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Hello everyone!
I just got my first dog as an adult after 4+ years of waiting (and reading every dog training book I could get my hand on, starting with The Other End of the Leash), and now I'm feeling a bit stressed and overwhelmed, mostly from my own expectations/perfectionist streak. My main question is a) what would you recommend as top priority when training a new rescue and (b) how many items would you recommend working on each day/week? And perhaps also, how long did you work with your rescue with modifying more ingrained behaviors, such as leash reactivity? The paragraphs below give some background, in case you'd like to know more.

I got Bree on Jan. 20th (!!!). She's a 4ish year old Malinois Shepherd mix who received basic obedience in the traditional method from a prison program, so she knows sit, stay, down and come, and was taught heel, and return to heel, though I haven't worked with those yet. Since being here, she has also learned to wait at the front door, that hats/hoods are less frightening than before and I think I accidentally made the word "here" a bridge word, rather than the relaxed "come" command I was aiming for, since she whips her head around for a treat each time I say it.

She does have a number of behaviors I would like to change, most notable are (1) being calm around the cats - our poor kitties have self-exiled themselves to their safe zone because Bree grumbles/barks/play-barks with them anytime she sees/hears them and (2) ignoring the majority of the population while we're walking, rather than lunging/hopping/whining/barking/grumbling at dogs, cats, and people not walking normally (read: joggers, kids, folks with canes, etc, though we have mostly gotten her use to the high schoolers with hoods and hats). She's not dog-aggressive (she did beautifully at the dog park), but she is easily startled and doesn't like being restricted by the leash or fence when she sees someone she wants to play with.

I would also in the next two months want to work on crate training (we accidentally un-crate trained her - dang....), reliable come, stay and watch-me with distractions, only barking at neighbors if they walk up our driveway rather than simply walking down the street, and of course, fun tricks and games. It would be really nice to be able to take her to an obedience/agility class without her being "that owner" whose dog is going crazy because there are other dogs in the room.

My boyfriend mentioned that I'm jumping from thing-to-thing while training her (not in the same session, but day-to-day), which I agree, hence my post here. Any advice/experience you would be willing to share would be helpful, since I too am learning impulse control when Bree and I are together :) Thanks!
 

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Hallo - welcome to the 'just got a rescue and finding it harder than expected' club! :D

We got our rescue when he was 9 months old and for the first few weeks he was a totally different dog...by the time we got a month in he really changed and the hard work began!! :p

Dogs can take weeks if not months to settle in to a new home, so what you first see of your dog isn't their 'real' self...then if it's anything like our dog you have a good few weeks of the dog testing what he can get away with and learning the new rules too, before even thinking about settling down :D

For training, we usually have 2 - 5 minute sessions (dogs learn best when it's kept short) and we have anywhere between 1 - 4 of those a day. We work tricks he already knows well (sit, lie down etc) and then have ones he's not as sure on / learning mixed in.

As well as that he has a TON of play sessions and extra mental stimulation, this is always a good idea! Lots of tuggy, go get its, hide and seek games using kibble (teach command 'find it' or whatever), puzzle feeders, home-made puzzle feeders...Exercise is important for calming a dog too and chilling it out in general. As a young active breed (Springer x Collie) we give our dog 3 hours exercise a day, most of which is off-lead.

Kasper had lots of issues when he came...hyperactivity (exercise & stimulation sorted this mostly), lack of recall / commands, and fear of strangers. We're still working on his fear of strangers (men) almost a year later. He has improved a lot now and, if introduced in the right way, is happy to befriend men.

There are a lot of threads with video links on the forum about how to get your dog to happily live with cats, so a search might bring them up. Ignoring things that move, you could ask a friend to help (be the 'thing' eg jogger) and when Bree sees the 'thing' but doesn't react in a negative way (excited, lunging, whatever) reward her. Gradually decrease the distance between Bree and the 'thing', if one time she reacts just back up a few steps.

A positive interrupter might be useful to teach as well, we've found we can use it in a lot of different situations with Kasper, and you can use it instead of having to say 'no' or whatever :)


Someone else will be along to help more soon!

Red
 

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With new dog I start them as I would a pup. So re-crate training is the 1st order of the day.

This is a forever dog for you, so overwhelming really is out of the picture as you are not racing a clock. Time with dog is your greatest weapon.

Home manners and cats are your priorities and if possible should be supervised (that's why crate work is necessary) They should not be left alone in home as bad things are possible.

Your new dog will change the longer he lives with you as he becomes more comfortable. Familiarity breeds contempt. Setting some time aside for continuing obedience work in home area will help with that. I would advise a daily journal to keep track of things you do and dog does so you can compare 2 or 3 months down the road. Sounds like your dog has a pretty good start and I would do maintenance work keeping what he has before adding new things. Home manners are important 1st then add other stuff 3 months down the road.
 

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I'm pretty brand new to this, I had dogs as a child, and they were decent companions with training issues. Mostly some of our dogs were good/easy and some were very difficult. We didn't really train them, which is a kind of training! The easy dogs we had were able to pick up on our cues and luckily it worked out. Our most difficult dog had to be given away, because I was not able to take care of it, and mom didn't have time (12 years old). It became aggressive despite our attempts at training classes (a cute spaniel that we got from a "breeder") Maybe it was inbred, I don't know. But to be honest I freaking hated that dog. Its way more complicated than that, the whole situation left me a bit dog owning traumatized and afraid the same mistakes would be made. It has taken me years to feel confident enough to try again, as I really felt like a failure.

I'm glad for that experience in a way now, even though I have many regrets and wonder if the dog found a forever home were we gave it or if it ended up at the shelter, or euthanized. Theres no way for me to find out, maybe for the best.

I commend you for doing all the research before getting your dog. So many conflicting ideas though when you search the internet. I did not find this forum until my husband and I were already trying to use "Dog Whisperer" type techniques. We are very new here! They aren't all bad, but our puppy is really fairly easy, so his ways have seemed a bit less affectionate than we have liked. We came here and found lots more techniques and resources that fall more in line with our personalities. Welcome!!

Ok so on to my little tiny bit of advice that echos what others said the crate training is invaluable. Our dog goes to his crate frequently for short periods of time. Whenever he gets overstimulated and bitey he goes into his crate until he calms down. Crate training was the first thing we did. We gave him lots of treats at first and peanut butter filled kongs to keep him busy. At first he barked and whined. I would wait for a break in his whining and quickly reward him for when he was quiet, I had to get in there before he resumed whining. Also then I let him out so he would know he was going to come out and be with us whenever he went in there. During the day we just use it for short periods of time to calm him down, because now it is a place he likes to be. Since he is a puppy and fairly wild with kids he needs little breaks (ankle biting and herding), and inadvertently I think these became short crate training sessions. He goes into it often for very short periods of time while we are here and mucking about, so I think he must know he won't be in there long and that he will get to play soon. My particular thing is he can't be unsupervised at all right now, so even if I need to be in another room to do something he needs to be sequestered somewhere he won't get into trouble and crate training has helped with this so much. This is the only real thing the puppy is trained in that he consistently does. I think its because it was a real necessity for him to learn and I found it to be one of the rules that we really need with him. Now if he's whining I know its because something is wrong like he needs to potty, because he loves the crate. After some time he was able to sleep in it all night. We started with the crate next to our bed where his bed was when we brought him home. I ended up with my hand down in the crate petting him too much when he whined so we had to start over. The next time we just left him in there and he stopped whining and slept through the night when I wasn't around to distract him. When he barks to get out we take him seriously now. He's saying I have got to pee or I'm hungry, or you need to wake up its 5-6-7 am and I'm lonely. We don't have huge expectations of him. One good skill is fine for now. We are getting ready to work more on getting him to leave the kitties/kiddies alone without needing to go to the crate. I guess my newbie advice is to stick with one thing thats most important and train it the most at first. We aren't really there at all with the dogs other socialization skills, but he's getting better everyday. Also be kind to yourself and you'll be even kinder to your new family member and less obsessed with perfection. You won't be able to be perfect for your dog anymore than a parent always does the right thing for the kids. Just be patient and consistent and calm. That's the only real thing I know!
 

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I would recommend researching the breed, as these are typical malinois behaviors. Keep this dog BUSY, you will all be happier.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I thought I had researched the Malinois before getting Bree, but her trainer said she was very laid back and not nearly as hyper/energetic as a purebred. I'm wondering if perhaps she was just adjusting, since she was in the prison program for 10 weeks before we got her, and in a shelter before that. Still, I need an exercise buddy and a couple new hobbies (I've been bored myself for quite a while), so she is the perfect companion :)

On a positive note, last night she went to her crate (which is in the living room) to sleep/give us sad puppy eyes (her hint that it was time for bed!). That was the first time that she voluntarily stayed in the crate for longer than it takes to sniff out a treat - and she didn't move/try to leave when I approached her while she was in the crate to give a treat, which is also a first! We've only been half-heartedly crate training her (putting all her favorite treats/meals in the crate, playing find-it games, etc...) since we've been so focused on training around the cats and on her leash-reactivity, so that this is very encouraging.

I really appreciate the advice and reminders, so thanks!
 
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