Sunday, February 24, 2013

How to Train the "Bossy Aussie": The Most Important things to know for training a Miniature Australian Shepherd

Aussies are little cattle doggies. They are designed to be kicked, thrown, scraped, or rolled and get right back up and dive back in for more!  I really wanted to raise my puppy using non-violent, compassionate techniques, which is where you praise the good behaviors and ignore the bad and only applying negative corrections (i.e. words, not hitting obviously) if you really have to.  
But how could this cutie ever do anything bad? :P
Well folks, all the advice I read in the books went out the window on Day 1 when Indie was suddenly viciously attacking my pant legs on our walk, trying to hump my legs, and biting at my ankles.  I tried to "ignore" it until he stopped, with the intention of giving him a treat when he stopped and sat down, but it backfired big time because he just didn't stop or came back just as aggressively as before.  I needed to be firm and give him a "NO, Baaaaaaad" in a low voice.  I also grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and put him on the ground, lying on his side. I feel bad for doing this, but I was so damn pissed at him for being naughty.  Oh well, I'm human. At any rate, it was pretty clear that this little doggie was Persistent with a capital P.  I realized that I needed to know exactly what would work and what didn't with these tough little buggers and quite frankly Positive Only methods DO NOT work.  But, conversely, yelling at them loudly doesn't work either because they'll be scared of you and you don't want that either.
What Works & What Doesn't With Mini's
  1. Best form of punishment is withdrawing your attention.  The only way to do this is to restrain the puppy some how so they can't follow you (say put the puppy in a play pen, behind a baby gate or in a bathroom for ~30 seconds). Then, turn your back and walk away either out of sight or at the other end of the room. It's not violent, and it lets them know you don't like what they're doing.  Here's an example: you're playing with a toy and suddenly the puppy gets too excited and lunges at your hand or face with it's mouth open.  Immediately and quietly withdraw, place the puppy in it's pen, and walk away for 15 seconds then come back and resume play.
  2. Okay, lets say you're out on a walk and your aussie starts misbehavin': e.g. jumping up on you, biting your pant legs, or nipping your heels. In this instance, I've found that ignoring then rewarding with a treat did not work.  I had to apply like the words "No" and "Bad" while also standing upright and being authoritarian.  Don't SCREAM at them.  Just say it matter-of-factly in a low voice and claim your space with your body (like Cesar Millan).  They are too smart and will take advantage of Positive Only methods! Ever heard the term "Bossy Aussie"? Yea, that's right, they will walk all over you if you are not a little stern with them.  The whole "just ignore them until they stop" style of training DID NOT work for me when my 8 week old puppy was humping and biting my legs.  
  3. Never yell or hit, emotion is not good as a training method and Aussies are too sensitive ^_^ (that being said I've totally yelled at him a few times when I was tired and just let my emotions get away from me.  Indie is still totally fine and loves us.)
  4. Use 70% treats and 30% praise/toy for rewards, such as dragging the toy for them to chase when they've sat or done a down for example.  Treats all the time = they will only work for treats and won't when you don't have them! They're that smart.  Seriously.
  5. Always give a treat plus lots of praise when they Come to you, after all, that's the most important thing for a dog to do in order for you to mitigate potentially harmful situations.
  6. Don't let your Aussie get Bossy!! If they are being really bad and the 30 second time out isn't work, give 'em a time out for 10 minutes in a confined area. Don't pet them, touch them, or talk to them.  Withdraw completely to send a strong message.
  7. No teeth on skin. Ever.  Stop what you're doing, apply a verbal negative, put them on a time out, yell "Ouch!" touch no talk no eye contact when they're bad, that's the best punishment!
  8. Don't let them be dramatic.  From what I gather from my breeder, Aussies can put on a real show if they don't want to do something such as go the direction you want to go on a walk.  They can whine, flip over their leash, etc.  Well, just give grab the reigns and make them go your direction! You gotta do it.  It shows them who's the boss, just ignore the brief drama performance.
  9. Whatever you do, you need to do it with confidence and feel sure! A lot of websites say "You have to make the Aussie respect you by making them do what you want.  You gotta prove you're strong!" In my experience thus far, this has proved true. He'll try and fight me, but I don't give in...then he comes around my way and becomes even sweeter than before. 
  10. Get a gentle leader-front clip harness to keep them from pulling on walks. It's worth a million dollars.  Seriously.
Background on My Experience with Training
Lets just be real clear here: I'm no expert and am still learning.  I'm a VERY new Aussie owner to boot.  This just describes my experience so far and what has worked for me! Everything about Aussies I have read on the internet has been pretty much true, except I wanted more details about the particulars of training, so here you go.

Alright, lets get down to the some background.....So, even though Indie is only 4 months old right now, I have learned a lot about what training techniques have worked and not worked with raising this Mini Aussie and dealing with their breed traits. Not to brag TOO much (okay, just a little, tee hee!), but currently Indie has near perfect recall even when outdoors with other dogs, people, etc around and does sit, down, come, stay, high five, and shake with near perfection.  Below are stills from my video where you can see Indie in a sit and a down.

I'm only bragging so you will know that I'm not just blowing steam here and that the things I've done have worked (if you don't believe me you can see a few tricks for yourself in this video). But lets set the record straight here: It was hard...HARD I tell you!!! I had to work every step of the way and I would not describe Indie as an "easy puppy" in some regards.  I had to outsmart him, stay one step ahead, be firm, and learn through trial and error what to do.

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