sure which ones are going to spark up. Maybe I need a little "give me space if you need space too" jacket for him

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2009


    simply because there are a few other reactive dogs in the group, and as there's a new intake each month and lots of drop-ins
    Yes this is always a hazard...

    These days - I watch how the other dog is doing... if they're pulling on the lead to get to my dog - we don't say hi - I will walk my dog away if I have to. I like to reward nice calm sits in front of another dog with permission (and loose lead) to say hi. Permission has to be from both owners. Ask them. Wait for agreement.

    I think it's really important - especially if you are using a (dreaded) choke chain - to only allow greetings when the approach can be made on a loose lead by both dogs. Otherwise if one or both dogs are pulling into the greeting or you only allow on a tight lead (and choking collar) - that's punishing the greeting and your dogs may blame each other for being hurt and punished. And then it can suddenly get nasty.

    And for some reason - dogs not being that bright about these things - the ones that are a bit threatened by the whole greeting thing - assume if their lead is tight - they can't approach in their own time - and they think they have no lead to back off safely either - and that can trigger aggression too.

    It's a scary thing to do, to allow the dog to move freely on a loose lead and do their greeting in their own time but as long as that dog is moving under their own steam and the other one is all loose lead (and holding a nice drop stay for fearful dog greetings) it has worked better in my experience - both dogs can back off as fast as they want if they're not feeling secure about the greeting. And the owners get to watch the dog's body language. Troubled greetings in my experience always start when one or both dogs has a tight lead.

    If a dog on a loose lead isn't keen about greeting the other dog - they won't approach, they will stay behind their owner. If the dog is all about getting the other dog before it gets them - their lead goes tight and you walk away from the situation at speed.

    There's a whole bunch of doggy body language that may go with this before the actual lunge... things like a very direct and upright approach, no sniffing the ground or looking away on approach, but all focussed like the other dog is their favourite food - not so good. Play bows are good, but they must be reciprocated - otherwise the other dog isn't interested. However at dog class, playing might not be ideal... especially if the dogs are in choke chains.

    Do some reading on dog calming signals. It will help you read the situation a bit better.

  5. #5


    I am a big fan of this trainers book "Leslie McDevitt's / "Control Unleashed". I have a BC with space issues and she snapped and lunged at any dog that came within leash length.

    We worked through several of the excercises in this book and, whilst she will still hackle up at a strange dog, I can get her to focus and sit calmly and she does not lunge and snap any more.

    Shaping games are always a good way to teach focus as well. Shape your dog to get on, in, under, over, anything you can see. I had my BC with all feet on a 5litre paint tin with the rest of the class walking right past her. She had to focus on her balance so did not even notice the other dogs.
    Nev Allen
    Border River Pet Resort

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