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Training regression

Richard & Patsy

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Our puppy (a male, intact husky x lab) is now 20 weeks old. A fortnight ago I was confident that we had nailed recall: it had been 3 weeks since it last failed and he passed what I thought was the ultimate test - coming back on a whistle after chasing a deer. He still pulled on the lead sometimes and ‘drop it’ and ‘leave it’ were inconsistent, but we seemed to be making steady progress.
In the last week he has regressed almost completely. He will only respond to commands if there is a tasty treat on offer.
One thing occurred to me - could the difficult ‘teenage’ period be starting early? We have started to see some new behaviours recently. He is humping cushions much more, now with his “lipstick out”. He is not cocking his leg to pee yet but now does several little pees on his walks instead of one long pee.
I think you have a bit of a perfect storm going on, with several factors all coming together.

A lot of dogs do regress around that age, they get all independent and suddenly you are not the centre of their universe.

And, there are three main reasons in my view why a dog doesn't comply with what we ask.

First, he doesn't understand. That's where training comes in, you need to teach him what you want, and reward when he gets it right so he knows he has done the right thing.

Second, the motivation or reward of doing what he is already doing is higher than the motivation or reward of doing what you are asking. This is why some dogs won't, for example, recall when they are playing or chasing squirrels. So make sure what you offer is of far higher value - or, if you can't beat something like a squirrel chase, don't allow the opportunity for it to happen (i.e. don't set him up to fail). Use a leash or a long line to keep control.
He will only respond to commands if there is a tasty treat on offer.
And thats ok. When you work, you get paid, yes? And as you get more skilled at your work, you expect to be paid more, not less. So why treat your dog differently?

Third, you are working against a deeply rooted breed trait that the dog has been selectively bred for over centuries. There is a reason why we don't use terriers to herd sheep - it can be done but it is a lot harder. If you remember that huskies have been selected for thousands of years to run and keep running in a straight line, his behaviour is not unusual.

So, I'd keep him on a long line (only ever attached to a harness, never a collar, for safety) until you are 100% sure of him.
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Thank you. I will get the 30m training lead, harness, and liver pieces out again in a big park this weekend.
Please also remember that he will grow out of adolescent sexual behaviour. I had a stud dog that was a perfect gent once he had grown up.

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