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Juneau, the amazingly, frustratingly calm Malamute.

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!

 Michelle Haug

slightly off subject

I have a very submissive Lab. We have come a long way in the year I've had him, but the thing that has turned him on the most is tracking. There are instant rewards for using his nose (hot dogs in his case) and all he recieves is encouragement. If this is inappropriate I apologize, but it has done wonders for him! terry


Michelle I have a female husky(???)mix that I rescued from the pound 5 years ago. In the beginning she would only take a treat from the floor, and then only if no one was looking. She has progressed from that point to sitting for a treat, crating, and playing with toys, not through anything I have done, but by observing another dog being worked. She shows no interest in learning anything else. She would just as soon lie in her crate, door open, and observe.
My conclusion was that the had been handled extremely roughly and probably was shy by nature. I wonder if there is some wolf in her not too distant lineage (she is very well housebroken, unless she gets on carpet, and then is guaranteed to mark it), luckily she is a quiet well behaved dog so I decided to just love her and enjoy her as she is, as even getting petted is somewhat stressful to her--she will face away from me poised for a quick getaway.


"I don't think he had any training at all in his former home other than getting punished for doing things they didn't like. "

Actually that is probably a worse starting point than a regular cross over. At least a traditionally trained dog has the experience that what it does affect the outcome. (along the lines of: "If I hear "sit" and don't sit I get yanked, but if I sit down my owner won't hurt me").
Juneau might not even have that... maybe his experience have been that nothing he did would avert unpleasantness so he shuts down and just hopes for it to be over quickly.
It is called "learned helplessness". If it is that (and there are different degrees of it) you are in for a bit of a struggle to loosen the knot in him - now don't give up, it can be done. But what a lucky dog that he came to someone who is using clickertraining.
And you have the big moment to look forward to. When he finally realizes that no matter what, *you* will never hurt him. And that *he* can actually affect the world and make things happen that are pleasant.
This might come as a lightbulb-moment (which is greatly reinforcing for the trainer ;o) ) or it might (in my experience this is the more likely) come gradually over a period of time.
Keep a record, videotape him, whatever, just make sure you have something so that when you are frustrated and thinking that "this will never happen" you can look back and see the progress that you have already made.
Happy clicking to both (or rather all three of course lol) of you

a few ideas

hm weird I wrote an answer t you a couple of days ago... it must have gotten lost in cyberspace...flapping around homeless outthere.. *sigh* I hate when that happens..

Ok, anyway
a little brainstorming...
101 things to do with a box ... in my experience... not a good place to start, particularly with crossover dogs... IMO it is a rather advanged exercise. None of my dogs seem to like the game ... maybe that is why I don't like it.. or vice versa of course...
I have crossed over a number of dogs, and helped owners crossover their dogs. I like to start with targetting - target to hand or target stick.
I also like to use heeling - c/t for being at my left leg (use the 300 peck method, described elsewhere on this site)
Then I start them on object interaction. Not as in 101 things to do, but I simply c/t for any interaction and then shape whatever seems most easy .. put your head into the box, step into it, whatever the dogs likes to do... doesn't matter, the purpose after all is just learning to learn.
Of course choose very palatable treats. Something irresistable... might have to work with smelly cheese or freshly roast chicken the first few sessions...
keep the sessions short - stop while he still wants more.
Keep the ROR (rate of reinforcement) very high. Im one minute (60 seconds) you should be able to use at least 20 or 30 treats. If not, then lower your criteria. This is why I love to start out with hand targetting. You can get in a lot of nose-to-hand touches in very short time, and you can hold the hand realyl close to the dog if needed.
similarly with heeling - c/t for each step, and use directional changes to keep it interesting.
Generally be sure that you are upbeat and happy. Move around yourself, don't let him get into that down on the floor that freezes him up. Move.
I see a lot of the time people are standing like statues with the clicker. Fine witha savvy dog, but can be scary for a newbie dog. Also some crossover dogs like to be talked to. Just prattle happily to him, let the clicker do the important talking - this is against usual recommendations of being quiet to let the dog focus, but for some crossover dogs it is a help in the beginning, generally telling them that "owner is happy, I need not worry, i can play this game"
You say that if you moved he would crowd you and follow you - use that - c/t if he gets into heel position...
And keep those sessions short!
It is actually harder to crossover a dog when you already have a clickersavy dog - At least for me it is. I keep having to adjust the little toggle in my brain to get to the right level of understanding and communication.
best of luck

The magic target stick prevails!

(BTW, Juneau isn't a crossover dog per se.. I don't think he had any training at all in his former home other than getting punished for doing things they didn't like. But, it's close enough to the same thing.)

You know, I can't believe I didn't think of targeting... when I first got him I used hand targeting to teach him to sit, and it worked really well, because it was easy for him, as he was sitting there (or lying there,) stressed out, to just move his nose 2 inches to touch my hand and get a treat!

So, I tried doing some target stick with Juneau today. It was great! I can't say he was really excited, but he stayed upbeat and didn't shut down on me. He sat a couple of times, but he was alert and "thinking" about the target stick, not going submissive and scared on me. I do always move around a lot (don't want to encourage superstitious behavior), but I tend to be quiet, so when I noticed him not following me or the target stick, or his body language starting to deflate even the tiniest bit, I called his name or said happy, nonsensical things to him. I've tried that before and it gets his attention, but then he kinda freaks again when I keep talking, so this time I tried talking just long enough to get him to go for the target stick again, and it worked!!

I had noticed previously that he needed a really high rate of reinforcement to keep his confidence and enthusiasm up, but it's been really hard for me to find miniscule enough ways to raise criteria and not lose that ROR. I think what you said about it being difficult to go between a savvy dog and a not savvy dog makes sense. I'm used to raising criteria in Bandit increments, and expecting results in Bandit time... I need to discover Juneau increments and Juneau time! ;-)

So this is a good start. I'll keep up with it and see how long it takes me to get HIM doing circles and stretches and bows... Thank you!!!