Guard Dog. Protective German Shepherd

I am sometimes contacted by people wanting to make their dog be a guard dog. These people aren’t happy because their friendly or fearful dog is useless at protecting them or their property.

Training dogs to behave with aggression isn’t my bag at all.

Taking the ‘guard’ out of the guard dog.

guard dogI do however often go to dogs with guard dog in their genes and that are excelling at the job, but whose owners don’t want this behaviour. We’re trying to take the ‘guard’ out of the guard dog, if you like. These are often, but by no means always, a Shepherd breed.

I have just met a beautiful year-old German Shepherd called Dexter who morphs from an affectionate pet into a fearsome guard dog if a person comes near the house. Particularly if they enter.

The couple took him in at nine months old and despite diligent hard work this behaviour has escalated over the past three months.

A confident dog bred to guard.

I see Dexter as a confident dog doing what he’s been bred to do – to guard. Understandably, this guarding behaviour has become stronger both as he has settled into his new home and as he’s matured.

The work on socialising him with lots of different people and other dogs should have begun at a few weeks old and been ongoing. If this had been the case, the couple, his second owners, would probably not be having problems now.

Dexter was even more highly aroused than usual when I met him. In order to get him as calm as possible when I came, they had taken him out for some vigorous exercise earlier which probably had the reverse effect. My arrival and the first attempts to find the best way of working with him will have caused him extra frustration and stress, so much so that he redirected onto poor Max. Max is their very easy-going young Labrador.

Keeping his stress levels as low as possible will help Dexter to exercise more restraint, be less reactive. Training alone hasn’t worked – they’ve worked with an excellent trainer. It’s the emotions driving the aggressive behaviour that need addressing.

If Dexter were scared of people, then because fear was driving the behavior we would be working on his becoming less scared of them.

Dexter isn’t scared. He seems supremely confident, at home anyway. He simply doesn’t want other people near him, particularly not in his house. He will try to do whatever it takes to send them away.

It took me a while to see clearly how best to approach this, then I had a light-bulb moment. Instead of our aim being for him to just tolerate people coming to his house, we need to get Dexter to positively welcome them.

What might Pavlov do?

Pavlov used a bell. Whenever he gave food to the dog, he also rang a bell. After a large number of repetitions of this procedure, he tried the bell on its own. As you might expect, the bell on its own now caused the dog to salivate.

So the dog had learned an association between the bell and the food and a new behavior had been learnt. His body reacted automatically. (To be all technical, because this response was learned – or conditioned, it’s called a conditioned response. The neutral stimulus, the bell, became a conditioned stimulus).

Why can’t we use a bell too, a wireless doorbell with two buttons? On bell push can be on the front door, the other somewhere in the house. They both trigger the same plug-in bell. Instead of food, Dexter can have fun. He’s much more motivated by play anyway.

They can repeatedly over time pair the sound of the bell with a short game of tug or throw him a ball. They can introduce new toys for extra impact and rotate them.

Happy hormones.

When play is triggered by the bell, Dexter’s brain should flood with ‘happy hormones’ like serotonin.

I quote from the article Canine Emotion by Victoria Stilwell: ‘Serotonin, for example, has a profound affect over emotions and is responsible for regulating mood, enhancing a positive feeling and inhibiting aggressive response. Dopamine helps to focus attention, promoting feelings of satisfaction….’

After a great may repetitions over time, Dexter should feel happy and think of play at the sound of the bell, even when no play follows (although it would be a good idea to keep topping it up). His brain will automatically fill with happy hormones at the sound of the bell.

Eventually, when there is a delivery person at the door, instead of thinking ‘Invader’, guard dog Dexter should think ‘Fun’!

When a friend visits, instead of thinking ‘terrorist’, our guard dog should be thinking ‘Tug Toy’!

To give this the best chance of success, Dexter’s underlying arousal levels need to be as low as possible. Long walks and vigorous exercise such as he’s getting now may surprisingly have the opposite effect to what is required, as beautifully explained by Stacy Greer.

The main areas that need working on are Dexter’s hostility towards people and other dogs when out, and people coming to their house.

Avoiding altogether both people coming to the house and seeing people and dogs on walks as they are doing now will get them nowhere. However, putting the dog over threshold (too close, too soon or too intense) will probably make things even worse.

It’s a delicate balance.

 

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 Dexter. 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 aggression or fear of any kind is involved. 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).

Control – Carrot or Stick?

GSD lying down

Murphy

After a run of German Shepherds who are very reactive to anyone coming into their home, it was great to go to a Shepherd who welcomed me immediately.  Murphy and Mastiff-type Bailey are well socialised, well-trained and gentle with their children.

But it’s a tricky case of finding a compromise between two approaches – what the gentleman himself calls ‘carrot and stick’. He is the stick and the lady the carrot – not really an accurate description in that although he uses a certain amount of force and mild punishment in getting the dogs to do what he wants, I’m sure he would never hit them. He is extremely conscientious and loves them dearly. The carrot implies something dangled in front of the dog to entice him to comply, where the lady feels most comfortable using encouragement and reward.

Rottweiler cross

Bailey

People’s way of interacting with their dogs usually reflects their own personalities. The gentleman, by nature organised and routine-driven, feels he needs control over things around him. The lady is more relaxed, but she is unable to exert the control over the dogs that he can using his ways. So she needs the tools – different tools!

The couple well illustrates the divide between the methods of the past where the owner must be Alpha and ‘in control’, and modern science-based methods that enable dogs to develop ‘self-control’ by giving them encouragement, reinforcement and choices. One teaches the dog to avoid doing something ‘wrong’, and the other focusses on showing the dog how to do ‘right’.

Teaching self-control with reward and encouragement means that physical strength simply isn’t required in order to walk your dogs and manage encounters with other dogs. The young lady no longer dares to walk them on lead now, despite using head halters, after a final incident when she was pulled over as Murphy and Bailey charged excitedly towards a frightened puppy whose owner was not pleased.

The gentleman as a person needs routine, the upside of which has contributed to creating such beautifully mannered and friendly dogs. Where things are coming unstuck is that the lady is unable to match this. We are working on replacing some old routines with some different ones – based a little more on the psychology of dogs than on dominance. We want the dogs to use their brains and not rely on commands. I tried asking Murphy, gently, to sit and then lie down. Nothing. I had to ‘command’ him.

In my own life I have done a complete U-turn from the methods of control and force I, and nearly everyone else involved in training dogs, used many years ago. I can therefore well understand how it can take someone ‘old-school’ quite a lot to be convinced that reward-based, force-free methods work a lot better in the long run (and no thanks here to Cesar Millan). It needs a lot more patience and takes a bit longer as force can seem to produce ‘quick-fixes’, but the results are more permanent in the long run and our relationship with our dogs a whole lot more balanced.

So, now the lady will use different equipment for her walks – no more head halters but a front-fastening Perfect Fit harnesses – and she will take the dogs out one at a time for now. The deal is that if the gentleman doesn’t feel he can go through the necessary steps of letting the dogs walk freely on a longer looser lead, then he can stick with the old equipment. To the dogs, the harnesses should be associated only with a different kind of walking – and not ‘contaminated’. The lady will no longer need to be strong. The dogs will learn that walking on lead beside or near to her, focussing on her when necessary, can be fun and not a matter of ‘being under control’.

I hope that her results will speak for themselves and inspire the gentleman.

A note from the lady about five weeks later: ‘The very fact that I am enjoying my dog walks again is massive. Feeling very positive.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Murphy and Bailey, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good – as this case demonstrates. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Won’t Come When Called. She Freelances.

Lily won’t come when called.

The word here is Won’t. Lily hears. Lily understands. Lily decides not to.

She has been taken to special recall classes and was a star pupil in that environment.

She won't come when calledEighteen month old cream German Shepherd Lily and was a joy to meet. She had the ideal start in life. Her mother and father were both friendly family pets so she has inherited great genes temperamentally.

I don’t see a fair example of dogs, particularly German Shepherds, because I go to help sort out problems. It’s was real treat to be welcomed so happily.

The problem with Lily is that she won’t come when called.

Lily has got out of the front door. She then ran from garden to garden as the lady called her frantically. She sat in the middle of the road and just looked at her. Eventually a neighbour caught her.

Chasing cows.

What brought this to a head is that recently Lily got into a field full of cows and was chasing and barking at them. What a nightmare! She had run off, out of the field they were in and into a cow field. The lady, uselessly, was running after her, shouting for her to come back.

The lady loves to see her beautiful young dog running freely but that can no longer be possible if she won’t come when called. People with children can be intimidated as can someone with a small or nervous dog when a large dog runs up to them, barking.

So long as she’s off lead she loves other dogs. On lead, she will lunge and bark.

The fact Lily won’t come when called on walks will be part of a bigger picture. I did a bit of digging (something Lily likes to do but that’s another story!).

Lily won’t come when called in from the garden.

When out in the garden, particularly at bed time, young Lily won’t come in until she is ready. She may even enjoy refusing – playing games, teasing.

If she won’t come in from the garden when called, then there is little hope that she will come away from a rabbit running towards a road when they are out.

That Lily often won’t come when called isn’t due to lack of ‘training’. Good recall is about motivation and habit. Lily is constantly rehearsing not coming when called. She understands what is wanted and then decides to comply when she is ready.

When off lead, Lily may sometimes chase off people on bikes, people with dogs on lead or children – or cows. She is rehearsing this same behaviour at home by barking at people passing her garden fence. It works and the people go.

Despite training classes, Lily is such a puller that the lady can’t cope without using a Gentle Leader head halter.

She showed me what Lily does when she picks it up. The dog runs away from it. She hates it. This in itself is an eye-opener. It’s like she is being called for punishment.

Lily doesn’t display the usual doggy joy preceding a walk.

She walks down the street, restrained by something that is uncomfortable and makes her feel trapped. Stress builds in both her and the lady. Now she may react to a dog, something she never does if off lead and the dog is free too. She is held tight by the nose. More stress.

Then….off lead at last…she has freedom!

She runs. She plays with other dogs.

Then lady calls her. She won’t come back.

If I were Lily I wouldn’t want to come back to have the leash attached to that head halter again.

Lily will be introduced to a Perfect Fit harness and learn to walk nicely on a loose and longish lead – in total comfort. With a little work, both will enjoy walks a lot more.

At home Lily must lose her freedom in the garden. No more rehearsing the unwanted behaviour. She can be out on a long line (or retractable lead to avoid tangling) so recall is no longer optional. The lady will call her in immediately each time she barks.

Lily will be paid for coming. She will always be rewarded with food as she steps over the threshold.

Lily simply must lose opportunity to rehearse chasing dogs away and ignoring being called in – for a some time.

Indoors the lady has work to do too. She will repeatedly call Lily and reward her, ‘Lily Come’. Lily can earn some of her food. She can be ‘programmed’ to come to a whistle which hasn’t a history of being ignored, with constant repetition and reward.

In open spaces the long line will be attached to the harness so she can have partial freedom. Now the recall work can really begin – building on what they are already doing at home. Lots of repetition and lots of reinforcement.

To come back when called must be worthwhile to Lily.

Being called should never herald ‘time to go home’, or ‘I see another dog’. It must be random as can the reward. It need not always be food.

Lily will lose the option to decide ‘no, I won’t come when called’, because she will be on the line.

Importantly, her brain and her life will be enriched in every way possible with stimulating activities to compensate for what she lacks in off-lead freedom.

Dogs that freelance can cause real problems for other people, dogs, and other animals. We do things the wrong way around. We give our puppies freedom (puppies tend to stay close), and as they become teenagers, too late we then try to rein them in!

It’s so much better to give puppy very little freedom and gradually introduce more distance in a controlled way, reinforcing recall constantly. We are prepared for some teenage rebellion and having to reintroduce temporary restrictions! Lily is still an adolescent too.

Recall is recall. Recall is not ‘come when you are ready’.

Reliable recall is the key to freedom.

Nipping and Barking at Other Dogs

The problems they want to resolve are for Shadow to stop nipping them and to stop barking at other dogs. Both issues are really just symptoms.

The nipping is a symptom of over-excitement.

The beautiful German Shepherd is nearly seven months old and still really just a puppy. She is already big.

She jumped up at me and mouthed. The excitement of my arrival triggered more behaviour. When the man sat down she flew all over him, climbing onto the back of the sofa rather like a cat!

ellis-creaseshadow2As a younger puppy, the lady and the two boys took Shadow to excellent training classes for several weeks. She knows all the basics.

Understanding the request or cue (I don’t like the word ‘command’) and actually doing it are two different things though. That’s where motivating her comes in.

Shadow’s a typical teenager.

In the picture she has been asked to lie down – something she knows well. I suggested not repeating the word ‘Down’ but just waiting. The lady points at the floor.

Just see Shadow ignoring her!

The lady outlasted her and after about a minute the dog did lie down. She then rewarded her with something tiny and special.

The lady then tried again, and sufficiently motivated this time, Shadow lay down straight away.

This isn’t bribery or luring because the payment wasn’t produced until after she had done as asked.

As the day wears on Shadow becomes more hyper.

She has two walks a day and plenty of exercise but even that can backfire. Walks should be just that – walks. Walking and sniffing and doing dog things, not an hour or so of ball play after which she arrives home more excited than when she left.

It’s then that she may charge all over the sofas and anyone that happens to be sitting on them – nipping or mouthing the younger boy by in particular – he’s twelve.

He may simply be watching TV and ignoring her. She stares at him. If he continues not to react, she will start yipping. Then she will suddenly pounce on him and start nipping him.

She now has the attentions she craves.

He often behaves like an excited puppy with her, so understandably that’s how she regards him.

If they don’t want to be jumped up at, mouthed and nipped, the family needs to sacrifice some of the things they like doing and help teach her some self-control. They need to tone down they ways they interact with her and exercise her brain a bit more.

Shadow is another dog generating its own attention and we will deal with it in a similar way to the last dog I visited, Benji.

Barking at other dogs is a symptom also.

In Shadow’s case it’s a symptom of fear, following a very unfortunate incident at exactly the wrong time in her life. It will have coincided with a fear period when, like a human baby may suddenly start to cry when picked up by a stranger, the puppy can become fearful of things.

they need her to stop nippingWhen Shadow was a young puppy, a much larger dog broke through the fence and chased her round her garden. This happened twice.

She was terrified. The garden was no longer a safe place for her.

She now increasingly barks at dogs she hears from her garden and there are dogs living all round them. She barks at other dogs on walks – particularly on days when she’s already stirred up.

To add to the problem, the next door neighbour got a new puppy recently.

Shadow rushes out of the house barking now. If he’s out, she runs up and down the fence barking at him.

She is in danger of having the same effect on the poor puppy as the invading dog had on her.

They will only let her out on lead now – the one and only good use for a flexilead. As soon as she barks they will thank her and call her in – maybe encouraging her with the lead. They will reward her as she steps through the door. 

All the surrounding dogs can actually be used to Shadow’s advantage.

They can work on her fear of other dogs at home. This should help how she feels about other dogs out on walks.

They can have ‘dogs mean food’ sessions in the garden.

When she’s in a calm mood, they can pop her lead on and go out into the garden with her for a few minutes. Every time a dog barks they can sprinkle food on the ground. Fortunately Shadow is very food orientated. She also loves a ball so they could throw that sometimes too.

Even if she alerts and they themselves hear nothing, her much better ears may have heard a distant dog – so they should drop food.

When next door’s puppy is out in the garden they will work hard, with food and fun, so that she will eventually come to welcome his presence. It would be nice to think the puppy’s owner could be doing the same thing the other side of the fence.

If Shadow barks, she will be brought straight in. She will learn that if she’s out there and quiet good things happen. If she does bark at the puppy, she will come straight in and the fun stops.

Shadow has grown up quickly into a big dog. They were able to accept nipping, mouthing, jumping up and barking at other dogs from their puppy. These things are becoming a problem for them now that she’s an adult-size German Shepherd.

Some feedback seven weeks later: 
We are doing short daily training with Shadow both inside and outside, going well.
She is barking less out in the garden.
She doesn’t pull towards other people or bikes when out walking as much so going in the right direction.
We are playing with her when she is good so please with this.
Walking to heel so much better and barking less to dogs outside.
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 approach I have worked out for Shadow and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

A Person Approaching he Finds Threatening

His reactivity to any person approaching him was triggered by something else.

Previously the well-socialised German Shepherd had been fine if there was a person approaching him. Recently Danny has begun to show aggression towards people on walks. He will pull, lunge, bark and jump at people.

It came to a head when recently, off lead, he rushed at a man and leapt up at him, snarling. The man, understandably, wasn’t pleased.

A person approaching upsets DannyThe dog law now declares that someone need only feel threatened by a dog for the owner to be prosecuted, regardless of any injury.

Two-year-old Danny’s story is a perfect example of how, when one really scary incident occurs, it can infect something else that is seemingly unrelated.

A short while ago the daughter had been walking him when she was stung by a hornet. She screamed. She panicked.

At the same time a jogger happened to be running towards them.

What has a hornet sting to do with aggression towards a person approaching?

Danny will very likely have connected the girl’s screaming with the approaching jogger. He is now particularly aggressive towards joggers. The reactivity has spread to barking, lunging and jumping up at any person approaching him.

I always myself avoid walking directly towards any dog as it can be perceived to be threatening. Each time I visit a house I ask that the dog is brought to join me instead of my walking directly into the dog’s space. I learnt this the hard way in my early days of doing this job when a gentleman opened his front door with his German Shepherd beside him. He said ‘Come in’, so I stepped towards them. The dog leaped and grabbed my arm. No harm done but a valuable early lesson learnt!

The work starts at home.

In all areas of Danny’s life they will now be rebuilding his confidence in unfamiliar people so a person approaching will no longer seem a threat to him.

When someone unfamiliar comes to the house, he will be left to calm down before joining them. The encounter will be associated with good things. With me, after a noisy start, he was confident, curious and polite. I came bearing the gift of a stuffed toy which he certainly liked – he dismembered it. Not a good choice!

Danny barks if he hears a person approaching up the gravel drive. Territorial barking is what you would expect of a dog, but it need not carry on for long. Bearing in mind he has guarding in his genes, this might be harder work than if he were, say, a Greyhound.

Currently on walks he is controlled with a head halter on a tight lead and corrected with a jerk when he pulls. This is conducive of feeling relaxed when he sees an approaching person. A calm dog walking comfortably on a loose lead will be far less likely to react in alarm. They will work on this.

How the family reacts when Danny spots the approaching person is key to his progress – and they will be working hard at this. Exact procedures differ with different situations so I don’t go into details here.

Here is one idea. If it’s a jogger running towards them, what should they do? A person approaching is what upsets him. A jogger approaching him upsets him even more. It may also fire him up to chase. As he’s okay with people coming from behind, why not turn around when a jogger appears and themselves jog too? When the jogger has overtaken them they can turn around and go on their way.

Jumping up aggressively at a person approaching him is a recent thing.

It shouldn’t yet be too much of an ingrained habit. With some work and appropriate response on the part of the people who walk him, he should learn to trust them not to force him any closer to a person approaching than he feels comfortable by arcing, going off at an angle or turning around. This distance should naturally reduce over time.

Should Danny be off lead now? I feel that universally when another dog or a person appears, a dog that won’t immediately come back when called shouldn’t have total freedom. It will never happen.

The dog law, tightened up last year (my slide show here), has no sympathy for a dog feeling threatened and reacting accordingly. If a person feels threatened however, that’s enough to cause big trouble.

 

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 approach I have worked out for Danny and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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 aggression of ny kind is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Punishment and Deprivation v. Reward and Enrichment

Punishment and deprivation? Is this the way to get compliance?

It’s hard picking up the pieces when a conscientious and well-meaning dog owner has been following old-fashioned, dominance-based advice using punishment and intimidation through ignorance, believing someone who sets himself up as an authority saying it’s the way to do things.

It’s also extremely upsetting for the owner when their eyes are opened. Fortunately, things can only get better now.

A short while ago German Shepherd Banjo returned from a £2,000 four weeks at a board-and-train establishment.

He returned obedient – and cowed.

Bit by bit he’s returning to his former ways and their punitive methods, necessarily intensified for ongoing effectiveness, are now ceasing to work as he grows immune to them.

The young lady took on a painfully thin one-year-old a couple of years ago, his third home.

For the first few weeks things went well. He would walk past people, dogs and traffic as though they weren’t there.

Bit by bit he became more reactive.

The history of the next couple of years after this is complicated and Banjo’s behaviour to people he didn’t know in particular worsened. The lady then had to move house.

To save Banjo from the upheaval of the move whilst also doing something about his aggression to people and other difficult behaviours, he was sent to to the board and train establishment.

What a great idea, one might think.

The lady brought Banjo home with a list of instructions.

All toys must be removed.

He must be given no chews of bones.

When walking he should not be allowed to stop and sniff.

Any stepping out of line had to result in punishment.

She must use a slip lead and yank him back if he stepped in front of her.

She should spray him with water and shout if he barked at anything.

He no longer could have breakfast – one meal a day only.

He must not be be given food rewards. No extras apart from this one meal.

She may not play with him.

Within a couple of weeks, having yanked him with the slip lead to the point where he nearly passed out, the lady ditched it and got a harness. She started to allow him to sniff once more on walks. Walks being Banjo’s only ‘allowed’ activity, she takes him out as much as she can despite the problems.

Any reactive encounter with a dog or a person would however still result in punishment by means of water being sprayed in his face.

She has been following advice, believing it to be the only way to help him. She cares for him deeply.

The level of punishment is no longer sufficient.

Because they couldn’t stop his barking at people passing the window, the response of the trainer when contacted was to get a Pet Corrector can of compressed air – ‘that would fix him’.

It did to begin with. Then it stopped working. It made him worse. Is that surprising?

It’s so distressing to see conscientious, responsible dog owners being led to believe by a so-called ‘expert’, totally ignorant of behavioural science, that this is the thing to do. The lady thought she had researched the best help possible.

Banjo operates on ‘bite first, think later’. He charged into the room, muzzled, and launched himself at my arm. Had I not been prepared I would have received multiple serious bites.

Working at a distance from the lady who had the muzzled Banjo on lead and by her feeding him through the muzzle each time he looked at me from across the room, Banjo was soon lying down relaxing which was a big surprise to them.

In behaviour work we look at what ‘function’ a Punishment isn't gong to make Blade like humans any betterbehaviour serves the dog. Why does it work for him? The function served here is obvious. Lunging to bite drives the person away. They will recoil. That’s just what he wants.

He doesn’t have good associations with people he doesn’t know. This will doubtless have started when he was a tiny puppy, under-socialised or else not socialised kindly.

Add to this the sort of experience and punishment to ‘train’ him that he will have suffered at the hands of this trainer, it’s little wonder he simply wants to get people out of his space asap.

Off with the old and on with the new.

To make any real difference we need to get Banjo to feel differently about people. Punishment for reacting can only make it worse.

When he’s at his most upset, the very humans he should be able to trust for some reason turn on him.

They will now reverse everything that trainer imposed, ditching punishment, water bottles, compressed air cans and slip leads, and adding plenty of positive stuff.

They will use food in training. Why should I use food in training?

Now they will either give Banjo two meals a day or use some of his food for brain work and reward – making him work for it.

Instead of trying to intimidate him when he barks at people walking past, rehearsing his aggressive reactions to them, they will address the root cause.

They will bring out all his toys again. When he’s shut away they will give him things to chew and do like stuffed Kongs. They will play ‘find it’ games and he can forage for some of his dry food. They will find ways of enriching his life.

He will now have a comfortable harness and a longer lead to experience some freedom.

Muzzled for everyone’s safety, all encounters with people will be dealt with in an encouraging and positive fashion at a comfortable distance. He will get help with his reactivity to traffic, not punishment.

Now Banjo’s owners can relax and treat the beautiful, intelligent, affectionate three-year-old German Shepherd as a family member with the right to make some of his own choices in a life which offers some enrichment, not as a slave.

Punishment and deprivation are ways of forcing slaves to comply.

 

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 approach I have worked out for Banjo and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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 aggression is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Impulse Control Comes First

She may ignore her humans and lacks impulse control.

Eighteen-month-old German Shepherd Diva is a great personality. She is friendly, confident and fearless.

She is also very demanding. They have had several German Shepherds in the past, but never one like Diva.

Juno lacks impulse controlShe has become increasingly hostile to other dogs. In order to achieve their end goal of Diva becoming less reactive and coming back when called (she will, but when she feels like it), these matters of impulse control and paying attention need first to be addressed at home.

I saw a Diva who was actually more aroused and lacking in self control than she usually is. That was my own doing.

I had prevented people from giving in to her. She became increasingly frustrated by not getting what she wanted – attention under her own terms. Her methods, not addressed when she was a puppy and now harder to undo, are jumping on people – she’s very big – leaping onto their chair behind them, mouthing, nipping and grabbing – and then yipping and barking endlessly when the other tactics don’t work, until put out of the room.

She now will be given as little opportunity as possible to rehearse these behaviours (I don’t go into detail here because what works with one dog may not work with another).

I was called in for what seemed a relatively straightforward if time-consuming problem – that of halting Diva’s increasing antipathy towards other dogs like they shouldn’t be in her vicinity. The issue is actually far more complex.

Matters came to a head the other day when she ran after a very small dog she had spied in the distance, possibly thinking it was prey because she ignored a larger dog. Sadly, it resulted in the little dog needing veterinary treatment for its injuries.

As soon as Diva spotted the dog, her human called her. She halted, looked back as though to consider whether to obey or not, and decided no.

When I was there the lady called Diva, the dog looked her in the eye and then turned around and walked away. If she does this at home, what is likely to happen when, off lead, she sees another dog.

This highlights the two main underlying issues which are allowing the behaviour. Firstly, her humans are not sufficiently relevant to her so she’s insufficiently motivated to do as they ask. What’s in it for her? After all, they always do just what she wants if she is sufficiently pushy, so why should she do what they want?

Secondly, she acts on impulse at home so she is unlikely to have impulse control when out where the stakes are far greater.

Another important contributor to her behaviour is the dog next door.

From the start Diva has been confident and a bit bossy with other dogs. She then had her first season and she became more assertive. How much this has to do with the dog next door, both dogs barking and snarling at one another as they tear up and down their own sides of the fence, I don’t know. One sure thing is she’s daily been rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want – aggression towards another dog.

As I drove home I tried to work out the best place to start.

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Changing too much at once could well make her even more stressed so would be self-defeating.

The first couple of weeks should be dedicated to showing her that she only gets things she wants when she is calm and to reducing her stress/arousal levels in every way possible. Her humans owe it to her not to stir her up unecessarily.

Humans and dog wOrchardJuno2ill need to go cold turkey!

Before the lead goes on she should be calm. Before the door is opened she should be calm. She can get no greetings until she isn’t jumping up and nipping. Training her the necessary alternative incompatible behaviours will be taught in the next stage.

Basically, Diva will learn that her pushy behaviour isn’t going to get results.

She will learn the behaviours that will work for her.

Bit by bit, against a calmer background, they can introduce impulse control exercises, training that requires patience like Stay and lots of coming when called or whistled around the house and garden. Here is a nice little video from Tony Cruse with an impulse control game.

They will also do their best to prevent any further rehearsal with the dog next door and in fact use it to their advantage. They will begin teaching her that good things happen when she ignores it and gives them her attention instead. Meanwhile she simply must not be off lead alone in the garden when the dog is likely to be out there. It’s a nuisance, but not impossible.

Out on walks Diva should no longer have complete freedom until she can be trusted to come back. She will need to be kept on a long line.

This case is such a good example of the benefits of taking a holistic type of approach. If we had gone straight in to the ‘stop her reactivity towards other dogs’ without dealing with her lack of impulse control, basic training manners and the relationship she has with her humans, I don’t think she would ever be able to go off lead again and they would never again be able to walk calmly past other dogs.

When they have got through the first few difficult days with Diva very likely becoming increasingly frustrated when her wild attempts for attention no longer bring results, they will then have a firm basis to build upon in order to achieve the original goals, that of enjoying their walks with their stunning Shepherd and being able to trust her.

 

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. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Juno and I’ve not gone into exact details for that reason. 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, particularly where aggression of any kind is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

Manners Maketh Dog!

The stunning German Shepherd lacks manners

Prince is aptly named.

He is treated like a prince and he behaves like a prince!  He lacks what I can only call manners.

About eighteen months ago I regularly saw a lady walking her German Shepherd puppy down my road. Soon, as he grew a bit bigger, she was walking him on a Halti.

I would watch as the pup repeatedly tried to scrape the thing off on the ground or with his paw.

One day, thinkingStunning German Shepherd lacks manners how frustrated and uncomfortable he must be feeling, I stopped to talk to the lady. I told her about a harness with the ring on the front, the Perfect Fit, and that if she wished I would pop in to show her.

The other day, over a year later, she phoned me. She is at her wits’ end with a dog that pulls despite the Halti. The other day he jumped up at the postman and he wasn’t being friendly.

Although I went to help the lady with walks, it was soon apparent that I wouldn’t get far if Prince isn’t treated a bit differently at home by the man in particular, learning some manners. Prince rules the couple’s life.

The retired man, who chose to have a German Shepherd, is unable to walk him due to health reasons so the much slighter lady has the job.

We need to be in control of a powerful dog. In this case Prince is mostly in control of his humans.

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It’s like the man is the dog’s – not the dog the man’s!

It’s common for a dog to follow a person about. In this case, if Prince is out of sight for a minute the man gets up to check on him.

The dog jumps all over him, he grabs his arm with his teeth. The man will stir up an already excited dog and, to quote, Prince goes ‘berserk’ when his son calls. He finds it amusing but I find it unacceptable, dangerous even.

The man is at home all day and he and Prince are inseparable. He obeys every whim of the dog but if Prince is asked to do something he’s likely to ignore it. The constant attention and fuss make Prince what he is and it seems the man can’t help himself. He insists his dog is the softest dog who would never really hurt anyone.

We were adjusting his harness when Prince air snapped at me. A warning (which I heeded!).

Oh dear.

It’s so hard for the lady to walk a large dog that takes little notice of her. It’s not only about equipment but also the relationship between human and dog.

She walked Prince around the garden beautifully on the new harness. For the next three days she will be going out several times a day for five or ten minutes instead of one hour-long walk, loose-lead walking outside the house.

Then I shall be going back. We will extend the walk a bit further and look at what to do when passing barking dogs behind garden gates and what to do if something suddenly appears.

I must confess I am worried about this one. Prince’s genetics aren’t great. His mother was so aggressive they couldn’t see her. His father was a police dog. Several of the eleven siblings were returned due to aggression problems – having said which, the couple’s kindness instead of using ‘dominance’ tactics may well have saved him from the same fate.

I really hope the man now realises how important it is for them to control Prince (I don’t mean to dominate the dog but to teach him manners and training in a positive way). He really needs some serious training and brain-work. Internet advice may tell them to be ‘Alpha’. Prince would have none of that! Try dominating him or making him do something he doesn’t want to do and it can only go one way – down the slippery slope to anger.

Unless I am taken seriously I can see somebody getting bitten. I worry for the grandchildren. The gentleman knows the new dog law means someone need only to feel threatened for him to be prosecuted. They were lucky with the jumped-upon postman. Next time they may not be so lucky. I feel he’s in denial.

From our bantering and friendly conversation I know the very genial man won’t mind me saying that he doesn’t really take the matter, or me, very seriously.

The lady does, however.

 

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. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for prince. I don’t go into detail. 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, particularly where aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get My Help page)

The Puppies are Littermates

White German Shepherd puppy

Buster

They brought their two beautiful cream-coloured German Shepherd brothers home a couple of months ago at eight weeks old, believing they would be great company for one another thus making life easier and not realising it could actually be a lot more work.

They soon were given information that littermates could well become overly reliant upon one another, even to the extent of not bonding as fully with their humans as they might. One puppy can become overshadowed by the other and not reach his full potential. Puppy play can, as the pups mature, turn into full-blown fighting. This isn’t inevitable – I have been to siblings who are the best of friends – but it is possible that things could turn out not so well unless fairly special measures are taken. They called me in for professional guidance.

Already they have Samson and Buster, now sixteen weeks old, sleeping in separate crates. They walk them separately and they feed them separately. They will need individual training sessions. They have been having more one-on-one time with their humans than they have with each other which is perfect.

When I was there and for my benefit the two puppies were together more than they usually would be. We were in the conservatory watching them playing in the garden. It wasn’t long before play became unequal – even at four months old. Samson was becoming a bit too rough and Buster was getting scared. Their relative personalities are already very clear with Samson more nervous, more excitable and more bossy.

six month old white German Shepherd puppy

Samson

I was quite amazed actually at just how well-behaved the two dogs were for such young puppies and the hard work is paying off already. They are fully house trained and they don’t do chewing damage anywhere. There is a bit of jumping up from just Samson and they have already discovered that ‘get down’ doesn’t work. Their owners have, from the start, gradually weaned the two puppies into being left apart and all alone for reasonable periods of time.

There are a couple of ‘flags’ I feel they need to be aware of that could develop into problems. Prevention is a lot better than cure. Already Samson is barking in a scared fashion at people and other dogs when out, and Buster barks at dogs. Possibly, because they are currently held tight on short leads to try to stop them pulling, they feel trapped and uncomfortable.

The two dogs need as much socialising as possible. I know from personal experience that too many German Shepherds can be reactive and aggressive towards callers to their homes if the don’t regularly meet people from an early age. Plenty of people coming through the door would be good if they can find volunteers, and they should be associated with food or play.

With one dog at a time and the other shut away, we did very successful loose lead walking around the garden and the front of the house. We used a longer lead and using my technique the puppy simply walks around beside or following the person holding the lead. One of the puppies even had a pee when on lead, something they never do, and I suggest this is because he felt sufficiently comfortable and relaxed.

Samson likes to play tug of war with the lead, but reacting with reward when he stops rather than reacting with scolding or tension while he’s tugging will soon cure this.

The play between the two dogs needs careful monitoring, and terminating as soon as it ‘turns’.

With two soon-to-be large dogs, the owners need some sort of ‘remote control’, particularly in public, so the dogs will learn to respond instantly to their own names, to ‘come’ and to other cues like ‘sit’, ‘down’ and ‘stay’ requested gently and just the once. Over the next few weeks and months we will have a lot of fun!

My advice to them is to treat their puppies like one lives next door – for the forseeable future. They can meet frequently and be friends, but ‘live’ apart. Fortunately the couple has a good-sized house and the gentleman works from home, so logistically it’s possible. The couple have already researched and are well prepared to do whatever it takes.

The Young Dog Chases Traffic

German Shepherd with ballWe understand roads, but do our dogs? A roaring, smelly monster either approaches him head-on or bears down on him from behind. How can the dog know that the vehicle won’t plough into him and his human?

With each car that passes he becomes more highly aroused. Each vehicle could annihilate him and so he has to chase it off. He is successful this time, but the next one that comes along – will he manage to get rid of that one also?

A vehicle approaches and the dog lunges and barks, so what happens next? The vehicle goes away. I’m sure he feels the vehicle’s departure is the direct consequence of his barking and lunging. To make matters worse, the person on the other end of the lead who he should be able to trust doesn’t help him, but traps him and may even join in the ‘car rage’.

No wonder Harry dreads walks

German Shepherd avoiding coming inThe German Shepherd is now nine months old and he lives an otherwise wonderful life in a rural area. Down the lane cars are sudden happenings.

I was called because of traffic chasing but that isn’t the actual problem. Anyone using enough force could physically prevent a dog from chasing a vehicle. The real problem, the cause of the behaviour, is fear, and this is what Harry’s humans need to deal with.

Harry is now so worried about leaving the safety of his house and garden that they only have to call him in from outside and he becomes suspicious that they may want to put his harness on – and that would mean having to confront cars. Top left is happy Harry as he usually is. On the right he has his harness on and is suspicious we may want to put his lead on also, so he’s not coming in.

Getting Harry to be chilled around traffic will need to be taken in tiny steps with work, patience and persistence which I know his owners have. They have had several German Shepherds over the years but none of the things they have tried have cracked the problem of a dog that chases traffic, so they need a different approach.

Step one, before they can do anything else, is for Harry to come happily to have his harness and lead put on. The only way to do that will be for the equipment to not be a precursor of going out and to be associated with food and fun at home.

As soon as they step out through the door Harry is pulling and barking should any car dare pass by the end of their long drive. Going out through the door itself must be conquered for starters until they achieve a happy and relaxed dog within just a few feet of the house.

There should be no more close encounters at all with cars for now while they work on him. Fortunately Harry is fine when inside a car so he will be taken to traffic-free places for his outings whilst the intensive desensitisation work is done near home and in places where moving vehicles are at a ‘safe’ distance.

I have shown them an emergency procedure should an unexpected vehicle appear, whereby Harry’s humans will take decisive and logical (to Harry) action and he will see the monster disappear into the distance without his having chased it away.

NB. The best approach to use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Harry, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here. One size does not fit all. For help with your own dog, I suggest you find an experienced professional. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help (see my Get Help page).