Canine Behavior/Dog Problem
I recently bought a red heeler pup, his name Angus. I have been training him but he only knows limited number of commands. He is 5 months old. He knows sit, roll over, load up, stay, lay, and "go to bed" which is getting into his kennel. His Kennel is HUGE. It is for a 100 plus pound dog. when i am at work 8 hours a day 5 days a week this is where he is. I am having trouble teaching him "no" or "leave it". he chases my ducks,he chases my 14 Year old weenie dog, he chases my cats, and this is not okay.! I understand his nature as a heeler but i want him to stop doing these things.He don't just chase them he is biting them to. I am feeling hopeless.. Any ideas on what i can do?
I usually just yell NO when he is miss-behaving. He does respond stops ears tucked and comes to me. But two seconds later he is at it again. :( I have NEVER hit him or physically disoplined him for anything. Just yell NO or firmly say NO.
ANSWER: Thank you for your question. It is an uphill battle to try and prevent a Heeler from chasing/herding and nipping at the target of his chasing. After all, humans bred the Australian Cattle Dog specifically as a herding animal, and his nickname "heeler" is well-earned as this dog tends to manage his herd by nipping at the heels of the cattle he's moving.
Now, that said, it's not impossible to modify the behavior. But it will take a commitment both to modifying the undesired behavior (actively chasing/biting other living critters at your home) coupled with providing him an appropriate outlet for that hardwired behavior.
It sounds like you've done a very nice job with some of his early obedience skills. Kudos on that!
There are a few different ways you can teach Leave It. One way that might work well for you is some exercises while he's on a harness and leash. Below is a link to some video of me working with a White Shepherd puppy. The first exercise, I toss the temptation well out of reach (in this case food, but you can use a favorite toy as well - or just seeing another animal walk past at a distance). He's on a harness and leash, so if he does try to go after the object, he can't get to it. The successful behavior when I say "Leave It" is for the dog to stop looking at the temptation object, and instead to look me in the face. When he looks me in the face, I mark the behavior (in this case with a Clicker) and then praise and reward him and REMOVE THE TEMPTATION.
The second exercise is much more up close and personal. The object is within easy reach of the dog and so I have to be ready to block the access to the object. The first trial, I actually keep my hand between the dog and the treat until he's successfully looking at me. As we progress, I build up to setting the object down and leaving it exposed, and then continue to build up to dropping it so that the object has some bounce and movement as it lands. I'm always ready to block access if necessary, and the successful behavior is disengaging from the object and looking me in the face.
As your dog gets good at these skills, you can create set-ups where you've laid out stuff in another room or in your yard, and then while he's on harness and leash, and you're far enough away that he can't access it, you tell him Leave It - the difference now is that you and the dog are the ones moving and the temptation is just present in the environment. As he gets good, you can work closer and closer to those objects. Again, if the cat or senior dog are sleeping/resting/hanging out, you can use them as the object that your dog is to Leave as you walk him past (on leash).
Take your time with this. Don't push your dog too quickly. Understand that the moments the other animals move, it changes the rules and his instinct to chase/herd is triggered and so you will need to do lots of practice with him on leash while the other animals are animated so that you can help Angus learn to leave them alone. Loads of praise and super high value food treats or his favorite game (e.g. Tug if he likes that) when he chooses to NOT chase the critters.
The other half of this is providing him with appropriate outlets for his innate behavior tendencies.
My Red Heeler mix was satisfied by playing Fetch. She LOVED chasing balls and I would play a game where I had the ball on the ground and I'd try to kick the ball past her. This involved me turning circles around the ball, trying to get an opening where I'd be able to kick it past my dog. She in turn, circled me, trying to stay directly in front of the ball. I never taught her this, it was her instinct. But it served to work that herding instinct very well and burn that energy reserve.
Another option would be to check out Treiball and see if there are any classes in your area. Or, watch tons of YouTube videos and see if you can teach yourself how to teach it to Angus. Treiball is essentially herding, but instead of herding live animals, they use various sized balls - like Yoga balance balls - that the dog has to round up and get into a pen.
The first two links at the search results for "Treiball training" are ads, but below that are several videos that demonstrate early training for the game - in case you can't find any local classes.
The thing to keep in mind is this: Dogs have energy reserves for various activities (barking, eating, playing, chewing, and depending on the breed it might be digging, or herding or hunting, etc). A herding dog is just as happy burning those energy reserves rounding up balls as he is rounding up the rest of the household animals (or small children, or every other dog at the dog park). So, we can help him burn those energy reserves on an activity that we deem acceptable, which will then decrease his impulse to do that behavior at the unacceptable moments (with your other pets). But, if those energy reserves have not been burned off, then he will find a way to burn it. And they refill every night...
This is why it's a two-pronged process to modify the behavior. We must teach him an active behavior to replace the undesired one. Telling him Leave It is an active behavior because the correct behavior response is an action - look at you instead of interacting with the object.
Saying "No" is an inaction - it means stop, but it doesn't give the dog any direction as to what he should do, which is why he stops (body language tells me this interaction frightens him), but then with no further instruction, he returns to the activity.
So, instead of "No." Use Leave It and then redirect him to an activity that you want him to do such as play fetch with a ball, or a game of Tug with you, or a Bully Stick or Marrow Bone or Antler to chew on for a while.
Do not trust that he has learned to leave the other critters alone until you've had at least 90 days with no effort to chase them at all - even when off leash. And this will only happen when you've found a replacement activity (or multiple activities to rotate between) to use those energy reserves on a daily basis so that his innate needs are being met, but in a way that suits your life and the safety of the other critters.
I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Los Angeles Behavior Specialist
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: WOWZERS..! I am soooo excited to try these new skills on him and myself. I do own a farm with cattle lol so when I am home he does get to roam the farm, which usually he stays with me? But I will definitely try ball/fetch with him and the other things you suggested. I don't know why it scares him when I yell, I promise I have NEVER been hateful or abusive to him. It must be my tone? He is brilliantly smart and I just love this little guy so I am going to give it my all.. thank you so much. I will rate your question but wanted to make sure you knew my thoughts.
It doesn't require physical assault to frighten a dog. Many dogs are quite sensitive to sound as well as to the tone of our voice. So if your "No" is loud and scoldy, that is sufficient to make him at least momentarily nervous. The ears back suggests worry and/or an attempt to appease your angry voice. Coming to you is likely an effort at seeking reassurance. And then once he feels you're no longer angry, he resumes his favorite activity...
I look forward to an update in a few weeks to hear if any of the suggestions have helped. These dogs are brilliantly smart - bred to work independently and make decisions on their own with regard to keeping a herd of cattle in line as they're being moved. So it definitely takes some creativity to keep them engaged and entertained.
If you find you're having any trouble implementing any of the suggestions, then enlisting the aid of a local force-free professional would be the right call. But if you're having success based just on these few suggestions, then that's awesome! :-)
Los Angeles Behaviorist