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Categories: Raising a Working Puppy

Q. My GSD won’t play with any of her toys, but only wants attention from me. How do I get her attention off of me and on her toys? Can I use food to train her?
Hello,

We bought a 3.5 month old GSD pup for the purpose of training for narcotics detection/tracking work. When we chose her out of her litter we checked temperament and drives. She is a very bold, strong headed, intelligent girl. She had somewhat a short attention span but was very enthusiastic over treats, toys and handler praise. She loved to hoard her toys, chase them and tug a little. We tested with and without her littermates and breeder around.

I have been working on her toy drive since we brought her home 2 weeks ago to no avail. She is so interested in getting attention from her handler (myself) that she does not even bother paying any attention to toys. We have kept a "working dog" relationship with her- keeping her in her kennel when we are not working with her and have been very careful not to coddle or over-praise her during training. I "work" her before meals or feed meals during training. During our training we are concentrating on toy drive rather than obedience. I have tried toys on strings so that I am not distracting her by moving so much, but she will squeeze between my legs so that I am "rubbing" her and if I reach down to pick up her toy she clobbers me for affection. At first I kept toys out of her kennel but seeing the lack of interest in toys, I have put several different types of toys (tennis ball, rag, rope, chewy dumbbell, chewy ball, food toys, etc.) in her kennel so that she might entertain herself with them and find a new love for them. When in her kennel she does like to destroy the ropes and tennis balls and get the food from the food toys but other than that she hasn't been showing much interest in the toys.

So my question is, is there something I can do to get her attention off me and onto her toys or possibly start training for detection using food? Or do you think her toy drive might return after she grows up a little more? I have contiplated bringing her into the house so that maybe her "need" for peoples attention might diminish enough that she will start to pay attention to her toys again. What do you think? Any advice on this odd situation?

Thank you,
Alice

A. I wouldn’t want to get her attention off of you, but I would want to teach her to start focusing her attention in a way that facilitates interaction with you. I’m going to recommend the following:

The Power of Training Dogs with Markers
The Power of Training Dogs with Food

Do the work in these videos now. When she’s done teething, then go to this one (usually around 6 months).

The Power of Playing Tug with your Dog

The behavior your puppy is showing is not all that unusual. I wouldn’t confuse her tearing up toys with drive to play. I wouldn’t allow her to have any items that you will want to use as rewards later on, because you want her satisfaction to come from interacting with you and the item, not from tearing up the item in her kennel. Give her chew toys but not drive items (like balls, ropes, etc). You don’t want her to learn to entertain herself with these toys, the toys should only have value in relation to playing with you.

Cindy
  
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Marker training (also called clicker training or operant conditioning) is one of the most profound systems of dog training that I have seen in my 50 years of owning, breeding and training working dogs. In its most basic form, it's a method of communication that is very clear for dogs to understand. Dogs learn the marker language quickly and when they do they thrive in training. The marker system produces dogs that love to train.

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