Friday, January 18, 2013

Training a Scared Pup to 'Hup'

Athena is a scaredy dog, there's no doubt about it.  New situations, experiences, and objects bring out her timidness and I am often left wondering how she spent her first year of life because it sure seems as though she must not have gotten out much.

Over the past 6 months Athena has come a long way and has become tolerant of many of the things that she once found fearful.  When we first brought Athena home, there were times when I literally hugged an orange construction sign, talked to our garbage can, and gently pet the vacuum cleaner, all in an attempt to show Athena that "if I can do it, you can do it too."  Often Athena would gain the confidence to approach these fearful objects after lots of encouragement and tasty treats.

You gotta do whatcha gotta do

As part of our New Year's Resolutions, B and I agreed to teach Athena a few tricks during 2013.  So, we bought the book 101 Dog Tricks to get us started in our endeavor.  After scouring the pages for "Athena appropriate" tricks (i.e. not too difficult), we found a handful of tricks that we want to try out in the coming months.  One of these tricks is 'jump through a hoop'.

Athena attempts to jump walk through a hoop!

But, Athena is not the jump through a hoop type of dog at this point in her life.  I swear that she thinks her paws will be eaten off by an invisible monster if she lifts them too far off from the ground.  So clearly 'jump through a hoop' is the trick that we decided to start teaching Athena.  Well, sort of...

Athena is actually really afraid of hula hoops.  She will not go near one, or heaven forbid step through one.  How do you teach a dog to walk through a hoop if you can't even get them within 5 feet of the dang thing?

Is that hotdog you have there, mom?

Well, you offer looooooooooots and lots of hotdogs, cheese, and mini pepperonis is what we found out.  This food encouragement helped Athena to successfully zoom through the hula hoop (meaning that she walked super duper fast through it just in case it tried to eat her on her way through).  She was then motivated to go through it (very quickly) over and over again as long as there was hotdog on the other end.  We added the 'hup' command each time Athena went under the hoop and she seemed to be more confident in the situation.

Ok, I'll go through this portal to another world if there's hotdog on the other side

But then something happened.  Athena decided that she was afraid of the hula hoop again.  After tons of success, Athena digressed.  We have tried bringing out the hula hoop again on multiple occasions only to have Athena run to the opposite side of the room and shut down completely.

Noooo way am I going through that thing again!

So, here we are taking a break from 'hup' training.  We never expected Athena to learn how to actually jump through the hoop, we simply wanted to set up a positive experience to build her confidence by simply walking through the hoop.  Clearly something went wrong.  But, on a better note, we found out on Sunday at our first flyball practice that Athena is not at all afraid to jump over the hurdles....go figure.

Does anyone have any tips for training a fearful dog and helping them to build confidence?

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  1. How interesting... I know my Friesian horses fold under pressure - I wonder if Athena has the same mental mindset? Regardless of how much praise and treats I give them, if I push them to do something too much they wilt. I find it works better if I introduce them to something new, and then don't look at it for several days.


  2. This is Tesla to a 't'! She is great in "people situations" - new people in differently places with all sorts of issues and props (wheelchairs, walkers, etc.) but new THINGS push her over the edge. She became a certified therapy dog last January and one of the programs we did was K9 Coaches - working with a child with autism to teach the dogs agility. I never thought she'd be able to do the absolutely terrible, no good tunnel. With lots of treats, praise, and a few silly coach runs through the tunnel..she did it! We're going to have a post on this soon....

    It's great to see we're not the only ones!! Keep up the good work...she'll get there!

  3. Having known Ray for basically all of his life, some of his scaredy tendencies baffle me as well. I would try putting the hula hoop flat on the floor somewhere non threatening...maybe peeking out from under a chair or and just smearing a little peanut butter on it. I wouldn't point it out to Athena or anything but let her discover it on her own. Then gradually pull more and more of the hula hoop out with peanut butter until she associates it with happy things (if she likes peanut butter) then slowly work towards setting it upright (again in an out of the way spot).

    1. Great idea about putting the hoop on the floor somewhere non-threatening and with peanut butter smeared on it! We will have to try this to re-introduce the hoop to Athena. Thanks, Debra!

  4. I second Debra! Take a few steps back with it. Just smear it with peanut butter and leave it on the floor for her to explore and enjoy with no expectations from you. Once she isn't hiding from it and is going to it with no fear, then you can start to work on her actually walking through it. :)

    1. I like the idea of just leaving it out and about with peanut butter on it and with no expectations to begin with!

  5. When worked with hula hoops in Badger's and Mushroom's training classes, the instructors suggested that we do a "touch" command with a hand on the other side of the hoop and then gradually fade out the hand. This worked for us because "touch" is their favorite game. I like Debra's suggestion as well. Good luck, Athena!

  6. You took exactly the right approach! And it worked because Athena was able to go through the hoop a couple of times. Sometimes (and this is just based off experience with our previous dog) if something changes during the experience they get shy again. For example, maybe one time through she grazed the hoop with her paw, new sensation = new experience = panic. Or maybe there was a weird noise or the hoop shifted. Something really little could have set her back just a bit. But I think you can build her up again. :) Good luck, you are doing a great job with her!

  7. I think you are literally my favorite dog owner ever.
    Hmm I don't know about fearful dog training. Our dogs aren't overly timid but certainly they are afraid of plenty of things. One thing we've always made sure to do is to to "comfort the fear."
    Knowing Braylon was initially a very fearful dog having spent the first two years in a shed I had the instinct to comfort her every time she was afraid of something. (Turning on a floor fan, lawn sprinklers on a walk, the vacuum, etc. I had to learn to simply let her be around these things and not baby her. I didn't scare her out of her fear but I stopped doing the whole, "It's okay," let me pet and soothe you thing every time she got freaked out by something.

  8. *that should have said one thing we made sure NOT to do is comfort the fear.

  9. We faced a similar challenge with Lucas and the hula hoop. Like Debra said, what worked was to desensitize him to it. I'd leave it out in the living room with a pile of treats in the middle. After he got used to that, I started propping it against the sofa and clicked and treated anytime he investigated it. It took a while, but eventually he felt comfortable enough with it that we were able to start again with jumping through. Good luck!

  10. Have you seen Elli's jump through my leg-arm hoop? It requires me to stand in an extremely strange (from her point of view) position and balance. In order to get her jumping through it with such ease, I had to shape it. Shaping is the ultimate 'fraidy dog training tool.

    For Athena, specifically, I might have her chase her ball through the hoop. I know how much she loves her ball. :) Make going through the hoop to get the ball the only option (I like the hallway set up you have going there!) Click/mark when she goes through. The ball is her reward. She doesn't have to bring it back to you, initially, unless that's your ultimate rule for fetch.

  11. Hank isn't afraid of anything, it truly baffles me that he attacks the vacuum, can have a shotgun go off right next to his head, we have torn down walls, ceilings, dropped tools, and he has rarely lifted his head off a pillow. I guess we got really lucky with him. However, my dad's lab OMG, when we first brought her home she was so timid (we brought her home at 3 months) she didn't even wag her tail for the first two months we had her, it was constantly between her legs. One of the issues we had was to get her to go through a doorway, we would a treat trail through the doorway, after time we could just go out the door call her to us and she would get a treat. The best part is she can have guns go off right next to her and she doesn't even care, I don't get dogs sometimes. It takes a lot of patience to deal with a fearful dog, Athena is one lucky girl. She will do the do the same thing as Athena, does great all of sudden scared again. I agree with Emily, don't comfort the fear, if something "scarey" happens just ignore her until her has calmed down. Comforting her tells her it's okay to act afraid of that object and unintentionally rewarding behavior you don't want.

  12. Hmmm...maybe if you just leave the hoop sitting around all the time. By her food, with some tasty treats, her favorite toys. Maybe just kind of near these things at first and then slowly put them closer and closer.

    I guess even if that works, the hoop might get scary again if it moves somewhere else. So maybe move it around once she is used to it in once place and keep putting good things nearby. It might take a long time, but I think she will figure it out :) Just don't push her too hard. We pups don't learn anything if we are feeling too afraid...

  13. What may have looked like acceptance of the hula hoop was actually thinly veiled tolerance - the way she rushed through to "get it over with" is a big indicator of her discomfort with it. It can be really easy to mistake speed for understanding or confidence.

    What you can do to start over is pull it out and just set it on the floor in the corner. Many dogs are worried by them because of the noise they make as well as when they move, so having it stationary will help. Sit across the room with your clicker and treats handy; any time she even glances in that direction of the room, click/treat. Do super short sessions. If she chooses to step in the direction of the hoop, click and toss the treat *away* from it, so she gets immediate distance from it. You can shape her all the way to going up and sniffing/touching it if you like.

    When she's happy to approach it, be sure to practice with it sitting in different places around the house; wait to start holding it until she really loves the game and will approach it wherever it is. When you do start to hold it, first do so with it laying on the floor-just put your hand on it. Same thing as you started with, click for any orientation to it, and build gradually to moving toward it. Since you changed things by holding it, you'll need to relax your previous standards to get her going again. Then lift just one end of it an inch off the floor, and so on.

    Working with it this way, going slowly, watching her comfort level and always staying within it, she'll be able to conquer the hula hoop!

  14. The problem with smearing it with peanut butter is that when she licks it, and it makes noise, she may be more convinced than ever that it's not to be trusted.