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Thread: Trainingresistant BC?

  1. #1
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    Default Trainingresistant BC?

    Hi guys,

    We've had Roxy for almost a year now and I still find her incredibly hard to train. Initially she freaked out whenever I wanted something from her: avoiding eye contact, licking lips and when I insisted rolling onto her back. We went to training lessons with an awesome dog trainer, who allowed us to bring our other dog along as 'therapy dog' because it seemed to help her relax. I learned that I need to watch my body language because little things like leaning forward will frighten her. *sigh*

    That way she managed to pick up some (very) basics mainly by watching our other dog. She now uses 'sit' to say 'please'. When I throw the ball she'll bring it back because that's what he does Yet, if I want her to sit in another surrounding, e.g. out on our walk she'll again resort to lip licking and avoiding eye contact... It's really frustrating. I always have to make sure I sound very happy because if not she'll flop onto her back.

    She doesn't like the sound of the clicker and even if. She isn't very food motivated so if I offer her treats she will often not take them or so slowly that it's kind of counterproductive.

    Her recall is appaling. While she comes when she isn't doing anything, I have no chance when when she is excited. Like when I hold a ball or when she sees another dog or anything that catches her attention. Then she gets into what I call 'the zone'. She then is completely beyond reach and I think she actually really can't hear me anymore. I can yell directly into her ear and she will not as much as turn her head. She is so focused on whatever grabs her attention that she. Just. Can't. Break. Eycontact!! Maybe taht's a BC thingy... I don't know.

    It's very frustrating.

    For quite some time I left her alone thinking if she trusts us it may get better. Well, it doesn't. She is now with us for almost one year and it's still very much the same. I just don't know how to get through to her when she is in the zone or how I can help her snapping out of her anxiety, becuse in both cases she is unable to focus or think.

    Any ideas?

  2. #2
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    Unfortunately these types of temperaments do occur, usually in a poorly thought out breedings. Border collies are attracted by movement but they should be highly trainable and it is not a Border collie thing to not be able to break eye contact, not in well bred dogs anyway. Sometimes they can be sticky (too much eye) on sheep but it is not a desirable trait. They can sometimes have soft, sensitive temperaments.

    What is she like if you just work with her in a totally familiar environment where there is nothing going on that will make her anxious or lose focus?
    Maybe you will have to start her right back at the beginning with no distractions and then slowly increase the distractions. Sometimes if a dog is not motivated by food it is because they are way over their anxiety threshold and cannot learn or focus.

    I have a kelpie that struggled to make eye contact with me when I first took her on and I worked on it with her dinner. Everytime she looked at me I gave her a piece. Very soon she was making eye contact with me.

    Is she motivated by a toy or her ball, sometimes you can use this, instead of treats.

    Not knowing her it is hard to tell what is going on but I have known a few dogs like this and they are not easy to work with and will take a lot of effort on your part to work through this. Just remember that if a dog is over its threshold is almost impossible for them to learn, so you have to work this out with your dog and recognise it.

  3. #3
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    She is a Border Collie X Koolie. And we were told she was breed for working but got the sack because she didn't want to work... I can see why I've tried toys to treat her but she isn't interested in anything but the ball - and the ball will send her into the zone. It's quite bizaar actually. She will jump backwards all the way up a hill because I hold a ball in my hand and she can't take her eyes off it.

    She does try though and once it gets really through to her it sticks. A few days after we got her I caught her emptying the rubbish and said very firmly 'no' to her. I didn't even yell at her, I just raised my voice a little. But she was so scared that she cowered into a corner and wouldn't come out. And she has never done it again! Ever! Now, I don't want my dog to be scared of me. What I'm trying to say is that she does try to do the right thing. She isn't stubborn or anything. She is just really unable to focus most of the time - it's as if she freezes if she gets anxious on one side of the spectrum. On the other side is the zone where she is unreachable. And unfortunately there doesn't seem to be an awful lot of room to move in the middle.

    I get some results at home with both dogs together. She seems to be learning a little by watching our other dog - but it's only a fraction that sticks. The thing is we have been doing this for ages now and are just not making any progress because she just follows mechanically what Nero does and doesn't think it over herself - if that makes sense. She is relaxed then and then also takes treats and she is obviously having fun. But she can't transfer it to any other situations than us three at home. Nero's sit/stay's are getting pretty damn amazing - but she herself hasn't picked up as much as 'sit' in a foreign environment.

    I'm feeling a bit like an idiot that we're still practising 'sit' almost a year down the track. But I'm a bit reluctant to try other stuff as long as she doesn't understand that 'sit' means not only 'sit on the red rug in the living room'.

  4. #4
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    Sounds like she is genetically built this way. She takes treats and learns in her familiar environment and because she is so anxious is unable to do this in a foreign environment. It would take a lot of patience to see if you could slowly acclimatise her. If it is a genetic problem and the way she is wired it is going to be pretty tough. What did the trainer say?

    Perhaps you can start by just trying to get her to focus on you. There are ways you can do this and you would need to start in the home with many short repitions.

    Not sure why one would cross a koolie with a BC as they have different styles of working, people do weird things when it comes to breeding. I myself have a koolie and a BC.

    I feel for you as I have also had a dog with an anxious temperament and they are not the easiest to deal with especially if they are extreme.

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    Sorry Kalakreek, I wasn't answering your question. Our trainer suggested just keep on trying at home with our other dog present to relax her. She'll learn, slowly maybe but at least some things will stick.

    How did you go with your anxious dog? Was he genetically anxious or by bad experience? I'm still hoping it might have been just some bad experiences with Roxy, which we'll be able to overcome eventually. If she is relaxed she is very cuddly. In fact I think she is convinced she is a lapdog without any sense for personal space. The closer the better... she is a weird little thing. But very adorable

    I've kept on trying and last week she - for the very first time - 'sat' in our driveway!! Outside the fence!! I was very thrilled about it and praised her to an extend that probably scared her again

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    It sounds like tiny little baby steps may be the way to go. You may have to lots and lots of repetition in each different environment for each cue.

    With the recall, I really would put some thought into how you could improve that by using the ball. Maybe if you always call her and only throw the ball if she moves toward you? Maybe keep the ball in your pocket and only get it out when she comes to you or at least makes eye contact? A ball obsessed dog can be a real blessing when it comes to teaching recall but you'll have to find some way to keep her under threshold and limit the use of the ball, at least till she gets it.

    She sounds like a tough case. I hope you can keep getting those small successes.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by margoo View Post
    Sorry Kalakreek, I wasn't answering your question. Our trainer suggested just keep on trying at home with our other dog present to relax her. She'll learn, slowly maybe but at least some things will stick.

    How did you go with your anxious dog? Was he genetically anxious or by bad experience? I'm still hoping it might have been just some bad experiences with Roxy, which we'll be able to overcome eventually. If she is relaxed she is very cuddly. In fact I think she is convinced she is a lapdog without any sense for personal space. The closer the better... she is a weird little thing. But very adorable

    I've kept on trying and last week she - for the very first time - 'sat' in our driveway!! Outside the fence!! I was very thrilled about it and praised her to an extend that probably scared her again
    With my anxious dog it was definitely genetic. Absolutely fine and very adorable and cuddly in a safe environment but was quick to totally unravel in a strange environment. I have had a couple of rescue dogs that have had bad experiences before rescuing them but although there was an element of carry over, they by and large had sound temperaments and were easy to train. One is currently my best agility dog and he had a terible start in life.

    The dog where genetics was an issue was much harder to deal with outside a safe environment despite my other dogs being rock solid temperament wise.

    I had to work everyday with her and little by little increase the environmental stress. For instance you could everday as you said sit her outside your fence and instead of going crazy praising her, just give her favourite treats and quietly praise her and finish when she she is still calm, dont be tempted to raise the stakes too quickly or push her over her threshold.

    Remember with these dogs remaing calm is always good. Keep doing it in small timeslots untill she is totally familiar and then perhaps move her a little bit further away. I also did a lot of obedience training with my dog which was very helpful in the bonding process and also calmed her.

    I also encouraged her to look at what frightened her and then look straight back to me and she would get a treat. The book control unleashed by Lesley Devitt may be of some help. There is also a yahoo group called shy K9 that were very helpful to me in the early days and explained some of the techniques that I could use. I also went for a couple of sessions with a trainer who specialised in these techniques and she was wonderful.
    Last edited by Kalacreek; 09-21-2013 at 10:18 AM.

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    Thanks for mentioning the yahoo group. I'm just trying to join It sounds as if your dog was generally anxious - not only in training situations? Roxy isn't generally an anxious dog. She investigates new things happily. In fact she is more gutsy than Nero ever was. She is a very happy and confident dog - as long as I don't want anything from her.

    I really think I have two completely separate problems with her.

    One is that she gets scared of me if I want something from her she can't remember (like 'sit'). It's as if she freezes on the spot. Therefore eye contact in stressful situations is no option. From day 1 she was more anxious around me than of OH and I know her first owner was a female farmer. So I thought maybe she just needs time...

    Our awesome trainer has emphasized that I need to watch my body language. If I ask Roxy to 'sit' and she turns her head away from me, my natural reaction is to lean a little forward and say it again a bit louder. All wrong! Instead our trainer advised me to back off if she doesn't sit down right away, as she is probably already over her threshold. Yet, I find it incredibly difficult to stop myself and sometimes I just need her to bloody sit down for a moment, e.g. when I need to clear up the leash-salad these two have created. So I get frustrated and she gets more anxious... very difficult!

    Anyway, I think lots of repetitions and baby steps like you guys suggest is probably the way to go. I just have to accept that training will happen in slow motion and that I have to learn just as much as she does. I just wish there was a way to convince her that I'm harmless.

    The other problem is that she loses focus when she is excited.

    That problems affects her recall and of course everything else. If she is in the zone I just can't reach her anymore. She doesn't hear, see or feel anything and she frequently runs heads on and full speed into fences, trees, dogs, people (including myself) and whatever happens to be in her way.

    This issue I'm really completely and utterly clueless about. I honestly don't have the faintest idea how to tackle this. So we have enrolled both of them in an 'un-chase' workshop early October. I hope this will turn out a strategy...

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by margoo View Post
    Thanks for mentioning the yahoo group. I'm just trying to join It sounds as if your dog was generally anxious - not only in training situations? Roxy isn't generally an anxious dog. She investigates new things happily. In fact she is more gutsy than Nero ever was. She is a very happy and confident dog - as long as I don't want anything from her.

    I really think I have two completely separate problems with her.

    One is that she gets scared of me if I want something from her she can't remember (like 'sit'). It's as if she freezes on the spot. Therefore eye contact in stressful situations is no option. From day 1 she was more anxious around me than of OH and I know her first owner was a female farmer. So I thought maybe she just needs time...

    Our awesome trainer has emphasized that I need to watch my body language. If I ask Roxy to 'sit' and she turns her head away from me, my natural reaction is to lean a little forward and say it again a bit louder. All wrong! Instead our trainer advised me to back off if she doesn't sit down right away, as she is probably already over her threshold. Yet, I find it incredibly difficult to stop myself and sometimes I just need her to bloody sit down for a moment, e.g. when I need to clear up the leash-salad these two have created. So I get frustrated and she gets more anxious... very difficult!

    Anyway, I think lots of repetitions and baby steps like you guys suggest is probably the way to go. I just have to accept that training will happen in slow motion and that I have to learn just as much as she does. I just wish there was a way to convince her that I'm harmless.

    The other problem is that she loses focus when she is excited.

    That problems affects her recall and of course everything else. If she is in the zone I just can't reach her anymore. She doesn't hear, see or feel anything and she frequently runs heads on and full speed into fences, trees, dogs, people (including myself) and whatever happens to be in her way.

    This issue I'm really completely and utterly clueless about. I honestly don't have the faintest idea how to tackle this. So we have enrolled both of them in an 'un-chase' workshop early October. I hope this will turn out a strategy...
    My dog was only anxious if there were strange dogs or people in the picture. She was fine in any environment where there were no strangers so she learned obedience very quickly and was highly motivated by food and the clicker as long as we were under threshold. Over her threshold she went into a zone where she was difficult to reach and would also hurtle headlong around.

    Your dogs problems are probably part genetic and part as a result of early experience that didnt do well in combination with her genetics. A sensitive dog probably overwhelmed by her previous owner.
    It is not an easy situation to come back from, so that is why it is important to try and make sure you use the right techniques and have a lot of patience.

    I currently have a rescue working breed dog whose first owner was very heavy handed and ignorant of dogs. When he came to me at 7 months he was very timid. There were times when a situation would completely overwhelm him and he would check out. However he basically has a good temperament and learns quickly. However if I dont do it right he will shut down and crawl around on the ground as if he I had beaten him although not so much anymore. If I pointed my finger at him he would pee. We have come a very very long way in the last couple of years and he is now a Masters agility dog.

    Another kelpie I took on at 8 months would panic when I first started training her and she was also not easy. However once I started herding with her she blossomed. Although if I asked too much she would run home. She now has both her started A and B couse herding titles and competes in farmer yard trials. She is a bit of a work in progress but working with her on the instinct based sports was the key to her.

    The first anxious dog I talked about would never have been suitable for a trial environment as despite all my training and she improved greatly and was incredibly obedient her genetics held her back. She wasnt wired quite right from a puppy.

    The other 2 dogs with training and experience were able on the whole to overcome their fears for the most part. They are not like a couple of super confident dogs that I have, but they are able to cope well in most situations.
    Last edited by Kalacreek; 09-21-2013 at 06:23 PM.

  10. #10
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    Initially she freaked out whenever I wanted something from her: avoiding eye contact, licking lips and when I insisted rolling onto her back.
    Why did you insist on rolling her onto her back? A dog that's truly trying to appease you will voluntarily roll over. Forcing a dog to do it - can just freak them out. And some will defend themselves with everything they've got if you try it.

    She doesn't like the sound of the clicker and even if. She isn't very food motivated so if I offer her treats she will often not take them or so slowly that it's kind of counterproductive.
    I don't like the sound of a clicker either. I just use the word "yes" or shove a treat straight into my dog's mouth. But an excited or overly anxious dog won't take treats anyway.

    To me it reads like your dog is super sensitive and very bright. Which means that she will try to read something into everything you do (or she sees in her environment). It's a bit like having your computer mouse set on too sensitive, ie you try to move it a little bit and it completely over shoots what you're trying to get to...

    As for learning the trick at home, inside, and then not being able to do it at the park... that's like going from kindergarten to university grade study - with no steps between.

    Try doing the new task training first in somewhere really familiar with no distractions. One trainer I know uses her bathroom - tho it is a lot bigger than my bathroom, to start new tricks with puppies. Especially recall and fetch. Then she goes to the spare bedroom, then the main bedroom, then the lounge, then the hallway, then the back verandah, then the back yard, front yard, driveway... then a familiar park, then an unfamiliar one...

    And in all those places you can add further complexity and difficulty to the task by adding in distractions. Can she do a sit when you're sitting on the floor? Lying on the floor? Running by her? With a ball in your hand? Pay attention to what distracts her and use those to increase the difficulty of any given task in manageable do able steps for her. The same as you use your other dog to help calm her down or show her how its done.

    Ie if the dog doesn't know sit in all those places with all those distractions, the dog doesn't know sit.

    Keep your training sessions very short and quick. Set everything you need up before you start.

    Pay attention to what your dog likes to do and likes to eat. Use those for rewards. It may be that praise is enough. If the dog will normally eat something like freshly cooked sausage and won't - then there are too many distractions in the environment and you need to find a way to reduce them by either moving further away from them or going back to somewhere you have more control eg practicing with a lead on.

    Something like the ball - you should get the dog to do something for you before they get the ball - every time. For my dog - she's not super obsessed with the ball most of the time but occasionally we get one out, she must sit or drop in heel position on the side I indicate - before I throw the ball. And she's not to zoom around the front before I've thrown it. I want her to be facing the direction the ball will go - before I throw it so she can't injure herself doing a twist turn to get it. So this gets me a very enthusiastic and fast "heel flip". And "heel flips" have become fun for her - on their own.

    We're still working on waiting for me to say the release word before she goes after the ball. It's really hard to operate one of those ball chuckers and hold the dog by the collar at the same time. But if I'm using my hand, I do hold her so she has to wait... she can do this in the back yard at the moment, but not at the beach.

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