Dave was picked up from the person who bred him at ten weeks old. It’s obvious that before this he had met few people and probably no dogs other than those he had lived with.
Another red flag should have been the aggressive unfriendliness of the male German Shepherd that was Dave’s father.
His young gentleman owner does all he can and it’s not his fault. The seeds were already sown.
A cocktail of under-socialisation and ignorant breeding.
A cocktail of under-socialisation and genetics – ignorant breeding – has produced a five month old puppy who already does fearful barking at people he doesn’t know and has nipped a child.
Dave will bark at anyone approaching him, particularly if they look at him or he feels they may touch him.
He’s is taken to work with the young man so life for him should be good as he spends little time alone. Work is a retail outlet with staff and with the public coming and going.
Dave is tethered under the man’s desk and is okay there so long as he’s ignored.
When he grows to be a large adult German Shepherd, if Dave continues his fearful barking at people this will be a big problem. The new dog law of 2015 states that a dog need only cause someone to feel intimidated for the owner to be in trouble.
Dave barked at me from the moment I arrived, hackles up, and continued to do so on and off for much of the evening. This barking wasn’t the sort of fear that meant he was backing away or wanting to hide – it was full on barking in my face. GO AWAY!
Despite himself, he was friendly from time to time. Because he’s just a puppy I didn’t feel at all intimidated with the barking right in my face. I was more concerned about how to help him and we made a start. I shan’t document here just how, as assessment is so important in cases like this so that we get it right.
In the three hours Dave lay down just twice, for only a minute. He was restlessly pacing and reacting to noises or my own movements all the time. From time to time he took himself out of my sight, only to start barking again as soon as he came back and saw me again like I had suddenly arrived.
Being on high alert during the day too, the puppy must be seriously sleep-deprived which can’t be helping his emotional state.
As I explained, it’s not the barking itself that’s the real problem – it’s a symptom. We need to work on the emotion that is driving the fearful barking at people. Over time he needs to be helped to feel people are good news.
Unfortunately, the young man, desperate, had been introduced to Cesar Millan’s programmes by a friend and he manages to stop the barking – by scruffing the pup. This can’t possibly help the feelings of fear that drive the behaviour. The very opposite in fact.
But scruffing works. Temporarily. It scares him. The pup dare not bark.
Scruffing also looks to anybody watching like he’s doing something about it. ‘Disciplining’ his dog.
I pointed out that because Dave is scared of people, if his owner then turns on him too, people will be even worse bad news. (If he had a child scared of dogs, say, then physically punished him for screaming with fear, scaring him further, would that child feel better or worse about dogs?).
The other problem with physical punishment is that as Dave grows bigger it will take more than scruffing to stop him. The stakes will have to rise. Where does this lead? In some cases a meek dog may just shut down. In a dog like Dave it can only end up with increasingly aggressive behaviour, maybe even directed at the source of the punishment, the man himself.
I was called out because the young man wanted a dog that would share his life. The fearful barking at people, especially children, isn’t what he expected and he’s out of his depth. He wants to learn how to help him and has now already made a start.
Our project is to help Dave to feel better about people. There is only one way to do this and it’s by forming positive associations. This will be a long and hard road requiring patience, understanding and consistency.
Certain precautions need to be taken, Dave needs to be muzzled when children are about. At work he will be either behind a barrier or on a harness and lead. He will wear a yellow vest with ‘I Need Space’ on it to discourage people approaching to pet the cute pup. He will be given a quiet store room leading off the office where he can spend time peaceful and safe. Hopefully he will relax and sleep for part of the day.
I go to many German Shepherds who bark aggressively at me when I go into their homes, that have to be kept muzzled, on lead or even left out of the room. I don’t remember going to a German Shepherd with fearful, aggressive-sounding barking as extreme as Dave’s at just five months old.
But, with the dedicated young man on his side, his outlook is good.
Here is a good article by Linda Michaels: Puppy socialisation and vaccinations belong together. Left too late, as in the case of Dave, the horse has bolted so to speak and now we are playing catch-up.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Dave. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important,particularly where any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page)