Puppy's brain falls out when meeting new people/dogs, how to respond?

Discussion in 'Other Pets & Livestock' started by patandchickens, Sep 27, 2010.

  1. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Russell is probably getting towards 7 months old now, neutered male yellow lab, actually calmer than most lab puppies overall. Doing EXTREMELY SUPERNATURALLY WONDERFULLY well with training stuff in quiet areas and with mild to moderate inanimate-object or animal distractions.

    However his brain totally falls out when he sees new people or new dogs. Especially since we live out in the country, so he doesn't get as much mileage at this as he probably would (I do take him for an hour's walk in town or in a dog-filled park about 6 days a week, but I mean, there is no opportunity to see new people/dogs *all day* as there would be for an urban/suburban puppy). I'm doing my best to get him out there, but ya know.

    I realize that the idea is to try to keep his attention "doing things" when distracting people/dogs are around, and to only let him meet them for real if/when he is calm or at least sitting... but in the real world, it is just not always possible to set situations up that way. Sometimes people/dogs DO come up close and I CAN'T hold/regain his attention and he becomes a crazed 45-lb fish flopping all over at the end of the line.

    I expect it will get better with age and mileage and further training work, but what I need to know is, what do I do *right now* when this happens, when he starts lunging all over the place and I can't get his attention back no matter what. (He even ignores a hunk of cheese shoved against his nose [​IMG]). Do I haul him off in the opposite direction til he chills; wrassle him to a standstill and let the people/dogs go by; wrassle him to a standstill and let them meet him; or just stand there and let him be nuts? Or what??

    Appreciate any suggestions from those with dog-training experience.

    (Again, please understand I'm not asking how to decrease this in the future and eventually cure it, I kinda understand that I think, what I'm asking is what do I do NOW when things go all kerflooey)


  2. thebritt

    thebritt Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 5, 2009
    Humboldt County
    I don't know how often you get visitors at your place, but I have a 6 mo. old terrier mix that loses it when he sees new ("new today") people too. The hardest thing is to get the HUMAN to ignore HIM - come on in and IGNORE THE PUPPY seems to be very difficult for many people.
    As for out in public, you may need a better treat/distraction, along with telling the human to ignore him. Also, I've had quite a bit of luck with what you described - as soon as the dog shows any sign of excitement towards a person/dog on a walk, just turning around with a "ah-ah, come" quite abruptly. Walking several yards, and turning around to give him another chance...repeat. If you can come up with the truly irresistable treat (you know - venison jerky, etc), you may be able to get him off the trail/sidewalk while someone walks by, while keeping him at a "watch me" with the special treat. Of course, there's always the "practice, practice, practice". When at home, try to get someone to participate in your project. The more practice he has in a familiar environment with distractions, the better chance you have in other places.
    Good Luck!
  3. Akane

    Akane Overrun With Chickens

    Jun 15, 2008
    When you can't get the dog's attention it's time to leave the scene or option b put them in a down and stand on the leash. Then even fairly large dogs can flip out all they want without getting anywhere because they have no leverage and they have to counter all of your weight not just your strength. Occasionally my akita would get difficult and could not be dragged away somewhere so I'd just tell her to down, pulling her front feet out from under her if necessary, and stand there on the leash until the cause of excitement was gone. When she was laying there obediently I'd let her up and we'd keep going or occasionally she'd be allowed to check out what had excited her if she proved she could do it with proper manners. Combined with using lots of yummy treats as rewards it's reached the point that if she gets excited and I yell down with strong body language and voice she drops so fast she'll slide or sometimes spin around on her belly until she's facing me. She's overly dramatic sometimes. [​IMG] Unless you combine it with some positive training on down it's not a good option though because you'll just get a dog that refuses to down so you can't trap them there and fearful dogs may panic so know your dog. Allowing them to bounce around is nearly as bad as letting them greet the person. It will do nothing to help teach them self control while reinforcing that they can ignore you and drag on the leash. Extra bad for a large breed.

    If it's a repeated offense while someone is on my property I will go tie the dogs to something a little ways away until they show they can chill or if they are getting really out of hand banish them from the area until the person is gone. If you can't get them to play nice then they don't get to play at all. Being excluded is the ultimate punishment for most dogs.
  4. welsummerchicks

    welsummerchicks Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 26, 2010
    It's a difficult thing, some dogs do this because they are afraid, some are excited and want to play and some don't have any idea if they are going to play, run away or fight, they just are EXCITED, that's all they know. I've had a couple dogs that came here that way, but I've also gone to training classes for many, many years and seen a LOT of dogs with that problem. And all of them - all - respond to the same method - insist they obey a command, insist they listen, and reward them when they do.

    One of them I had, was really difficult, and just very, very distracted and would really throw himself around when another dog came up to him. It was wierd, too, it was just really unfocused, it didn't clearly look like agression, fearfulness OR playfulness. Just nuts. And closer to 80 lbs than 40, lol.

    First thing I looked at was the food. I know some feeds get dogs too hypervigilant and wound up, and really, just putting him on a good food helped some(a food that is fine for one dog isn't necessarily ok for another one). But it was such a long standing habit that wasn't really the total answer.

    I started out by taking him to a professional for an evaluation. The pro was really good with problem dogs and I wanted to get his opinion. He worked with the dog for about fifteen minutes, and declared it was first of all, just by his nature, a nervous dog. But how to deal with that. Yes, actually, he wanted me to take the dog to places where there were other dogs and the dog was going to have to be challenged and confronted with the problem, over and over. Just keep working the dog around other dogs and work it through. Leash corrections, insisting he pay attention, rewarding him when he did.

    One thing that really helped this dog was going to a training class. He was just put in the middle of things and had to deal. To be honest, only one night, was he really a problem. And to be honest, I was shocked, because I thought it would go on and on. No. Put into it, and with clear expectations for behavior, well, as the trainer said, dog's behavior is just very, very plastic, changeable and adjustable. He was the worst I'd ever seen of any in the training classes, but it was really one night.

    A lot of dogs have a lot of pent up energy that interferes with training, some because they don't get enough exercise. Honestly I was surprised that on the big farm, dogs don't really get that much exercise. So that one went on the treadmill for 45 minutes a day or so, just at an easy jog, just to burn off some of that nervousness. I felt like there was an improvement pretty quickly from that, too, but still not the whole answer.

    Basically the method was just give a command THAT THE DOG ALREADY KNOWS AND RESPONDS CORRECTLY TO, and the dog needs to obey that command, whether he wants to or not, whether he is distracted or not, and he keeps getting corrected with the leash if he doesn't obey the command and re-guided into the right response; if he gets aggressive, lunging, snapping, barking, he gets strung up, if it's getting very bad, yes, he is going to be uncomfortable. But if done effectively, he will be uncomfortable only very briefly.

    Step up to it gradually? Sure, as gradually as you like. And when the strange dog is within 'interest range' most likely, you will still have the problem. Have the dog stay 100 yards away for a while, and gradually move up closer? Sure, but many dogs don't think like people - and react very strongly even when the animal is further away.

    If he is really flopping around at the end of the leash, like flipping over backwards and jumping up in the air, you might have to be pretty firm with him if you are going to get through all that, what correction you give is going to have to get his attention more.

    I don't believe in holding a treat up to him waiting for him to settle down and notice the treat, or giving the dog any options, I think in the dog's mind, that's actually reinforcing and encouraging more excitement and jumping around. The dog leaps around, grabs the treat, what fun it all is. I think very often one winds up teaching the exact thing one DOESN't want to teach, LOL.

    I'd get the leash and training collar and get the dog focused with as many corrections as it takes and as strong a correction as it takes (and not one iota more). If I'm lucky, I'm only going to have to do that a few times and the dog will start to respond. Once they realize that there is no getting out of it, they will stop.

    I know many people say here you must never 'pressure' a dog. The problem I see with that is that the problem doesn't get dealt with.

    I don't think of this as 'pressure', I think of it as training in the setting where the problem exists - effective training.

    To me, 'pressure' is expecting the dog to do something he has no idea about and has never been taught to do, and punishing him for not doing it right. The difference here is the dog is being asked to respond to a command he already knows and works well on when the other dog is not around.

    Of course, the secret is, the dog only half knows the command, if he only responds to it in some situations. This is just completing the training on the command.

    Years ago, Don Feder showed me his wonderful collies working off lead. He put one dog on a down stay, and then he walked away, got in his car, and sped up to the dog, and squealed to a halt with the bumper one inch from the dog's nose, literally. The dog did NOT. EVEN. FLINCH. But that's how sound the dog was on the down stay. He WOULD. NOT. MOVE. No matter what happened around him. He had absolute and total trust with his trainer. That's just finishing the training on that command. It was a good lesson for me. I realized what was actually possible.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2010
  5. Beekissed

    Beekissed Flock Master

    Pat, I have a lab mix that has the jitters also around people or dogs when he greets them~mostly people. He just seems to spin in space, unable to contain himself. As long as he is not inflicting his body parts on anyone else, I just let him do it. I let him get it out of his system. I tell the people he will not jump up on you even though it appears he might. Staying down was the first thing I've ever trained on any dog I've owned. Not sitting or lying down, exactly, just staying down on all fours and not stepping on people's feet.

    He is now 4 yrs old and he still spins a little, though he will stop immediately if I tell him to go lie down. He just seems to have to expend this energy and it seems to be a part of his personality. After a few minutes of this exuberant spinning he generally straightens up and gets his head on straight.

    If you really need him to just STOP it right now because he is scaring little children, the standing on the leash thing works wonderfully.
  6. RiverOtter

    RiverOtter Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 4, 2009
    Quote:You've gotten some really good advice, though in this situation I wouldn't go to a "better treat" Because , say, if I was the dog... I LOVE a chocolate chip cookie. I mean, really, really love them. But if I saw a bag with a million dollars just out of reach there is no warm, gooey homemade cookie in the world that would distract me from it. Know what I mean? There is NOTHING you can give him that he wants MORE then to go play with the new people.

    My advice is going to be a little different. When he's flipping out right NOW - leave. Get him out of the situation. He's not ready to deal with it. Mental overload = inability to learn. He's an adolescent pup - you have time to work on this.

    And soon, decide "This weekend we are getting over this"

    It is easy for us as people to want to teach the dog what NOT to do. But instead we have to turn it around and teach them what TO do. For example, I don't have a problem with my dogs charging the door and barking. Because from the get I teach them that their job is to go to the door and lie down. They know what to do, they know what their job is, they have the answer to this question - no over-excitement necessary.

    Your pup doesn't have the answer to "How do I react when I see new people/dogs, I really want to play with?"
    Telling him, "Well buddy, you sure as heck DON'T flip out at the end of the leash" Isn't going to help him. He still needs an answer

    So then take your dog, your bike and a bag of treats to the nearest really big town very early one morning. Trot him next to your bike until he wants to stop. Seriously, don't drag him, but if you stop the bike and he sits or lies down, you're about there. By this time the mall will be open.
    So go to the mall and sit on a bench at the main entrance. If he starts really flipping out, you didn't go long enough on the bike. Any 7 month old lab with good hips will trot for 2-3 miles pretty happily.

    You want him tired enough that his previous answer "throw myself towards them with every fiber of my being!!!" isn't going to seem like the very best idea he could have right now.
    And then, with a big, cheery smile, announce to everyone who shows the slightest interest in your dog, "I'm training my puppy for therapy work (I don't care if it's true now, it may be true in the future and you're giving people a reason to feel good about helping you) Do you want to help?" And then hand them a treat, physically guide your dog into a sit, down on one knee next to him and then say "Thanks, could you give him his treat now?"
    And when his rump leaves the floor, give him a mild, verbal correction. Use mild restraint to keep him sitting and a leash correction if/when he squiggles away from you and jumps up. If necessary, with a smiley "Ooops" for your human helper, walk him away if he gets really excited and then turn and go back.
    You need to put him in a frame of mind (tired and content) and in a situation (Ooooh, I'm getting attention from new people!)
    That he is capable of realizing his question is being answered. Question; "How do I react when I see new people/dogs, I really want to play with?"
    Answer; "If I keep my butt on the ground they'll come right up to me and pet me."

    But I can not stress enough -
    He is physically and mentally incapable of learning this while "his brain is falling out" which is why my advice for right at that moment is to remove him from the situation.

    He needs to be in a different frame of mind to realize/learn anything. There are lots of ways to do that.
    This is what I would do with the dog and the reaction that you described
  7. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Thanks everyone!

    But, whoa, River Otter, you must be spying on us! LOL [​IMG] Seriously, pretty near every single word of your post rings so SO true for us.

    So I think I am inclined to go with your approach -- just *leave* when he's being a moron (as well as mental overload=inability to learn, I suppose that also prevents him from being *rewarded* for being a moron, since to him getting to meet people/dogs is the biggest chocolate chip cookie in the world), and also try to tire him out reasonably well BEFORE putting him in situations where he's likely to meet people/dogs.

    Thanks, will try it for a week and report back [​IMG],

  8. RiverOtter

    RiverOtter Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 4, 2009
    Happy to help [​IMG]
    But you do know that now I need a picture of a sweet, handsome lab puppy, right?

    LOve those guys
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2010
  9. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Well here's a couple random pics from a walk on some local trails last week:



    Thanks again -- I had an hour and a half alone with him this a.m. (one kid in school, other at a class, woo hoo) so we did a really FAST walk in town for 45 minutes and then sat on a bench in front of the bank at the main intersection and practiced being civilized. Tiring him out first really helped I think... he was not that bad, and in some cases actually pretty okay, and if nothing else he started to get that there is no point revving up for people walking by when frankly most of them are not even GOING to stop and pet you ANYhow [​IMG]

    Will post update next week, thanks again (to everyone!),

    Last edited: Sep 29, 2010
  10. babymakes6

    babymakes6 Gifted

    Feb 24, 2009
    far west Ohio
    He is quite a handsome fellow (and he LOOKS like a Lab! [​IMG] )!
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2010

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