Appa is an English Bulldog from Van Nuys who needs work on his obedience and stubborn nature. He is joining OffLeash SoCal's Two-Week Board and Train Program to address these issues and build a rock solid obedience that his family can rely on. For Appa the goal is to first use the leash to establish the behaviors we desire and then to develop them enough that we can ask for them with our voice. Appa is a stubborn dog but he is also very interested in his handler and I am looking forward to seeing how much he can grow. Stay tuned for Appa's two week transformation!
Today was about diagnosing Appa's unique set of characteristics and building a training program that best suits him. Appa is very much a stubborn young Bulldog that needs structure to help him understand his role at any given time. I attempted to use various commands he is familiar with but he ignored me. Ultimately he doesn't know me yet and has no reason to expect anything worthwhile for his efforts so in order to establish his training I am first focusing on our relationship. Appa has some shy qualities and isn't the instant friends kind of dog but he is still very social and willing to learn if given the chance. My goal is to first build our relationship and using a common language of mutual benefit I will then place boundaries that he respects. The combination of reward and boundaries will help appa to define on his own going forward what good behavior may be at a given time. We have to first create the resources for him to use and then put him in positions to exercise those skills. Stay tuned for Appa's evolution and keep in mind that while he is going to improve he isn't a robot and he will need consistent practice to remain successful when he returns home.
Today I showed Appa the basics of obedience and how to focus. Appa has a good understanding of various behaviors already but he is so stubborn he would rather do what he wants to do. I showed Appa the e collar stimulation today and gave him a consequence for ignoring commands. He was able to very quickly figure out how to turn off the pressure and get back to what he wants! We want to create a self motivated dog that desires the same outcome as us--to be relaxed and able to coexist with others peacefully. Appa isn't particularly pushy and he hasn't shown me any aggression at all but he is committed to his own decisions and conflict only pushes him further into his stubborn nature. The goal of e collar training is to slip past this defensive attitude and create a sense of urgency that isn't taken personally.
Appa will occasionally make mistakes but if we are able to hold him accountable without him being confused, we can be sure we are being fair. If the dog doesn't eventually work out what we are asking we do need to spend time showing them the basic positions and commands until we think they are fluent and we can test the training again. Remember that Appa is good natured and ultimately his stubborn personality is part of his charm. There isn't any reason to be frustrated! We just need to remain more committed than he is. We need 1 percent more pressure than however much energy he is expending to ignore it and then the exact second he complies we take the pressure away. We want the dog to learn how to turn the pressure off so they can better understand what they do that is right and wrong--secondary to that but still important is the dog learns to self soothe in general. They learn the fastest route to avoiding something they don't want and react in an unhealthy way towards is to relax and let it pass. This eventually evolves further into ignoring their triggers altogether but we have to be consistent about working the obedience until it is rock solid and then exposing the dog to those triggers while controlling their focus and rewarding their good efforts.
Today with Appa I was able to transition from using a slip lead to his flat collar being the primary means of communicating leash pressure. He is listening nicely to the stimulation from the e collar so the leash is serving purely as a tool for communicating and I don't need to exert too much leverage. For Appa the most important piece of his training puzzle is consistency. He doesn't have enough endurance to afford letting him get away with bad behavior. Every single time he is successful without having to work for it, the total percentage of obedience vs non obedience in a given day skews more wildly than a dog who can get more reps in. The bad reps count more but so do the good reps, so just stay focused and make obedience a natural part of the daily routine. Whether waiting for a red light and asking for some sits and downs, door manners coming and going or perhaps waiting nicely on a place while we get the mail, there are many creative and practical ways to incorporate Appa's practice into a normal daily routine so that we are making the most of his natural energy levels.
Today with Appa I introduced the "down" command. A lot of dogs struggle with this command and Appa did have some problems. We have plenty of time to continue working however and he is making a good effort for so early on. His sit and come to sit are much better also. With dogs like Appa the name of the game is patience. We simply have to outlast his effort. Keep in mind that when he is being so stubborn the best course of action isn't always immediately raising the intensity of our command but rather showing him through repeated instances that he always does eventually have to comply. These early repetitions will take far longer than later when he has had more experience. This morning I noticed Appa has some irritation on the skin below his jaw. There is a lot of excess skin in that area and whether it is from the e collar strap putting too much pressure on such a high volume of loose skin, or perhaps from his drooling or even moisture remaining after drinking water, our next steps remain the same. I have cleaned the area with the same medicated wipes provided for Appa's wrinkles and kept it as dry as possible. We have modified where we will be placing the e collar from now on as well. Therl different position does mean we lose some sensitivity to the sensation but the trade off of being a healthier option for his skin makes it worth it. I have also placed a clean towel in his crate to lay on to help with any potential moisture further irritating his neck. Please refer to the attached pictures. He isn't bothered or scratching, he doesn't seem uncomfortable to be touched and there is no odor or discharge. I think it's likely some combination of so much loose skin potentially trapping excess moisture either from drool or his water and then perhaps it has been irritated by the standard e collar position. With the collar moved to a different spot and the area kept dry and clean I will report if I notice any further or worse symptoms but currently as the dog has no signs of distress I think he will be comfortable going forward.
Today I took Appa to the Santa Monica Pier to practice his obedience with a brand new set of sights and smells and sounds. When working around new distractions it is normal for dogs to have difficulty maintaining their focus. We work through these lapses by asking for smaller more easily accomplished goals and building slowly in the presence of distractions. For Appa we want to do a lot of exposing him to brand new places without asking him for too much. He is comfortable generally wherever we go but he does get stubborn when he is overtired and in need of rest. I try to be accommodating of his breed without letting him quit too early. Of course use your best judgement but try to ask Appa for a strong effort the entire way to a destination but do give him opportunities to rest throughout an outing. He is able to coexist with other dogs and people and his primary enemy is his stamina and attention span. So to keep him enthusiastic make the obedience fun and functional and use it during a walk. Ask for a sit or a down at a street corner and put him in a place for his moment to rest. The obedience can be worked into his normal routine and become a natural way of communicating throughout the day.
Today with Appa I worked on obedience around an open door to build better impulse control. I was able to finish with a command while he dragged his leash which is the beginning steps toward off leash obedience. For Appa the main hurdle to overcome is being so stubborn that he resists the guidance of the e collar so I am spending time and care in showing him the best way to "turn off" the sensation is by accommodating me in my commands. Appa will certainly need practice in the home and anywhere he is used to previously having total freedom. He doesn't need to be "on duty" 24/7 but he does need enough experience with the ability to be reinforced only a button away in order to be fully trusted to comply when he is given the opportunity not to. Consider every time Appa goes on a walk or visits with company a chance to practice his new skills but do give him opportunities to love and spend time together as he is a sensitive dog who benefits from affection. Appa's neck is still red and irritated but it looks like it's largely due to drool keeping the area damp. We are removing all of his collars in the crate (meaning no flat collar with gps tracker, no e collar and no slip lead or training collar). We are keeping the neck clean and dry and have also installed a new bungee strap on the e collar so that there isn't the same potential for trapping moisture or irritation that a traditional strap can possess because there is far less surface area making contact with the skin. He isn't uncomfortable and has normal energy and mood. He has clean towels to lay on as well as I dry and check/clean the area as necessary every hour or so. Please email any questions you may have, thank you!
Today with Appa I spent some time working on the "place" command. Because of his stature, Appa can't necessarily climb onto everything but if we are creative when out and about on walks or in the world then we can find opportunities to place. A place simply has to be distinguished from the surrounding area in an obvious way. Height helps but even a towel on the ground can serve as a place when training. The end goal is making the dog dedicated to staying put on the place we tell them to. It is far easier for a dog to accomplish this task when they have a clear understanding of the object or area we want them on. For a dog like Appa who doesn't have a lot of stamina I like to work on place consistently by treating it as a way to rest on walks. Consider these rests a good way to reinforce the concept of relaxing on the place and think outside the box by using the commands to get the most of Appa's natural desires. If he is tired and wanting to lay down I will ask for the down so he did it because I asked but stays down because he wants to. Keeping aware of opportunities to have a "win-win" will make training easier and more fun.
Today Appa and I began working on his off leash skills. I had Appa drag the leash while we worked on our heeling in my fenced in parking area at my complex. In the early stages I like to set myself up for success by using fenced in areas where I know the dog can't get anywhere. If we control for more variables we can be certain we have enough freedom to encourage the dog while he puzzles through the problem we are presenting. Appa has enough intelligence and situational awareness to make good decisions but he needs consistent structure and encouragement to stay focused right now. Going forward I will have him drag smaller and lighter leashes to become even more nuanced and gain enough mastery for full off leash freedom. Appa doesn't have a ton of endurance so keep in mind he is likely to make poor decisions when he is more tired and less interested in work. We can of course reinforce our commands in these situations but as the dog is decreasing in motivation he is also more willing to engage in conflict. We want to aim for a positive association with work so make a goal of working within Appa's tolerance while pushing for 1 percent more effort every time. Dog's aren't trained in any one moment but instead with hundreds and even thousands of repetitions of a task. Appa will need continued practice and support but he is getting better all the time. His neck is improving as well.
Today Appa and I continued to refine his off leash skills. He is doing well heeling and holding an extended sit but we need to keep working on his down and come to sit. Appa is still being stubborn but if we keep him motivated and our energy positive he tolerates reinforcement and gets right back on track when it's necessary. The primary distractions for Appa so far are other people he wants to say hello to or a nice place in the shade to sit and relax. We want to encourage polite interactions with people but without him being pushy or insistent. We want the dog motivated to keep up with us and keep working but if Appa is consistently having trouble keeping up make sure to give him a break and some water. Dogs aren't robots and sometimes they are trying their best even though the result is lacking. Try to reward effort where possible and also keep in mind if the dog is seeking out rest more than normal he maybe over heating. I purchased an over the counter topical spray to help treat Appa's neck. It is healing but I want to be sure it's getting as much help as possible. See photo of the spray.
Today with Appa I spent some dedicated time perfecting the down. He is very stubborn but also the angles and shape of his body give him a lot of resistance to leash pressure that I normally use to shape a down position. I used a picnic table to help with a better angle before moving him to the ground and working there. With anything new for a dog we can break it down into smaller and easier to understand steps before combining them into the final picture we want. For Appa I was able to finish with a much nicer down from my voice and with very little leash pressure to guide him. There is plenty of time to keep working and I am hopeful he will figure out what he needs to do. Also I have attached a photo of the irritation on Appa's neck/chin area. It does appear redder today but only because the over the counter topical spray I have been applying softened the scabs and he was able to scratch them off more productively. The skin appears to be healthy and healing well and I have been applying the spray as well as cleaning his face. I will send the spray home with him if you would like to continue using it. He isn't scratching excessively and doesn't seem bothered when I touch or clean the area.
Today with Appa I worked on all of his skills up to this point. When Appa goes home he doesn't need to practice every single behavior every training session. The best recipe for success, especially with a dog that struggles with endurance, is to keep sessions short and sweet with an emphasis on finishing strong. If the dog does the obedience behaviors the first time we ask, cleanly and with motivation then we reward him with "break" and allow him to go potty and explore a bit after he comes to play for his reward. We want the dog to understand that he works the least when he does what we want. If he knows the easiest thing to do is what we want he is less likely to break his behaviors and seek out his own rewards. I like to incorporate training into daily walks to make it a natural part of the routine rather than having "training time" and then no obedience otherwise. It's always training time! We want to make it a part of our lifestyle and natural communication with the dog. Appa's neck is still healing and looking better. The scabs he removed/the pink skin underneath is looking healthy and without any sour odor or moisture.
Today with Appa we went to Santa Monica Pier and worked around new distractions. Appa has been struggling with crowds and generally will break his obedience if he is feeling overwhelmed but he did manage to maintain an extended down today that I was pleased with. As I have already mentioned, dogs are not robots. Despite working very well for me off leash with less environmental pressure and less intense distractions, Appa had a lot of trouble concentrating today. Maybe it was just an off day and he will still rise to the occasion but I wanted to be considerate and explain that even with his major progress he will still need help and support depending on the environment we work in. Give Appa as much help as possible in the form of leadership and guidance. If we are aware of potential hazards before he is we can avoid them in the first place. Good luck!
Today Appa and I went to Santa Anita Mall to film his Final Video content. He did very well! There were new distractions and environmental elements that can be tricky to navigate like slick/slippery floors. The saving grace for today was the air conditioning inside the mall. For dogs like Appa consider their endurance in all choices when they are with you. This kind of dog has a limited ability to handle heat while relaxing let alone working. We want to keep the duration for obedience behaviors practical by using them in a routine way. So if a goal is to bring Appa to a cafe, have him practice in longer and longer intervals to build up his focus over time rather than asking for it all at once on the day that counts. Keeping in mind the weather and Appa's energy levels we can use his need for rest to our advantage as well. Want Appa to be particularly behaved while you eat outside at this hypothetical cafe? Then make sure he has plenty of exercise beforehand and he will absolutely jump at the opportunity to lay down and mind his business. Remember to give him plenty of rest and water and enjoy the process.
Today with Appa I spent some time charging the "break" command. If we treat "break" like a jackpot and give the dog a lot of love and affection when we release him from his obedience he will associate the behavior we release him from with the reward. This creates a feedback loop that reinforced motivation for a given activity. When out walking and the dog is in a good heel position tell him "break" and make a big deal showering him with love. We can use break to end a training session or sprinkled throughout the entire interaction. The important thing to remember is that "good" maintains the obedience while "break" releases the dog to come get a reward and go explore a bit/go potty. Appa's neck continues to improve but he is having more discharge in his eyes than normal. I think maybe it's allergies or he has a cold. Either way he is normal energy and mood despite the excess eye boogers. I am keeping him as clean as possible.
Today with Appa I spent time working on everything he has learned thus far. When Appa goes home the best way to maintain his obedience is to make it every day. Aim for 1 percent improvement every session and the dog will surprise you with how much he is capable of doing. We want to always be considerate of the weather and other environmental factors because for Appa he will shut down rather quickly when he is over hot. I continued to apply the over the counter spray as well as his face wipes. Appa is so excited to come home and show off his new skills!