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  • Writer's pictureMcKenna Caskey

Casper | Australian Shepherd | Gardena, CA | In-Training

Meet Casper! He is an energetic, 5 month old Australian Shepherd from Gardena, CA. He has joined OffLeash SoCal's Two-Week Board-&-Train program to work on his obedience, focus outside of the home and around distractions, chewing, attention-barking, potty-training, jumping, nipping, and building his confidence. He is an ESA dog, so proper training is pivotal. Although he is a very sweet pup, he seems a bit insecure, in combination with being rather pushy. He knows several training behaviors, such as sit, down, & shake, however he will not offer those cues while in public. Stay tuned for his 14-day transformation!

 

Pupdate 1/29/2023



Casper and I spent a bit of time at the park getting to know each other, and seeing what training cues he would perform in a public, yet low distraction, environment. He did not perform any of his commands that he would otherwise ‘know’ at home, or with food lures/rewards present.


On the way home, Casper did exhibit some of his attention-seeking barking, however he also got an upset stomach, so he may have been trying to alert me. Other than that, he was calm and quiet during the drive to my house.


Once at home, I let Casper into the yard to familiarize him to his new surroundings, and see if he needed to potty. Afterwards, I attempted introductions with my personal dog, and my boarding dog to see how Casper would do. Both made him nervous, and he peed a little, so I tucked him away into the ‘dining room' which is baby-gated off so he could settle down and acclimate to the dogs in a way he felt safe.


After the boarding dog went home, Casper continually barked and howled in his safe-area. I waited until he was quiet before letting him out, and reintroducing him to my personal dog (a 100lb Shepherd x Malinois mix). Casper was super excited, and incessantly tried to hump him. This behavior stems from over-excitement, wanting to play, and insecurity. Although my dog was very patient with Casper, due to the size difference, I wanted to be on top of correcting Casper’s behavior, so that he wouldn’t feel the need to.


I initially tried prong-collar corrections with Casper, however I switched over to the ecollar. When Casper would attempt to hump my dog, I would give the verbal command “off!” and tap the stimulation button until Casper removed himself from the situation. Once he did, I would mark the behavior I wanted (moving away from my dog/ not humping) with “yes!” to let Casper know that was the appropriate response, and would give him praise and affection. It took repeating multiple times until he was able to lay down calmly next to my dog. Casper will continue the behavior whenever we move around, but in time he will get the message. My dog really wants to play with Casper, however he has been avoiding him— because obsessive humping is annoying, he doesn’t want to do the wrong thing, and he doesn’t want Casper to get corrected.


All things considered, Casper is settling in well to his new environment & temporary home. He was uneasy when he arrived, and did not eat the lunch that was provided while he was in the gated area. However, Casper gobbled down all of his dinner.


 

Pupdate 1/30/2023


Casper was a bit of a pill in the kennel last night, and whined/howled off and on. He eventually settled down, but would start back up every now and then throughout the night. If I think he might need to go potty, I will take him out to the yard on a leash. The leash helps out, so he has a set circumference of area to get distracted by— this will help him go potty quicker, and make sure that he is where I can watch, mark, and reinforce going to the bathroom in the appropriate place (outside). I will repeat the phrase “go potty” until he does, then say “yes!” and offer praise, affection, and treats. The goal is for him to learn that pottying outside gets him good things.


We went to La Bonita Park in La Habra for our training session today. I introduced “heel” to Casper, using leash pressure, prong collar, and ecollar. The goal is for Casper to walk next to me on my left side with his ears-to-nose in line with my leg. He will ideally keep a close distance to me, without veering off or leaving too much space. If Casper pulled ahead, fell behind, tried to wander off or stop, I would apply slight leash-pressure and tap the ecollar stimulation while saying “heel”. When Casper was in the appropriate position and maintaining a good pace, I would say “yes! good heel” and offer verbal praise and encouragement. At times, I would also change direction abruptly. If Casper was not paying attention and didn’t move with me, leash pressure would naturally be applied. This technique helps teach him to focus and stay with me.


Casper was very distracted, and protested leash pressure by whining and ecollar stim by constantly trying to scratch at it (it is a tingling sensation). He was a bit stubborn, however once he is in the zone and focusing, he did better. Casper’s heel needs a lot of work, but it is significantly better than yesterday.


Casper was also introduced to “extended sit” where he will hold his sit cue for longer periods of time. To teach this, I would gradually increase the length of Casper’s sit before marking and reinforcement via praise, affection, treats. If Casper broke his position and got up, I would apply leash-pressure upwards. As leash pressure moves upwards, Casper’s bottom would go down. When we ask a dog for a position, staying in that position is implied, until they are offered the release word “break”.


Overall, Casper had a successful day of training. His attention barking is still an issue in the home, and he protests being in the gated area or in the kennel. When this happens, I do not acknowledge him until he is quiet. Negative attention is still attention, and reinforces the attention-seeking-behavior.


 

Pupdate 1/31/2023


Casper was much better last night about whining and sleeping through the night. He was probably tired from his training and playing and also more settled in. 


We met up with fellow OLSC trainers and their dogs at a local park to work on obedience and desensitization to distractions. Dogs are a huge distractions for Mr. Casper! It was very difficult to get him to focus, and especially heel around them. He would also break his extended sit so he could run up and sniff the other dogs. Aussies are very energetic, active, & intelligent dogs, so keeping their attention when there are other things around that they’d rather do or see can be a challenge initially. In time, these behaviors got better, but definitely need some work. He was also very inquisitive about the new surroundings. It is a good idea to let your pup explore for the first 15 minutes or so when in a new environment prior to starting a training session. 


Casper is still scratching at the ecollar stimulation, but we are working on decreasing it via leash pressure, and praising him while he’s in an appropriate heel. The stimulation can take a bit of time to get used to. 


Later in the day, we worked on home manners. I would put Casper up in the baby-gate area for meals and down-time, and would focus on when he was quiet to let him out. This can also be done in the kennel. His protesting has decreased, most likely from all the mental stimulation and exercise he’s been getting. A tired pup is a happy pup! 

 

Pupdate 2/1/2023


Casper slept through the night well and finished the remainder of his dinner. 

We worked on his obedience cues at home in the morning, where distractions were limited. We focused on “extended sit” duration, as well as an introduction to “down” and “extended down”. Down can be taught a number of different ways, including food-lure, leash-pressure (downward), physical placement, or capturing. When Casper’s elbows and chest would touch the ground, I would mark with “yes” and offer reinforcements (treats/ praise/ affection). Casper protested greatly to leash pressure, and learned best with food-lures & physical placement. It is easier to teach new commands in low-distraction environments. 


Casper attended me on a walk with Kona, where we practiced heel alongside another dog. This was challenging for Casper, however with time and consistent corrections, he was able to keep position without constantly looking back or trying to engage with Kona. 


Later in the day, we went to Petco in Costa Mesa to work on what Casper had learned earlier with a bit more distractions. It was very difficult for him to focus initially, so we did a leisurely walk around the store so he could familiarize himself to the new surroundings, sights, and smells. Afterwards, we worked on heel, extended sit, and extended down. We also worked on ‘name game’ to build his focus. During ‘name game’ I would say Casper’s name, and mark with ‘yes!’ as soon as he looked at me, followed quickly with a yummy treat. The idea is that he gets reinforced to focus back on me when faced with something distracting. 


Casper’s poops are looking good and solid. 

Casper had one accident today while in the gated area, work still continues on his potty training. 

 

Pupdate 2/2/2023


Today Casper and I worked on his obedience training in the home. We practiced extended sit & extended down, and Casper learned “place”. “Place” is a definable object other than the ground, where dogs are cues to go to and hold a position— typically extended sit or extended down. This definable object can be a cot, dog bed, mat, bench, post-it note… anything that can be recognized as ‘different’. “Place” will come in handy during ‘door manners’ (where Casper will maintain a position regardless of an open door, and wait to be given permission he can move through the threshold— which will be introduced a little later. We prefer to used elevated surfaces for place, as it is more obvious to the dogs, and overcoming new challenges builds more confidence. 


Later in the day, Casper and I met up with Head Trainer, Sheena, at Santiago Park in Santa Ana to practice new and existing commands in a new surrounding. One of the other behaviors we teach pups is “car manners”, where they are expected to sit patiently by the car before being cued to ‘load up’ and jump in. Casper didn’t seem confident leaping up using his back legs, and would hoist himself up rather than jump. He refused to get into the car without help. Aussie Shepherds are notorious for leaping and their agility, so we knew Casper could do it— it was just a matter of showing him that he could. After numerous attempts to get Casper to leap onto a higher surface (about the height of my tailgate), Sheena came up with the brilliant idea for me to get up first, and call him to me. This worked wonderfully, and Casper had the motivation to try it out with great success. After repeating the behavior multiple times, I was able to get down from the ledge, and cue the behavior from a more natural position (standing on the ground). If Casper hesitated with an elevated surface that he had previously been successful getting onto, leash pressure would be used to help guide him. 


Casper’s “heel” is looking much better, however he will still veer off occasionally and will go towards distractions (such as dogs or people). He is protesting ecollar stimulation via scratching at it much less, as he is becoming more familiar with what it means. Casper has been holding his extended positions longer, and will continue to improve in this area. 


Throughout all of their interactions, my dog has only offered Casper a couple gentle corrections—once when Casper was bothering him while he was “doing his business” and another time after Casper incessantly demanded play while he was sunbathing. Casper sometimes needs help reading other dogs’ body language when they want to be left alone, and he will continually pester them and become even more ‘pushy’ over time. When he is playing with my dog, and my dog has had enough, I will help him out by providing Casper an ecollar stimulation paired with verbal command “off”. This is also used when Casper tries to hump him. Although my dog is more-or-less unbothered by the pestering & humping, not all dogs are as patient. Some dogs may observe it as an annoyance or ‘dominating’ gesture and may react rather adversely; this may result in Casper getting bit. For his safety while interacting with other dogs in the future, my aim is to nip the behavior in the bud. 

 

Pupdate 2/3/2023


Today for Casper’s in-home training, we worked on his previous obedience cues, and he was introduced to “come-to-sit”. This command calls him over, and he must then loop around behind his handler from the right side, and sit in the “heel” position on their left. This is a complex cue, and can be tricky for dogs to understand initially. To encourage the appropriate behavior, I would use ‘target’, ‘food lure’, or ‘leash pressure’ to guide Casper. 


Later in the day, we went to Home Depot to practice obedience and exposure to a new environment with totally novel stimuli and distractions. Casper was pretty nervous in the store, and was weary of all the new sights and smells. He would yawn often, which is an expression of stress response. We took it easy initially, and walked around the building practicing heel while Casper adjusted. We also practiced extended sit, extended down, and extended place. Asking a dog to maintain a position allows them to stop and take in the particular surroundings so they don’t get too overwhelmed. We would also take breaks in the garden section, where the outdoors and all of the plants seemed a bit more familiar. 


Casper was also nervous with the people who tried to engage with him. He would be hesitant, but then approach in a rather insecure fashion. Once he’s gained some more confidence, or in a less overstimulating environment, we will work on greeting manners more (where he maintains a sit or down and politely accepts strangers to pet him). 


To build up Casper’s confidence in areas like Home Depot, we will be returning tomorrow for additional exposure. Dogs usually do well the second time around— since they leave the environment with nothing bad having happened, they are less stressed coming back to the area. 


 

Pupdate 2/4/2023


Casper and I returned to Home Depot in Costa Mesa for training today. He was still slightly anxious, but much better than yesterday. He had a difficult time with loud noises, and would lose focus for a little bit after hearing them. 


During training, Casper was introduced to a longline. The longline was used to increase distance during extended cues, as well as test how Casper would heel with minimal leash pressure. He was worried about it dragging behind him, so when not practicing distance cues, I would hold it bunched up. I will introduce longline dragging in a less distracting environment so he can become familiar to the sensation. 


Casper needs more practice with come-to-sit and building confidence jumping up onto different surfaces. We will practice these in a less distracting environment as well, so that Casper can be successful.  

 

Pupdate 2/5/2023


Casper and I walked to TeWinkle Park just outside of my neighborhood to work on obedience. He was on a longline the entire session, however I held onto the end of it while we crossed the streets on the way there. Once we got to the park, the longline remained dragging so that he could get used to it, and so I could gauge how he would react in an offleash situation. 


Casper was very distracted by the dogs we saw, and had a hard time focusing when we walked by the ponds due to all of the ducks and geese. Casper did well when people walked by, however he was a bit scared when kids rode their bikes close to him on the sidewalk. We will likely return to the park to further desensitize Casper to the critters, bikes, and other distractions. 


Come-to-sit is looking better, and he is starting to perform the behavior without leash pressure, although I will still use my hands for him to ‘target’ from time to time. His heel is coming along well. If Casper broke his position (either smelling something, moving towards a distraction, or walking ahead), I would give the verbal cue “heel” and pair it with an ecollar stimulation. If Casper got distracted by something and fixated (intense stare), I would cue “off!” and pair with ecollar stimulation. 


Casper remains hesitant to “place” on some objects, however once we repeated the command, Casper would even be able to perform “send away to place” from a distance. This behavior is extracurricular for Two Week Programs, however it is fun and mentally stimulating to try new things out. 


Casper also worked on some “greeting manners” with people at the park. I would ask Casper to sit, then inform the people how to approach Casper, and that they must play red-light-green-light while petting him. If Casper broke his sit, they knew to stop petting him and to wait for him to sit again before resuming. 


On the way home, I left the longline dragging and asked him to sit patiently before crossing streets. I was ready to step on the leash if needed, but Casper was very good about staying with me. 


Casper continues to play well with his new best friend, however he will still hump him every now and then. He has started to pester him less, and will usually lay down next to him after a short period of time. 


Casper's potty training continues to improve, however he still has the odd accident here and there— especially if he is playing inside for too long without a break. As we progress through his program, I have been expanding his freedom in the home for longer durations but need to stay aware of what factors lead to accidents and become more proactive with prevention so that I can reinforce the appropriate place to potty. Casper still needs work holding his bladder when in an excited state, as well as alerting that he needs to go out.


 

Pupdate 2/6/2023


Casper and I went to Whittier Narrows Recreation Park to work on his obedience training around fellow OLSC trainers and their dogs. Casper was very excited when we first got to the location, and wanted to approach an untrained, excited German shepherd (not in-training, civilian-owned). While on the longline, Casper needed a high-level ecollar stimulation to leave the shepherd alone, however the shepherd’s energy made it very difficult for Casper. Casper remained in an excited state for a while, and it was hard to get him to focus and follow-through with commands.


Casper’s heel (excited, untrained dogs aside) is going great, and he maintains position well.

Casper’s extended cues are continuing to increase in duration, and the amount of times he breaks them is decreasing. He is still hesitant/lazy about getting onto new objects for place, however once he’s established place on them, he performs send-to-place well. Come-to-sit remains challenging for him without leash-pressure, but he has been working on problem-solving and the correct position. Casper has a tendency to sit ahead/ askew from me, and I will continually re-cue the behavior until he is in the right spot. If he is having a particularly hard time, I will mark the general behavior, but not offer as much positive reinforcement.


After our training session, Casper attended me on another walk with Kona. In the beginning, as he looked left at Kona, his body went right, and he got his paw stepped on when he veered into my path. After that incidence, Casper heeled incredibly well next to a dog-distraction, and was able to perform the entire walk with longline dragging.


Casper’s training is coming along well, and I have a good idea of what commands need to be polished up during the remainder of his program.

 

Pupdate 2/7/2023

Casper worked on his home-manners today, including car, door, and food manners, as well as continued work on potty training. Casper still needs encouragement (and sometimes help) jumping up into my tailgate. Right now, Casper needs the right momentum and mindset to accomplish the task, however we know he’s got the capability— we took a chunk of time to practice. Door manners are implied when coming out of the kennel, at the sliding door leading to the yard, the door leading to the “potty patio”, passing through the babygate, and at the front door. Casper is getting better at recognizing the rule, and is becoming much more calm and patient. If something is extra-excitable beyond the threshold, I will remind Casper that he is in-cue. If he breaks the position, I will block him with my body, and provide ecollar stim while repeating the cue he broke. The same process is used with food manners, and I have been incorporating other training cues before releasing him to his meal. 


We returned to the park to work on building his confidence with place, his extended durations, his heel, and his come-to-sit. As Casper progresses through his training, he has been able to work at lower-level stimulations, however when distractions arise, I will still gradually increase the intensity with each subsequent time Casper does not follow through with commands. For novel distractions, or particularly difficult ones, I will use proximity and increase the amount of distance between Casper and the distraction. This allows me to maintain more of his focus, despite his “go-go-go!” Aussie  mentality. 


 

Pupdate 2/8/2023

Casper worked more on his manners and obedience at home. He has a tendency to get some of the verbal cues mixed up when out in public (confusing place with come-to-sit and will sometimes offer down when asked to sit). We practiced repetitions, switched up sequences, and worked on sit-from-down so he could better correct positions/commands when prompted. 


Later in the evening, we went to Fashion Island in Newport Beach to practice his obedience in a new environment. Casper remained on a longline, however, instead of letting it drag, I held onto the end of it for the duration of the training session since it is mall-policy. I chose to go near closing-time so that he wouldn’t be as overwhelmed by the usual bustle of the mall. Casper was still a bit apprehensive, but we worked through it. We walked around the mall practicing heel while he got his bearings and adjusted to all the different stimuli. He responded better to “off” when he saw other dogs and was good about remaining neutral to people passing by. We practiced placing on many objects and worked on his “leaping up” ability for higher places. We worked extensively on come-to-sit and the appropriate positioning for it, and Casper has been doing much better. We practiced our at-home training, and Casper was able to correct his down position when told to sit. 


After Fashion Island, Casper accompanied me on a walk with Bernadoodle, Rascal. Rascal was a completely new dog to Casper, so he was a bit excited. After a few minor corrections, Casper ignored Rascal and heeled very well. I like to keep Casper sandwiched between me and the other dog to help reinforce a tight heel next to my leg. There were a couple of times Casper got spooked by random things, but he bounced back quickly. He tried to dart after a rabbit and received high-level stimulation to bring him back to a heel. We practiced stop-to-sit on the walk, as well as extended sit and extended down. After the walk, Casper got to practice his greeting manners with Rascal’s owners. 


Casper has been doing well with potty-training, and utilization of his kennel, and being mindful of when he may need ‘do his business’ has helped a lot in ensuring there are no accidents. It is beneficial to keep a “potty-log” to jot down when he eats/drinks/plays/naps & needs to relieve himself. If there happens to be any accidents, the log can be used to see where the issue occurred, which helps prevent future accidents. Potty-training is all about reinforcing where the pup should “go”. 

 

Pupdate 2/9/2023

Casper and I met with another OLSC trainer and his dog at The Block Outlet Mall in Orange to expand on Casper’s previous exposure from yesterday at Fashion Island. We met earlier in the day as the stores were opening, and patrons began trickling in. This approach allowed us a gradual increase in distractions as the dogs familiarized themselves to the new surroundings.


Casper was a bit strong-willed today, and didn’t feel like doing what was asked of him from time-to-time. Aussie Shepherds can be rather stubborn and defiant if there are other things around they’d rather focus on. It is important to differentiate stubbornness with confusion, and ensure the pup is able to understand what is expected, before expecting it. Casper confused come-to-sit & place a few times during the session, and these will be two focal points when polishing up his training. Casper was more neutral towards other dogs, however I did need to cue “off!” occasionally.


After his training session, Casper attended me on a walk with Kona. He was much better at staying in “heel”, and was more focused on me. His stop-to-sits were sharper— cuing for stops & changes in direction shortly before the action allows the dogs a chance to perform the behavior and gives them a heads-up.


Casper is showing great progress in car manners, and his promptness of leaping into the tailgate. As he had been conditioned to receive help in such occasions, he would still offer the behavior of placing his front paws on the bumper and look to me to lift him the rest of the way. I will still provide Casper with a ‘running start’ and ask him to sit several feet behind the bumper before cueing him to “load-up” in tandem with the “place” gesture of an open palm, facing up, gliding parallel to the object.

 

Pupdate 2/10/2023


Casper and I hit the beach for our training today, and practiced his obedience at bustling and distracting Santa Monica Pier! Casper heeled very well, and kept his position and focus well when walking, although he needed corrections and “off” every now and then. His reaction to other dogs is much better, however if he’s allowed to fixate on them for too long, his puppy curiosity and attention span may get the better of him— so it’s important to keep an eye out and be proactive about keeping his focus. 


With all of the different stimuli, Casper would get confused occasionally— mostly with place and come-to-sit. This arises when correcting an inappropriate positioning on come-to-sit, and Casper assumes that he needs to do a different command, instead of working on the one given. In lower-distraction environments, he gets confused much less. With all of the stimulation of a busy and new environment, his excited brain has a harder time working through cues and problem solving. 


Overall, Casper had a good day of training, and responded well to the distractions. 

 

Pupdate 2/11/2023

Casper spent his final day of training polishing up home manners, an offleash walk to the local park to work on his obedience cues, and playing with his friend, Krüger! I have been working on getting Krüger’s weight up, and have been limiting their time together the past few days so they’re both super excited when they can play in the yard. 


At the park, Casper worked on his come-to-sit, and place. His heel was fantastic, and he was able to enjoy the freedom of being OffLeash for his victory ‘zoomies’ sessions during “break!”

Casper also joined me on a Petco-run in the evening, and we continued to work on training there.


Casper is so excited to see his family tomorrow and show them all the neat stuff he’s learned! 

He just got a bath and is fresh & clean for snuggles.


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