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Hello, my mum's four dogs are having some difficulty with training and I was hoping someone here could give advice! :) A little backstory (okay, a lot, heh):

About two weeks ago I moved back in with my mum at her country home to do some saving, and to take advantage of the countryside in the meantime. My mum and her partner have four dogs, all very sweet ladies: a small terrier/probable collie cross, a GSD/Golden Retriever cross, a Husky/probable collie cross, and an English Setter that I highly suspect came from either a puppy mill or a very unpleasant backyard breeder.

The terrier is the oldest now and has been my mum's partner's dog for quite a long time (I'm not sure of her exact age but she's no spring chicken). Before my mum moved into her partner's home, the terrier had been allowed to get away with essentially anything - unpleasant behaviour such as legitimate snarling and growling if you tried to remove her from a piece of furniture, likewise with anything she might've been chewing that you didn't want her to have, and incredibly possessive of her food. Her owner thought much of her behaviour was 'cute' and would reward it by laughing or giving her more attention, letting her eat from his plate, and often even being bullied by him. Since my mum's moved in her behaviour has improved enormously (she no longer shrieks for food whenever we're eating, no worries at all about moving her off furniture, and her food problems are a work in progress but she's doing so much better, much less aggression now.)

Now, when my mum moved in, she brought her yellow lab with her. He was the gentlest giant we've ever owned, and wonderfully well behaved. He unfortunately passed away in February from an enlarged heart, which we had no idea could be a health complication for him.

A few months before his death, my mum decided to adopt a puppy, as they're heavily into volunteer work and there's lots of space here for dogs. They immediately fell in love with the GSD/Retriever and brought her home ASAP. She was ruthlessly cute, smart and sweet as a pup of course :) It took our lab a few weeks to get accustomed to her, but after that they were inseparable.

Fast-forward to the months following our lab's death, and my mum decided to adopt a pair of husky cross puppies they'd seen at the shelter. Unfortunately, one of them passed in his sleep before he could be brought home, but his sister was given a clean bill of health and settled in at home very quickly. Very shortly after that, they brought home the Setter, who was only a few months older than the husky cross.

So today, we have one much older dog who's been set in her ways for a long time yet is making progress with her training, and three much younger dogs who are not taking to attempts at training beyond a simple 'sit' command.

We can't put all of the dogs out into the yard, as the 'puppies' as we call them simply jump the fence and run willy-nilly over the country. (This is probably the worst problem as a farmer nearby has indeed threatened to shoot the GSD if she kept going on his land) The setter and the husky can be put out without leashes without a problem, under supervision, but absolutely not with the GSD. The terrier is an angel in the yard.

My boyfriend and I tried to walk the GSD and setter today, hoping we could get some sort of foothold with leash training done, but the GSD was pulling so hard on her lead that she was half choking herself. Even when we simply stopped and waited for her to loosen up, we couldn't take more than a step before she'd be wheezing and near choking herself again. She's terribly strong and I've been informed she can't wear a harness because she'll just pull even harder on that. The setter was doing much the same, except she was very slowly responding to the stop-and-wait dealio I was doing with her. We couldn't even get the GSD past the driveway before we gave up and took her back inside.

The puppies have also in some part been encouraged to beg and even snatch food off of tables or the counters, as my family tends to let them lick clean their plates or give them food directly off of the plate. They will take other things from the living room coffee table as well, small things like pens or receipts and such, as well as any stray shoes that look tempting to chew on.

Thankfully house-training is almost a non-issue. The GSD has no problems waiting to go outside, and the husky knows she is supposed to do her business outside and is getting much better at letting us know when she needs to go out. However both she and the setter both still tend to leave messes around the house - the husky almost always chooses the bathroom, while unfortunately the vet has informed us that the setter is deformed, and incontinent because of that.

I've tried to do what I can with them since I've been here, and I'm going to keep at it until I move out again, but I suspect that the biggest reason whatever progress I might make just doesn't stick is because the rest of my family doesn't follow through with a lot of things I've asked them not to do. My mum suffers from fibromyalgia and has a huge amount of difficulty handling the dogs sometimes, and I think that sometimes they're just too much for her. My younger brother tends to be very lax with them, but he usually has a very laid-back demeanour which I think the dogs would respond to very well, if he actually tried to enact any sort of training regime. My mum's partner still feeds them from his plate, or lets them lick it clean.

I try to tell them to not feed the dogs like that, or to give them attention when they're relaxed and calm and not when they're in your face asking for it...and they do, but a few days later it's back to square one. I am sincerely upset to say that maybe they've bitten off more than they can chew by getting three large dogs without following through with training even the first one, as we're a pretty close family and all adore the dogs to bits.

When I'm interacting with the dogs, I try hard to pick out behaviours that I like and reward them with attention or treats, and to ignore behaviours I don't like as much as possible. The dogs don't really beg from me while I'm eating any more, with exception of the setter (who, I'm afraid to say, is not the sharpest tool in the box even on a good day); I try to enforce a sort of 'personal space' area around myself when I'm eating, about an arm's or leg's reach around myself, and if one of the dogs crosses that in order to beg, then I quietly push her away and get back to my food. I try not to use noise to interrupt a bad behaviour, unless one of the dogs is trying to get something from the kitchen counters and I'm not anywhere near. I don't think there's any point in scolding one of the pups for peeing or pooing in the house; I just clean it up, or if I catch her in the act, take her outside even if she doesn't have to go any more. When I was walking the setter on her own earlier, I tried to keep myself very aware yet calm about my surroundings, as she was very anxious being separated from the other dogs. If a car passed, I got her to stop and sit, and I waited for it to pass without touching her, then continued walking. I wasn't entirely sure what to do when other dogs came up to see her, as she was clearly stressed and upset with the situations, yipping very loudly even though the dogs that approached her were either coming no closer than 10 feet, or calmly sniffing at her. I wasn't sure if I should've stopped or kept walking, so I chose to keep walking and wait for the dogs to go back to their own yards.

I hope it's not too much to ask a few questions as well. Should I be discouraging the dogs from sitting on the couches with us? (We all love to be in physical contact with them while we're all relaxing, but we don't want them on the couch all of the time, especially if we expressively tell them not to be there.) We keep beefing up whatever parts of the fence that the GSD gets out of, but can't afford to have a new, taller fence put in - is there anything else we can do to keep her comfortably in the yard? How can we make training the setter comfortable and fun for her, as our vets have told us she may be brain-damaged? The terrier does not like the energy of the pups and tends to stay away from them (she's the kind of dog I think would do much better in a quiet place with no children or other dogs...that sort of personality) - she tends to get left out a lot because of her unwillingness to be with the other dogs, and while we do spend time with her in separate rooms, is there anything else we can do to help her feel more comfortable in her own home? And lastly, I know it's not unusual for dogs to chase cats, but the husky gets fixated on our three cats sometimes, even biting down on their heads if she catches them - very gently, not hard enough to hurt them, but I'm very afraid that one day when she's bigger, she might bite a little too hard, even if playing, and hurt one of the cats. If I catch her chasing a cat I just step in front of her without saying anything (it usually stops her running after them, even if she does keep watching them like a hawk). Our cats are surprisingly passive (or maybe they just don't like pushing their luck when a much larger animal is biting their head) and don't always fight back; is there any way I can wean the husky off of this behaviour? (The setter has seen her doing this, and has started doing it herself lately as well.)

I was wondering if there is anything I myself can do better while I'm here, if I'm doing anything wrong, and how I can encourage my family to really stick to training the dogs. (Sorry for the wall of text as well, but I wanted to try to include as much info as possible! :eyeroll:)
 

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Hi, welcome to the forum.

It sounds like everything that you are doing is correct and it will help immensely if everyone follows your lead when it comes to training the dogs and what the dogs can and cannot do.

For the GSDs pulling on walks have you tried turning around and going the other way whenever she pulls? That's the method that worked best for my boy, if I used the be a tree method he would do what your girl does. He'd stop, wait for me to start walking again then he'd take off running and pull till he choked. Whenever she starts to pull, give a command like "let's go!" turn around and start walking in the other direction, as soon as she's beside you turn back around and go in the original direction till she pulls again, then repeat. What you'll teach her is that she gets to go where she wants a lot faster if she keeps some slack in the leash, and that if she pulls she has to go back the way she came. It takes awhile, and you'll look a bit weird walking the dog in circles till she gets it, but it does work. You can also try something like a no pull harness but that's just a tool to lessen pulling while you train her.

For her escaping the yard, if there is NOTHING in the yard that she can get tangled on you can set up either a zip line or a tie out area for her, but if you use either of those don't leave her out there unattended for long periods of time. In other words it's good for potty breaks, and to let her sniff around for a bit while you do something in the house before letting her back in. How is she getting out of the yard? I, or someone, else may have some suggestions for keeping her in the yard if we know how she's getting out.

With the potty issues you may be having more trouble with the collie mix due to the setter having accidents. The husky may be smelling where the setter goes and thinking it's O.K. to go in the house. If you aren't already clean up all accidents with an enzyme cleaner so that all the scent is gone.

As long as someone is feeding the dogs where y'all eat they will keep begging from that person is no one else. Would your mom's partner be agreeable to going to the kitchen or by the dogs' food bowl before feeding them table scraps or letting them clean the plates? If he would then you could try training them to settle on their beds till y'all are finished eating.

When I had my cat and both my dogs, the rule of the house was that no dog was allowed to chase the cat. That rule lasted until the day I saw my angelic cat purposely walk on top the dogs who were laying down, look back to make sure the dogs were getting up to chase him, then take off running, jump up on top the bed and sit down to innocently bathe his face. After that I just made sure that the dogs were not being rough and the cat was not scared and let them work it out for themselves. I would discourage the setter from chasing her since you said she's probably brain damaged. She may not be able to control herself if the cat takes off running and she sees prey instead of a fellow housemate.

I allowed the dogs on the couch when I had the couch covered with a sheet, you may try that method with y'alls. When you have a sheet or blanket on the couch invite them up, when the sheet isn't on the couch they have to stay off.

Have you tried clicker / marker training the setter and all the dogs? It may really help with the setter since she'll know instantly when she has done the right thing. Try looking on youtube for kikopup training videos. She has all sorts of clicker training videos.

Set up a safe spot for the terrier and when she's there the pups are not allowed by her. It could be a room, chair, crate, etc. It'll be her own place that she can go to and not be bothered by the other animals. Also set aside a special time during the day when she gets some love and attention and played with all by herself. Make sure it's a set time so that she'll be able to anticipate it. Yes dogs do tell time, LOL.

Get your family involved in clicker training the dogs, it's fun and easy. If you don't want to use a clicker you can use a special word (marker word) to let them know when they have something right. Once they see how fast the dogs learn they'll probably want to continue to the training.
 

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Thanks for the reply!

That is a great idea for walking her, we're planning on giving her another go tomorrow so it'd be the perfect time to try that :) My only concern about it is that she's gotten out so many times, she knows the area better than the rest of us lol! There is an absolutely lovely little Westy who lives up the road from us, and she does apparently calm down a little once she's past his house. My concern is that she'll just tunnel-vision on getting there and will constantly try to go there, no matter what. But I guess I'll have to wait and see!

As for having her in the yard - when the grass is cut and the weather's nice enough we do have a large piece of concrete with a long line that we hook her up to, though the rule is is that she has to be supervised like that. It's a little nerve-wracking since she's strong enough to wiggle the concrete around - especially when the puppies are energetic and running around like idjits - but so far it's been clear sailing with it. She originally got out at the far end of the yard by jumping a low bit in the fence. It's nothing but flimsy wire, almost chicken wire sort of fencing, and about four feet high. We've added pieces of decorative metal fencing there to add some more height and make it look more solid than it really is. Otherwise, she'll just force her way through the fence wherever she senses a weak spot. We don't really have any fencing to layer onto the weak spots, but any pieces of plastic tough enough to withstand the weather and large enough to block holes somewhat are tied securely in place. If she was absolutely hell-bent on getting out I doubt either place would keep her in, but so far just the appearance of solidity has managed to keep her from trying to use those spots again.

For the food - I've mentioned before that if they want to give scraps to the dogs they should put them in their bowls instead of feeding them off the plate, or at least keep it separate from the plate. I'll try catching him next time he's at it to put the plate down near their bowls and let them clean it there :)

For the husky and setter chasing the cats - the husky is as smart as a whip and she very quickly figured out that I didn't want her chasing after the cats. So of course she still does it if I'm not there to stop her lol. The cats do have plenty of high places they can get to that the dogs can't reach in case they're hassling them too much. When it comes to the setter, I tend to try to distract her with one of their toys after interrupting her and when she stops focusing on the cat. Every time she tries to nick something from the table, or a shoe, I do the same thing, and give her tons of praise and attention whenever she gets a toy herself. She absolutely loves parading about with them so it's usually not too difficult!

I love the idea about using the sheet on the couch! It absolutely won't keep them off it when nobody's in the room, but it's a great start at the least. (I'm sure it won't be hard to convince mum of that point since her couch is new, haha)

I am actually ridiculously eager to try out clicker training with the dogs since I've wanted to get a feel for it (I want to keep large parrots in the future and they respond to clicker training very well also). I could use a specific word since we don't yet have a clicker, but I think the clicker itself would be a much better idea since it's more neutral and I think would be easier for all of us to use, instead of our voices. I do think the setter would take to it well (with time and patience) since even though she's a complete scatter-brain, she's so eager to please it would just melt anyone's heart.

We have a comfortable conservatory where the terrier goes when the others are getting to her, and when she's eating her dinner. It's closed off with doors so it gives her some time to be by herself, or with whoever happens to be playing games in there at the time. She usually sleeps in my brother's room at night as well. (And if I wasn't encouraging the dogs to stay out of my own room - still in unpacking hell and I'm terrified I might lose some valuables to them - I would happily let her stay with me as well as she's always been an angel with personal belongings, and it would give her yet another room she can be in quietly) None of the other dogs are allowed in the conservatory at all, nor the cats these days as it's the only safe place for my budgies as well. A door leads straight outside there as well, so she doesn't have to go through the puppy gauntlet at all if she doesn't want to. We tend to leave her be unless she comes up to us first, though sometimes she can get possessive of any dishes that are on the coffee table in there. Thankfully that happens very rarely these days!

I know my mum absolutely loves the dogs, and working with them, but with her chronic pain sometimes the boisterous puppies can just be far too much. Clicker training will likely make things miles easier for her, and I can see her partner having fun with it as well once he gets the hang of it. My brother can be lazy with stuff like that and might not keep it up haha, but you never know.
 

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There is a lot to respond to there, which I won't do because I'm certainly not as qualified as many others on this forum! My suggestion would be to separate them for walks and maybe some errands or outings to be able to see which issues each dog has as an individual. It's hard to fully evaluate this when they are together. What one may do in aggression, another may do in fear, so the approach you take may be different. I have found this with my 2. Also, they are so young to be doing everything together. This would help establish to human bond, as opposed to reinforcing the one with the other dogs. Maybe because you have so many people involved, this might not be too cumbersome.
 
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