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Shelter volunteer wants help in training techniques

| Sunday, Sept. 3, 2006

Dear Dog Talk: I volunteer two nights a week at a chaotic Los Angeles County animal shelter. It is an environment in which dogs are stressed out. Your books have inspired me to enroll in a dog-training course. However, the techniques I am being taught (e.g., food treats, clicking) don't seem practical in this environment, so I am relying on your books and what I can pick up from the TV show "The Dog Whisperers."

In this environment, there is little time to teach something like down-stay. But in order to interact with a dog, I would like to teach "no nipping or mouthing, no jumping and walk nice on a leash." If I can get the dogs to cooperate on these behaviors, they will look more adoptable while being walked and interacting with the public.

With the use of prong collars, I've been successful teaching dogs manageable leash walking. It's the nipping and jumping that I'm having difficulty with.

Currently, I am trying to figure out how to eliminate this behavior in a large 1-year-old male German shepherd. He seems like a great dog; however, he jumps, curls his paws around my leg and rams his big head through my legs. He constantly nips and mouths.

Although he is rambunctious, he seems to love people. I'd hate to see this dog adopted, only to have him returned because he is too rough. I've been volunteering here since the end of May, but I've seen this happen.

I was fairly successful with a 3-year-old female shepherd mix. I was able to get her to stop jumping and mouthing by getting her to sit calmly for petting. When I was in her cage, I kept turning away from her if she started jumping. A few times, I tried a "claw hand" on her neck (a la Dog Whisperer) to discourage her nipping. However, I either didn't have the technique down or it was just the wrong thing to do. The dog would think it was a game and nip my hand. I finally was able to discourage her nipping by holding her by the prong collar and growling "Nhaa!" at her.

This dog would sit still long enough for me to put a prong collar on her. This helped me get some control over her. I also discovered that if I entered her cage, put on her collar and then left, when I came back, she had settled down. I could then put her leash on and walk her.

This male shepherd, however, is like a bull in a china shop compared to the older female. Unlike the female, he won't easily sit still for his prong collar to be put on. I am wondering whether, to get better control over him, I should slip on a choke chain and leash. I could then step on the leash to discourage him from jumping, until he settles down and gets calm. Or, perhaps when he jumps I could jerk him down with the leash?

I typically have no one to help me with the dog. I do reward calm behavior when I get it.

Are there other steps I can take• Should I be growling more• It's hard to growl loudly enough at times. I have all your books, so I don't mind referring to them. I'm a big John Ross fan!

Dear Big Fan: Actually, I'm a big fan of yours -- and every other shelter volunteer who is willing to learn effective dog-training techniques that will help shelter dogs become more adoptable. Bravo for your hard work and dedication.

To answer your questions, I'll start here and finish in next week's column. As you have discovered, it is difficult to train dogs that live in a shelter because, for the most part, they are socially isolated. Although dogs love the interaction that they receive from paid staff and volunteers, it is hard for them to bond and feel as though they are part of a steady pack.

Your big German shepherd pup needs what all dogs need: discipline, physical exercise and affection. It is the formula that I have advocated for more than three decades to turn any puppy into a great adult dog. It also is the same formula that Cesar Millan ("The Dog Whisperers") uses to rehabilitate out-of-control dogs.

Next week, I'll cover steps you can take to improve the dog's focus, overcome distractions, correct appropriately and benefit from regular exercise. I know you can make progress. Stay tuned.

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