Please talk me off the ledge

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Please talk me off the ledge

This is a discussion on Please talk me off the ledge within the Puppy Help forums, part of the Dog Training and Behavior category; I am frustrated to tears right now with my 5mo old Entlebucher to the point where I'm having thoughts about giving him back to the ...

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Old 01-04-2014, 05:26 AM
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Please talk me off the ledge

I am frustrated to tears right now with my 5mo old Entlebucher to the point where I'm having thoughts about giving him back to the breeder to be re-homed. If you had asked me a mere two months ago what I thought of people who took in animals and then gave up on them, you would not have heard nice words come out of my mouth so I can't even begin to tell you how I feel about myself for even entertaining these thoughts.

Dogs are totally new to me and so we began this adventure pretty much by the book. We did our homework, picked the perfect breed, found a reputable breeder, read all the books, etc. He's been with us now for three months and he's generally a pretty good dog. I usually try to do two training sessions a day with him and he picks up new things so quickly. He sits, lays down, "touches", shakes, spins, rolls over, stands up, stays. He was super in the car until one frosty morning when I put him in the car with the heat on full blast and since then, getting him in the car has been a huge struggle. I have tried baby steps with him and when I am my most patient self, things go great until I turn on the engine. Then he starts to panic and tries to jump into the back seat, but since he's secured with his doggy seat belt, he can't get very far. Then once he realizes he's "trapped", he completely shuts down and withdraws. I can't even coax him out of his shell with the yummiest of treats. It all takes so much patience and here I am the mother of two sweet little girls who already struggles to be patient with them. I am definitely beginning to feel like my patience is worn too thin.

My biggest obstacle is the walk. Admittedly, this was my main reason for wanting a dog. I envisioned our happy family complete with canine companion and me having a friend to walk with every day. I weeded through all the conflicting information out there about the right age to walk a dog and decided to go with the minute per week of age approach because it seemed like a good middle of the road. Things were going great until a few weeks ago. First he pulled a bit, but we got him a nifty no-pull harness and then for one whole weekend we had smooth sailing. Then he put the brakes on and doesn't want to walk. I thought it was fear for the longest time and read up on how to remedy that. Things were not really progressing despite our best efforts. It was taking so much coaxing and patience. Once you got him going, he seemed happy as a clam to be out in the world. Today, I've had it. It's a cold, rainy day, but he was going stir crazy in the house and yard and getting into trouble left and right so I put on my coat and tried to take him out. It took so much patience to get to the end of our short street and then infinitely more to get him to go much further down the road. As I stood there cold and wet, patiently waiting for him to feel comfortable enough to start moving forward, after having already stopped more times than I could count for the same reason, I completely lost my cool when I caught him chowing down in the dirt and started just pulling him along. When the light bulb went off that he isn't afraid of walking and it's simply that he doesn't want to, I saw red. He'd rather tear around my house, chase my cats, dig under my sofa, steal the kids' toys from tabletops than go out for a walk in the countryside. WTF As a stay-at-home mom, a good deal of patience is already required of me and I anticipated that the dog would need a good share of that. I didn't complain once when waking up in the middle of the night to take the dog out, or the inevitable house-breaking trial and errors, or when training him to stop mouthing or jumping up on people, all that, I can handle. Even his fear of the car, I'm preparing to muster the patience and skills to help him overcome that, but for some reason, this thing with the walk is more than I can cope with. Am I just not a dog-person?
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Old 01-04-2014, 06:09 AM
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His behavior doesn't sound unusual to me,dogs can be a hassle. I would think if you just got another puppy they wouldn't end up any better.
I would say keep working on his walks while in the process playing and exercising with him in the yard. Plus kongs and chews in the house to distract him.
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Old 01-04-2014, 07:10 AM
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LilliPip, first a very stupid question if you don't mind me asking, what on earth is an Entlebucher? What type of a pup is that? Sorry just haven't heard of those yet. I feel your pain, a pup can be as much work as an extra kid. Are you still using the no-pull harness, if so have you double, triipple checked that it doesn't rub him anywhere or is not hurting him in any possible way? If you are still using it, maybe try and see what happens if you ditch the harness and just go collar and leash. It takes a lot more work to teach them not to pull on a collar, but it's worth it in the end. In the house, stuffed kongs, puzzle feeders, etc. It helps keep their little puppy minds busy.
Also check out Dr ian Dunbars' Dog Star Daily site and especially his free downloadable "after you get your puppy" book. it's a good resource for a novice dog owner.
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Old 01-04-2014, 07:48 AM
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I don't know, I'm pretty sure my Calypso would rather chase cats (well, squirrels), tear around the house, and steal my socks than go on an Arctic winter's walk! Some dogs just don't go in for straight-up walking. What else do you do to make walking fun for your pup? Does he get to chase birds along the way? Do you bring treats along to lure him forward?

What about coming up with ways to entertain him/exercise with him indoors or the backyard? Flirt pole? Hide 'n seek games? He sounds really smart and well trained. What about nosework games?

I totally feel your disappointment on the ideal vs reality--I got Calypso to be my fluffy little cuddlemonkey lap dog, and she is much more interested in being crazy demon huntress tiger-dog. I love her forever, though. I've just had to shift my expectations of what our relationship is going to look like. Is there something you could do for YOURSELF to make your walks more fun for you, so your Entie can do what he loves without stressing you out? New MP3 player? Subscription to podcast service? Fancy camera or fancier new lens for taking pictures while you're out?
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Old 01-04-2014, 07:54 AM
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my sister got a beagle and the first two years of his life he had so many problems he was so difficult (partly because of bad training though) they were so close to rehome but they stuck with him and now he is a wonderful dog.

stick with it a dog is a family member and it's never easy to accept a new member into the family it puts all routines and stuff upside down. It takes a while and although the puppy time is cute it's the best once the dog is an adult and you have developed a relationship.

In my experience the best relationships with animals is the ones I've had to work hard for.
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Old 01-04-2014, 08:02 AM
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Seems to me your expectations of a 5 month old puppy are way too high, so invariably he will disappoint you.

You have done everything right and to the book... but there is such a thing as working too hard at this stuff.

As the old sage says "All unhappiness is the result of the difference between expectation and reality."

Give yourself and this puppy a break.
Stop trying so hard.
You are putting a lot of pressure on yourself, AND the pup, and he feels it. He certainly knows how you are feeling. It is impossible to hide your emotions from a dog as they read our faces and body language, as well as we read a book.

Take some time off from the training regime, a few days at least. And when you start back up again, just do once a day. Make sure it is all Positive Reinforcement training, such as Clicker Training. Is that what you are doing now? He sounds a bit fearful. That is either his genetic component, and/or you are making him nervous by pressuring him so much, or making him do more than he is able at such a young age.

At 5 months he is the equivalent of an elementary school aged child. Keep your expectations appropriate. He is supposed to still be "naughty" quite a bit. Manage him with gates/crates to keep him out of trouble so he is not able to chase the cats and so forth, which leads to you getting upset and so forth.

More management. Less expectations. He WILL grow up, but you need to give him TIME.
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Old 01-04-2014, 08:09 AM
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I understand getting frustrated and getting mad but unfortunately, that only makes the dog more upset and fearful. Something about the walks is unpleasant for your dog. He's entering a fear period of his development. It's important not to force a dog to do anything it's fearful of during these periods. You'll end up with a dog that will maintain that fear for life. Forcing him to endure the car rides, after he developed a fear of them, is a perfect example. When we speak of socializing a dog we often forget that exposing a pup to new things has to be a positive experience.

Here's an article that may help. Puppy Personality Development | Dog Star Daily

Raising a well balanced dog is like raising a well balanced human. It takes time and effort and the willingness to overcome frustration and anger and put in lots of work. If you truly don't feel you have the time or patience then it would be best for you, your family and the pup to return him to the breeder. It's not a question of you failing so much as a question of this maybe not being the right time in your life to raise a dog.
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Old 01-04-2014, 08:09 AM
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Also, understand that when you "lose it" you probably create a whole set of problems with the pup that will take a very long time to fix.
For example, by getting angry and dragging the puppy by the leash the other day, you are likely to find that he gets nervous now at that location on your walk, or that he is more reluctant to walk with you than ever before.

You may be misreading him in the first place, in terms of if he is scared on walks. When dogs are scared, one way they can show this is by doing a lot of "displacement behaviors". These include sniffing the ground and ignoring you. In dog language these "signals" are clear to other dogs and what they mean is "chill out.. you are making me nervous!...I'm just hangin' out here not doin' any harm."

I suspect you have started trying to walk him down the street at too young an age, or he had some frightening experiences (even one can have an effect) along the way one day. You say he once pulled and now won't go with you. That speaks of a bad experience, or pushing him too young. (little puppies really want to stay close to home.) Maybe the anti-pull harness is actually a bit painful and has created a bad association. You need to figure out what is going on here.

The fact your pup is fearful of the car after one frightening experience (the heater scared him) says he is a sensitive boy. This means he will remember unpleasant experiences and the fears/phobias will come back to haunt you. So you really need to be more careful not to lose your temper with him.

Learn to walk away, or simply give up on the current goal and take the pressure off the puppy. Stop forcing him.

Let him ride in the backseat. Forget the doggy seat belt... it panics him.
Quit trying to walk him down the road. Stay right outside the house for a while until he gains some confidence.

Ease up.
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Old 01-04-2014, 09:20 AM
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Wow! Lots to address… Easiest question to respond to first, Bordercollie, an Entlebucher is a type of Swiss Mountain dog (like a Bernese, but smaller and with shorter fur).

To those of you who suspected the harness, I, too, had my suspicions because it wasn't too long after we started using it that he put the brakes on, but I did try going back to using just his collar and that didn't make any difference. Plus, he wears his harness around the house and to play in the yard with no signs of discomfort.

Tess, the problem starts from the minute we get him out the front door. Just getting him down the driveway takes the most time. It actually takes more time and patience closer to the house so just walking him in front of the house wouldn't get us anywhere. I've tried using treats as a lure and they work to move him forward several feet at a time. Playing "find it" and tossing the treat up ahead of us usually works, but you can't stop doing it or he stops walking. What we found that seemed more effective was walking ahead of him and then patiently waiting for him to choose to move forward and then praising him when he did. We were trying to allow him the time to sniff around and become comfortable, but honestly, at this point, I'm fairly certain that it's not fear. Having seen what he's like when he's afraid (in the car), I don't think he would still try to eat everything remotely interesting looking if he were afraid. Plus, he's occasionally marking, which I don't think he'd do if he were afraid.

As for keeping it fun, we live in the country so walks here are a short stint along the road to get away from the house and the rest of the time he's allowed a very long lead (I want to say 26' with the flexi-lead) to romp and play and sniff. If I trusted his recall better, this time would all be spent off lead.

As for keeping it fun at the house, the training sessions I do with him are kept very short and they usually end with him wanting more. I feel I have to continue to do them with him because he isn't getting physically exercised enough (his choice, not mine) so extra mental work seems the next best thing. We've got Kongs and puppy puzzles and he likes them when they are stuffed. He loves tug and would play that all day with us if given a choice. He's also a huge fan of the toy on a stick that we have in the yard. He loses interest in fetch after only one or two retrieves (even with a round of tug thrown in between fetches).

In the car, I would put him in the backseat, but I drive a small car that already has two car seats stuffed back there. Since he's been so afraid, I have eased off on putting him through that and only taken him with me when necessary. I really am trying to be gentle with this puppy and use only positive reinforcement methods. When I said baby steps, I meant feeding him treats near the car, then right next to his seat with the door open, then leading him into jumping into his seat by putting his treat there, then getting into my seat, then buckling my seat belt, then starting the engine… You can imagine, as a woman with two small children to look after, the luxury of that kind of time doesn't come around often.

Around the house we have crates and gates to help manage his behavior, but I feel like if we crate him every time we get annoyed, he'll spend half his life in there. My sister-in-law has a dog that I have pitied for years because their way of managing his behavior was to crate him. Maybe I've gone too far in the opposite direction, but it is a road I am very hesitant to go down.

The weather here doesn't seem to be an issue because he enjoys tearing it up in the backyard no matter how chilly/rainy/snowy it is. I asked the breeder about getting him a jacket for the winter weather, but was told that he's got a pretty nice undercoat that should keep him plenty warm.

I'll be the first to admit that of all the things in my life that I have attempted to over-manage, this puppy is probably numero uno. What a good mirror to show me just how type A I am I'm hearing "lay off" loud and clear from you folks so please believe, I will try to take that advice.
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Old 01-04-2014, 09:31 AM
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Thanks for the additional information. Lots of good details here.

Your last paragraph is on the money.

I still think you are mis-reading him about walks. Marking on walks can be a nervous, self soothing behavior, so can scarfing up non-edible things. Something has made walks, or that location for walks, aversive for him. Just because he tolerates the harness in the house, does not mean it does not have an unpleasant association for him on walks. Dogs are often link LOCATION with the aversive. The harness may or may not be part of the problem, but as the person closest to the situation, you get to figure out what happened that made him lose his enthusiasm for walks. It is interesting he feels negatively about even being in the front yard. It may be something as simple as a loud truck having gone by once. (My dog had a panic attack one day when a semi-truck passed us on the road, and it made his fear of being in the car overwhelming for months...)


Just some food for thought, and something you can research a bit... there is a world of difference between luring with food, and using food as a Positive Reinforcer after the behavior happens. Luring tends not to lead to much permanent learning, and only works a little bit anyway.

Here is a video that helps make this distinction.

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