The Old Trainer: Shepherd acting in his own interest

March 16, 2013 

Dear Old Trainer: I take care of Finn, a 3-year-old German shepherd, when my friend is out of town. He hasn't had much training, other than sit and lay. When we're on walks, he'll often pull too hard or just won't mind me because he gets so pumped up about being outside or seeing another dog. How do I go about training him to behave when we're outside?

-- Robert, Merced

A: Finn is a good dog, he is just so energetic he forgets everything except his own interests and desires.

Arnold Rothstein, gambler, bootlegger and the man who fixed the 1919 World Series, once advised the young Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, "never allow your principles to stand in the way of your self-interest."

Finn agrees. He indulges his self-interest while ignoring the principle of following orders from the leader of the pack. It has become a habit.

Your task is to break that habit and replace it with a new one -- walking at your pace. You do it by interrupting his thought process the instant bad behavior occurs, then praising him when he does what you want.

Throw a ball for Finn for 15 minutes before each training session to burn off energy and teach him that training is fun.

Let him catch his breath and get a drink, then order him to sit and to look you in the eye. Move his head with your hand if you need to. He is not allowed to even glance at anything else for 10 seconds.

If he peeks at anything else say "look at me" and tap him on the neck with your fingers.

Do it every time he looks away. Make him look at you for 10 seconds. Love on him when he does it right and give him a 5-second break. Do 10 reps each session, 5 sessions a day.

Be relentless in making him concentrate, but brag on him and pet him every time he does it right. Once he is focused on you, add the leash -- an expandable leash, never a short one -- to the exercise. Be relaxed. Make a game of it. German Shepherds love to learn. And if you are happy, Finn will be too.

When he starts to lunge say, "easy," disrupt his thought process by touching his neck.

Start walking again, but the instant he lunges say "easy," and touch his neck. If he doesn't calm down put him back in the sit position and give him a lecture.

Be patient and loving, but don't take one step unless you get the response you want.

Finn is willing to do it right, but breaking a habit is just as hard for a dog as it is for a human so he needs your help.

When he is ready, take him out to the pathway for a walk. Say "easy" and interrupt his thought process every time he pulls too hard. In a few days he will be a pleasure to walk.

Jack Haskins has been a trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to

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