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Motivating a "Lazy" Dog, or Should I Bother?

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  • Motivating a "Lazy" Dog, or Should I Bother?

    Let's just get this out of the way right now: Stavro is lazy. He doesn't like to think, and although he is extremely food motivated, he's far more nap motivated and just gives up when the training goes beyond anything he already knows.

    Now make no mistake, he's a great dog and has excellent house and leash manners. He knows the things he needs to know to be a welcome member of the family and we never worry about him getting into trouble. But he still isn't reliable about distinguishing the difference between sit and down after 3 years of work. Our training sessions are very short and mostly consist of "puppy push-ups", or asking him to sit, then lie down, then sit again just to remind him of the difference. His vocabulary is limited to "around the house" behaviors such as off, get back, in, out, go potty, etc. and he knows to wait at doors until released; all of which he picked up during daily life rather than through training.

    He has always become very stressed when asked to think, and doesn't really seem to enjoy purposeful training sessions outside of the possibility of food. Our training sessions are filled with stress indicators, even though I try to make them fun and easy. The things that Stavro enjoys are not easy to make into training rewards, and when I do try to incorporate things that he wants he seems to stop caring about them. He is not as closely bonded with us as we're used to dogs being and is independent by nature, but I'm sure part of the distance is the lack of training.

    Please understand, I have exclusively owned herding dogs besides Stavro, so my perspective is probably skewed. My other dog, Banksy, a rottweiler/border collie mix is extremely intelligent, motivated and eager to please, and she has an extensive catalog of tricks and commands. Although I haven't had the time to start yet, I intend to work with Banksy in agility and possibly rally, and I often walk her without Stavro because she needs a great deal of exercise and Stavro is dragging after a few blocks. I know it's not fair to compare the two dogs, but I do feel guilty that I do less with Stavro, even though he seems to prefer that.

    So here's the question: Should I try to find ways to motivate Stavro to learn/do more together, or should I just let him be him? It's embarrassing to me to show off Banksy's tricks and then explain that Stavro still doesn't reliably sit. I also tend to equate interaction/training with happiness, but that I'm not sure that's the case for Stavro. I feel like I'm neglecting him when I leave him home and go for a run with Banksy. But if Stavro is well-mannered and happy with the level of activity/training he receives (and is stressed by more), do I need to feel guilty? Do you have any tips you can share on motivating an unmotivated dog?
    Stavro at 12 Weeks

  • #2
    I think just let him be him.

    But I can tell you why he hasn't distinguished between a sit and a down. They aren't under "stimulus control" mainly because of the puppy push-ups. He anticipates that you'll ask for them in succession so he's just cutting to the chase.

    Stimulus control means two things:

    1. The dog does what is asked (i.e. a sit) and does not offer any other behaviour.
    2. The dog only sits when told to do so.

    You can fix this pretty easily. Get him ready to train (which in my house means grabbing a handful of treats) and stand in front of him. Ask for a sit. Mark ("yes" or click) when he sits, and reward when still in the sit. Take a step back so that he stands up, then ask for a sit.

    If he sits before being told to do so, he gets no reward. Take a step back so that he stands and try again. No need to correct him or anything - the absence of the mark/reward is correction enough. If he goes into a down immediately after the sit, he gets no reward. This is where your timing comes into play - mark the sit and reward before he has a chance to offer anything else.

    Work on the down in the same way. I would work on these separately so that he learns them independently of each other. In other words, stop the puppy push-ups for now.

    Then once he knows them both and they are under stimulus control, you can pair them together to test him. So from a standing position, ask for a sit, mark and reward. Do this three times. Then ask for a down. If he really knows the difference, he will go straight into a down without offering a sit first.

    Clear as mud? Ha. It's really not all that important, but it's a fun thing to tweak and should keep him motivated because it's still within the realm of things that he knows and won't get frustrated too easily. If you find that he can handle it, you can start to teach him new things and put those under stimulus control too.

    Putting "stand" on cue and stimulus control will also help. He knows how to stand, he just needs to know when to do it if told. Having three solid positions (they can do every position from every position) makes it easier for you to mix them up. This will force him to think about what you're asking instead of guessing/anticipating. (In other words, you'll be able to ask for: sit down sit stand down stand sit down stand, etc.).
    Katie & Scarlett


    • #3
      I agree with Meatos, we were always told not to practice sit and down together because they can start combining the two.

      Good luck, maybe Stavro's "Mummy and Me" time can be cuddles in bed
      Hamish: Great Dane born July 25 2011
      Sophie: English Mastiff born May 30 2009
      Visit my blog at


      • #4
        I have a dane that is not a "pleaser", too. I have another that is a serious pleaser and one that remains to be seen. Anyways, at first I was slightly offended by him because he didn't need me to approve and be happy with everything he did. Instead, he is confident in knowing that he is loved and ok and doesn't need to be told he is loved every 2 seconds(even though I still do because I can't help myself). I can tell him to sit 5 times but if I really give him the look and mean it, he does it instantly. He just doesn't see the need to expend the unnecessay energy. BTW, is this the mantle in your sig
        ? My experience is that they ate seriously laid back. My harl needs approval all the time. Accept that this is who he is gping to always be, and don't worry about the rest.


        • #5
          Yep, I purposely did not do many puppy push ups and Quke still got them confused. I have not tweaked it because right now his default is a down whenever he is confused and I rather like that when he is being all teenagery Something to tweak and work on for fun though


          • #6
            Unless he has a reactivity problem and you really need him to pay attention to you and be solid with commands, I wouldn't worry about it. You could try Nothing in Life is Free to get him to pay attention to obedience more. My kees mix really cared less about commands until I implemented that. If you reprimand him for offering the wrong behavior it can put some dogs off training with you (not saying that you do, I have no idea what your style is). Also if you try to go too fast or make to big of a mental leap for the dog they can get too confused and give up. I am teaching a competition heel to my foster for the hell of it and she has literally walked away if I asked too much too fast! l Perhaps try to find out what is causing him to put out stress signals at any instant; i.e. do you stare, then he lip licks, or do you touch him to position him into a sit, and he turns away, etc., and try to avoid what stresses him.

            I do 6 month visits for a rescue and there are quite a few people who just rely on their dog's good temperament, and really don't have any problems with poop for obedience, though it would bother me if my dogs didn't enjoy training.


            • #7
              If he was only unmotivated to do training, that would be one thing, but the combination you described sounds like he is unmotivated in general, even to do walks and such. If that is the case and I am not reading it wrong, I would get a blood workup with thyroid check. Personality-wise they are all different and learn in their own unique ways just like human kids. But, at age 3, I don't think he should be tired after just one block. You should even be able to take him on not-too-strenuous jogs with you at this point. With all of mine, I have even been able to use walks as motivating factors for other things. He will probably never have the amount of energy as your other dog--they were bred to do different things. But, it sounds like he should have more energy than he does now. Is he into games in the back yard, like chasing the ball? Running through the sprinklers? Playing in snow? Danes' strong suit is often their emotional sensitivity, so it's important to find those things he enjoys and culitvate them. If that's not training, c'est la vie! Maybe even try nosework games with him. Finding things he does love will strengthen the bond between you as well.
              Last edited by Erin B.; 09-28-2012, 12:35 AM.