I have two dogs. One, Bandit, is a 10 and a half year old chow mix, who was my "crossover dog" but is now VERY clicker-savvy, to the point where I can teach him anything new in about 10 minutes. Today was our third session EVER with a target stick, and I had him going in circles, standing on his hind legs (pretty surprising due to his arthritis!), going through my legs, stretching, bowing, everything I could think of. He is a joy to work with and makes me very happy.
Then, there is Juneau. Juneau is an Alaskan Malamute (probably mixed with a little husky), who I got from a rescue group in April. He's about 2 and a half years old, and for a Mal, he is VERY calm. In fact, that's why I chose him, because I have a young toddler and didn't want a super excitable dog running around the house. However, I was looking forward to working with a high-energy, spirited young dog. I have since discovered that this is not him at all. Actually, calm may not be the word either. Controlled? reserved? The ability to be excited and have fun is there, but he supresses it like you would not believe.
When I first started training him, doing nothing more than "101 things to do with a box," he would simply lie down and stare at the floor. It was like he was afraid to offer any behavior, like perhaps he'd been punished so much in his past home that he knew any new situation is likely to be bad, so if he were to just lay there and not do anything, he wouldn't get in trouble. He is, in general, not what I would consider fearful, but anxious. He is always expecting something bad to be right around the corner, but he doesn't usually run or become aggressive, he just gives up and waits for it to happen. When he's lying there staring at the floor, his ears and head are in an alert posture, just aimed at the ground, like he expects his treat to materialize there. If I call him to me when I'm in the hallway or the bedroom, he'll come running, tail wagging happily, then slow down, wiggle up with a highly submissive posture, then when I reach out, even slowly, even while telling him what a good boy he is, to pet him, he pees on the floor and runs away. If I sit down and lean away from him while I reach out, he doesn't pee.
Well, with many, many sessions of the box game, I finally got him to where he would offer behaviors, or at least look up at me instead of down at the floor. But where Bandit will go through a repertoire of anything he can think of, as fast as he can think of it, Juneau will try one thing, then give up, sink to the floor, and wait. It is extremely frustrating. I have tried playing more of the box game. I have tried clicking for nothing. I have tried clicking for anything. Nothing works. I have managed to get him to walk nicely on a leash, sit, down, come, and stay, and even getting into position in front of the wagon to be hitched (no pulling yet), and I have had a few good sessions inside the house where he would actually be excited and offer fast sits and speedy recalls, but I may have done dozens or more sessions before then when no progress seemed to be made and he was slow and restrained. So it's like anything new is horribly uncomfortable for him, even though he KNOWS it will get him something good, it takes an excruciatingly long time for him to decide nothing bad will happen and respond quickly and happily. I've tried tastier treats. I know the treats I use are ones he finds very desirable, and even using steak or bacon doesn't change the results. I can get him to move faster, or perhaps get excited for a moment or two, but then it's like he catches himself and forces the emotions back down, becoming a slow, cautious, unexcited dog again.
The only things that seem to excite him naturally to the point of him actually behaving in an excited, happy or unrestrained manner are 1: another dog who is also excited, though that's like a level 10 distraction and he loses all ability to hear me; 2: me or another family member coming home from work; 3: me getting out the clicker and treats (yes, really! He wants me to get them out and work with him, but then he doesn't work!) and 4: me getting things ready to take the two dogs for a walk. He seems generally less restrained outside than inside, but I tried training outside and if anything it made him MORE stressed.
So recently, I decided that I would teach him to play tug, since it is a game that invites excitement. I have done 6 sessions on three days now, and on the first day, the first session, I got him to put his mouth on the toy. We have made no progress since then. If I try to hold out for a harder bite or longer hold, after literally one or two tries of getting no click, he gives up, sits down, and exhibits stress signs (looking away, ears back, panting, etc.) If I try using my voice to get him excited, he moves a little faster, but he doesn't change his bite tactics. If I use body movement to get him excited, he continues his slow, plodding movements, but will follow me. I tried sitting down and being calm, and he laid down. Also, even though he seems to know that biting the toy will get him a treat, he is so stressed out by the whole experience that he will not try if he gets confused. Today I noticed that, as I was trying to introduce some excitement with voice and movement, he was becoming excited, but then he started ignoring the toy and trying to push through it to cuddle up to me. If I moved away, he would come with me, crowding into me. He will excitedly chase a tossed treat, but not a toy, although he watches toys go with interest like he wishes he could chase them.
He is a very cuddly, praise-loving dog; he always butts in if I'm petting Bandit, he has no concept of personal space, and he loves to curl up into you, lean on you, and lick your face. I thought maybe petting would be a better reward than food for him, because of that. So I tried it. When I started petting him, he did that whole "I guess I kinda like this, but I'm turning my head around to watch what you're doing because you might hurt me" thing. I tried petting just his head and neck, but the second I moved to do it, he crouched and blinked like he thought I would hit him.
I need some ideas on how to teach Juneau to be more self-confident, more excitable, more normal! Everything I've seen about how to help fearful dogs tells you how to calm them down. I want to rev him up! He needs confidence. He needs joy and excitement. How do I click for that? Somebody please help, because I am so very frustrated with my inability to excite this dog, I almost want to cry!