Training a young intact male

What I’ve learned about training my young intact male:

  • I’m not more interesting than dog pee or dog smells.
  • Food is not always a motivator, nor worth eating at meals.
  • Toys are not always a motivator.
  • Trying to get him to stop sniffing is futile and adds conflict.
  • Acclimation helps a liiiiittle bit.

Good thing is that Drac is a social dog who truly loves physical interaction. I’ve made sure to add in a lot of personal play/interaction in our training sessions or when just hanging out.

At a recent agility class, he was a goner with the sniffin’! On our last turn up, I decided to love on him and get on the ground and pet and engage in personal play. It worked! I had a dog and we did a very short sequence after some rowdy toy play and we ended on a successful note.

While on a recent walk, he came when called (not always as quickly as I’d like), but came nevertheless, but wouldn’t take my treats. EVEN chicken, his favorite. So next time I called, I kneeled down and whala!!! He hit the jackpot of lovin’ and personal interaction. WOW! Who’d have thunk?!? He also took a treat after our interaction. Not sure why I pulled the treat out – habit I suppose (they MUST eat food – haha!), but I did find it interesting that he would eat after the personal play but not initially after a recall.

It’s clear he’s very hormonal right now. Based on many signs! Last night, he fell deeply, madly in love with Savvy in the most romantic of ways! He tried all his moves … including pacing, whining, you know, the usually courting stuff. She’s spayed (I will check for a UTI) but he was fixated on a spot on her fur, like how he is with a dog smell on me or on the ground in a training center. She had been rolling in grass earlier in the day so who knows, but something really flipped his switch. This all really made a lot of sense for how he’s been less focused and disconnected lately.

A good friend (a few actually) have told me 1) he’s in his prime teenage hormonal months, 2) he will get better with age once the hormones settle out, and 3) maybe I’m trying to do too much with him right now. Do I relax our training a bit? Focus on a few less sports? Let him grow up a little? I don’t want to rehearse frustration like we have both been feeling during some training. So yes, I will ratchet it down. Good time actually in the hot summer months (especially for Drac who is not a fan of the heat).

This is hard for me. I can’t easily not train a dog – especially a young dog with so much ground to cover! But it’s the right thing to do. And I have nosework with Savvy and Handler Scent with both dogs that are easily trained in low distracting areas right now.

And, I couldn’t help it .. I laid a few tracks for Drac this week. He did his best ever yesterday – 3 short legs and 2 turns and short part on concrete.  This is one area where we are behind in our training … I have a goal for getting certified for the Belgian nationals tracking test next spring. This morning I laid another one. Very happy with how he did.  First, he wore a harness (for those that know my harness woes), tracked near a slope with water below, worked through Savvy barking in the car (I forgot to close the door!) and worked both turns (90 degree and open) very well.  Food drops about 10 feet apart. He also correctly picks the direction of the track from the start – something I do from the beginning – train a TDX start! We do need to work on article indication!

And no, training scent sports does not make him sniff more at other times. Believe me, that comes naturally and he’d be dog sniffing whether I did scent sports or not. Allowing a dog to use their nose is a GOOD thing. It’s an outlet for what is natural for them. I wouldn’t do it any other way! 🙂

So my biggest lessons are, give the dude a break (less obed and agility right now) and if all else fails, or hey, even to start with, kneel down and encourage social interaction as reinforcement! Love my Drac!




  1. Thanks Julie – this came at a very opportune time, as I am training (or attempting to train) an intact male Belgian Groenendael right about the same age as Drac! You hit my woes spot on and have given me much to *think* about.

  2. I’ll be interested in following your progress and i hope it goes well! I did a similar thing w/my intact Malinois (backing off some, motivating, motivating when he could be motivated… except he couldn’t be around certain things). I’m so glad your dog finds social contact SO incredibly reinforcing!

    Mine got better at 4, but never really progressed much beyond that. It’s a constant pendulum swing for us. This was devastating for me after working other dogs to high levels in a couple of sports, even other intact males. He’s so talented!!! But this particular Malinois lives for urine and sniffing dog smells, and finds everything else… well… way, way less. And I couldn’t change that. 🙁 I think neutering around 2 yrs of age could have helped, but maybe not.

    Perhaps somebody else could have done better, but I gave it my all, over 7 yrs. I’m starting to give up. This dog is so talented in so many things… but does things with a handler about 85% of the way. The rest… is always a question mark. Sometimes he can come through, but sometimes not. He just can’t seem to help it – it’s not “willful” or anything like that. It’s just a response I can’t seem to fix, even w/the help of experts.

    1. HI JR – I agree with you that it is not willful and they really just can’t help it. It’s frustrating when you know you are a good trainer with a talented dog and still have the situation – it happens and it’s no ones fault. I’m trying to be mindful of my actions as not to make anything worse or affect our partnership. I’ll keep everyone posted. Wish me luck :).

  3. Everything totally depends on the dog, doesn’t it? I have an intact male I trained for agility and running in the agility ring trumps hormones with him. But that’s agility. If we were in the obedience ring, which he finds much less rewarding than agility, he’d be sniffing up a storm. But then sometimes I wonder if the sniffing is all hormones. My boy is intact because he did conformation and, frankly, loathed it. He literally attempted to climb over a low wall to get out of the conformation ring on more than one occasion! The first time we stepped in to the Rally ring he acted like we were back in conformation again! So I had to wonder whether my boys sniffing and distraction were hormones or stress? I decided not to try to figure it out and just dropped Rally and Obedience. He is a very happy camper in the agility ring so that’s where I focus his energy.

  4. Grandma says- less formal obedience, more focused tracking and sniffing games. He will learn better when you say ‘no sniff’, once he has learned a solid boundary. And baby Drac may need a correction when he is not playing the game he already knows…just sayin….
    We love watching you as a team.

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