As awesome as they are, even Anatolian Shepherds need training–especially feisty 96lb Anatolian puppies named Razi. So when I met Zoe Stathis of Pawtopia Dog Training a few weeks back at the Hotel Indigo Yappy Hour Event , I had to call her up for a little one-on-one time with my not-so-little, ginormous puppy.
Razi has an amazing temperament and is usually very well-behaved most of the time. He’s never had any kind of formal puppy training, as he’s super quick to learn new commands and tricks. The challenge is in getting his attention and overcoming his inherently Stubborn-atolian™ nature (what is a Stubborn-atolian™ , you ask!!? Read on to find out).
Razi is an Anatolian Shepherd, and they are highly intelligent, independent dogs by nature. Anatolian Shepherds are flock guardian dogs that have been bred to live outside with livestock year round, often covering massive territories, and have been bred to make independent decisions regarding the protection of their charges (or flock). When the Big Bad Wolf comes a-knocking, you don’t have time to run back to the ranch and ask farmer Joe what to do. You have to make your own decisions. Fortunately, Anatolian Shepherds have over 6,000 years of breed experience in making the right decisions to send predators like wolves running for the hills. However, this raises an interesting challenge when it comes to training your Anatolian as their natural instincts are to make their own decisions and solve their own problems. So while Razi is quite the intelligent ‘lil man, he can also be extremely stubborn–hence, the phrase Stubborn-atolian™. One of the major challenges i’ve had in training Razi is getting him to ignore distractions and keep up a nice, steady pace while walking with me. He’s still a puppy, and he’s still very much in the “OMG!!!-everything-I see-needs-to-go-in-my-mouth!” phase. So it’s definitely a chore walking his 96lb Anatolian butt, especially when I have another 125lbs of Anatolian in tow (i.e. Chopper, our 12 year old adult male Anatolian Shepherd dog, or ASD for short). Razi’s other major challenge is getting him to come when he’s called, especially if there’s a distraction involved. He’s quite the curious ‘lil man and loves romping around at the dog park and ocean beach dog beach. But actually getting him to pay attention to you and come when play time is over is a whole other story.
Cue Zoe Stathis of Pawtopia Dog Training . Zoe came by the san diego pet photography studio for a one-on-one dog training session with Razi. The first thing we worked on was getting him to maintain a steady pace and not put the brakes on every few feet to stop and get his sniff on. We started by going for a walk around the block while Zoe carefully observed Razi in action. Then she gave me feedback on how my behavior was giving him the message that stopping without my permission is ok, and we spent the next lap with her demonstrating how to keep Razi walking at a steady clip, ignoring distractions. She advised me to gently tug Razi and combine that with a quick leave-it or a simple “no”-type of command, then praise him the moment he started walking and loosen up on his leash. She also suggested using a release command like “ok” or “go sniff” to teach him that I’m in control of the stops. Pretty straight-forward, right? It’s a little more complicated than you’d expect. Before I continue, I should preface this by saying that I have a bachelors degree in psychology & neuroscience.; I have some formal education in behavioral training and conditioning–at least the human kind. The challenge, in my own experience, was being just as observant of my own behavior as my dog’s behavior. What I didn’t realize is that I was anything but consistent in my approach, and often I’d wait until he came back up to my side to give him a treat, or that i’d show him the treat before he performed the desired action. It’s very, very easy to lose awareness of your own behavior when you’re focusing so intently on getting your pooch to follow a command. Having Zoe observe my training attempts and providing immediate feedback allowed me to quickly see what I was doing wrong and to make the necessary corrections to my training efforts.
She emphasized how important my timing and delivery of my verbal praise and rewards were. Zoe suggested that I start verbally rewarding him the moment he left the distracting object to walk back to me and that I quickly loosen up on the leash once he starts going on his own. I caught myself holding tension on the leash even after he started moving again. So in effect, I was giving the message that I wanted him to keep walking while being tugged on. Once I would lessen the tension, he would stop and go sniff something or his pace would fall back behind mine. Dogs don’t enjoy being pulled around, and I realize that in my haste of trying to train him that my efforts were actually having the opposite effect. Zoe mentioned that you have to overcome stubbornness with stubbornness and just be that much more consistent. She also stated that you have to issue verbal commands and verbal praise to them in a very enthusiastic, “Green means go”, excited manner. If the dog wants to put the brakes on, you have to be that much more excited for him to keep going. This is extremely important in the case of training an Anatolian Shepherd Dog, as they get bored easily need to be stimulated. I had the stubborn part down, but my problem was in the timing. You really have to analyze your own behavior and think about exactly what YOU and YOUR DOG are doing when you reward your dog.
Having Zoe observe my training attempts and providing immediate feedback allowed me to quickly see what I was doing wrong and to make the necessary corrections to my training efforts.
In my case, I was giving Razi the treat while I still had tension on the leash; I wasn’t consistently verbally reinforcing him the moment he left the distracting object; I was often reaching back to give him the treat instead of letting him come to me; and I was showing him the treat before he completed the task–I was trying to tempt him, in effect. The problem with that is you end up with a dog that won’t do anything until a treat is in sight. Always wait for the behavior before you show them the reward, or you’ll just end up in a sort of reverse-training conundrum where your pet has you trained and won’t budge until the treat comes out. Chopper is actually the king of training people to give him treats, and does it daily to the valet staff at the San Diego Hard Rock Hotel. He flops on his back, legs in the air like a total goofball, and refuses to get up until they give him treats. He’s even applied this technique to a random cashier at the Petco checkout line, as well. Anyway, once I realized what I was doing wrong, I made a strong effort to nail my timing on the next lap around the block with Razi. By the third lap, he was scooting back up to pace with a quick tug and an enthusiastic “let’s go” command, and putting on the brakes much less frequently. By the 4th lap, he was doing even better.
You really have to analyze your own behavior and think about exactly what YOU and YOUR DOG are doing when you reward your dog.
We then moved on to the local dog park to work on Recall Commands, specifically, getting Razi to come when called. I’ve had some moderate success getting him to come when called, but I always struggled with getting his attention in the face of a distraction such as neighborhood dogs at the dog park or a tempting, scrumptious Schtick on the ground. Razi is pretty much hit or miss when it comes to food motivation. I’m currently using Zukes Mini Naturals Chicken dog treats , as they’re tiny and pretty tempting to most dogs. If you ever want to trick people into thinking you’re a dog whisperer, go to the dog beach with a pocket full of these babies and watch dogs ‘magically’ flock to your side. Still, for the non-treat-motivated dogs, they lack the drool factor to really make your dog snap to attention. Moreover, Zoe emphasized that special tricks demand special treats to really help your pooch make a solid association between a difficult command such as “come” and your dog actually being motivated enough to come hither. So we stopped by the local market and picked up some string cheese–a precious schnack that Razi has yet to sink his teeth into. Fortunately, he apparently LOVES cheese, and so it was that much easier pairing this treat with the command “COME”. (you can also use cooked chicken and other normally off-limits food that your dog lusts after but never gets. Just keep it somewhat healthy). We started off by literally having me say “COME” and then give Razi a tiny piece of cheese–Zoe was quick to emphasize that you don’t need to spoil your dog with large bites. Zukes Mini Naturals are tiny treats, about the size of 3 tic-tacs. She said I could use a piece of cheese about half the size. I paired the command with the cheese by saying it about 7 times and feeding him cheese each time. I then gradually increased the distance to a few feet and keep issuing the command, quickly pairing it with the treat. Once we got over to the dog park, we gave Razi a few moments to find a distraction and forget about the treats. I then increased the distance a few more feet, verbally praising him enthusiastically the MOMENT his ears perked up and he started coming to me. I increased the distance to around 10 feet, and reiterated the command and verbal praise. At this point, Razi had had enough treats to know of the tasty morsels that awaited him. Thus, I stopped showing him the treat and left it in my pocket until he came when I called him. Next, I took off Razi’s leash to really see what would happened–that, and he peed on it. So I think he invited this new challenge himself 😛 Our next goal was to slowly introduce some more distractions (our very first ‘distraction’ was to simply ignore Razi and let him get distracted and sniff the grass). This time, we introduced some schticks and a few flowering plants that Razi loves to chomp on. Every time, I made sure to consistently praise him and reward him. I thought we had found a formidable distraction when he went for some sticks Zoe picked up. He ignored by first two “COME” commands, but turned his head by the 3rd and came scampering over. I was surprised. She made note that I should start praising him the moment he turns his head and shows attention. Instead of baiting him by showing him the treat, you praise your dog to encourage the behavior while it’s in-progress, and then you bring out the treat once the behavior has been completed.
At one point, Razi chased a skateboarder. But, I got him to come back to me by issuing a “COME” command instead of having to put on his leash and tug him away. We also passed a not-so-friendly dog in the dog park that was barking his head off. Razi came when I called him away from the angry dog. He NEVER comes when other dogs are involved. So this was a huge achievement.
We even walked past this dog on the way back to the studio, I was able to keep Razi’s attention. I should note that Razi was still off-leash at this point. I wouldn’t recommend letting your dog off-leash without having first experienced their behavior and, not without having a trainer you can trust walking alongside. We then passed a valet station that Razi ALWAYS stops at for treats and got him to follow me across the street, still off-leash, by asking him to “COME” and rewarding him with tasty pieces of string cheese. Razi has been off-leash many times in the dog part, but I’ve never trusted that I had his attention enough to get him to follow my commands and cross a street on his own. Zoe was walking alongside him to make sure nothing happened, but it was a great accomplishment to actually command his attention in such a manner. I even got him to come into the building on his own and, I should note that one of the neighbors was moving out while I was trying to get him to come inside. The distraction level was pretty high, but he came when I called him! My ultimate goal is to get Razi voice-command certified so that he can follow me around off-leash while still being under my control. Before meeting with Zoe, I had a more global focus on training and wasn’t timing-oriented in my delivery of praise and reward. I would think, “issue the command, give him the treat”. After this hour-long session, my focus is now CONSISTENCY and TIMING and MY OWN BEHAVIOR. It makes all the difference in the world when you give your dog the reinforcer. If you’re not aware of the correct timing to deliver the treat, you may very well end up reinforcing the opposite behavior of what you’re trying to train. For an hour-long session, these improvements were HUGE. I’d highly recommend contacting Zoe of Pawtopia Dog Training to help you train your pooch. Seriously. Do It. You’ll be amazed at what your dog is capable of doing with the right guidance.
We also passed a not-so-friendly dog in the dog park that was barking his head off. Razi came when I called him away from the angry dog. He NEVER comes when other dogs are involved. So this was a huge achievement.