They already have beautiful German Shepherd Dave and, a few days ago, another GSD, Lottie, joined the family.
The most immediate problem is that Lottie barks at cats – they have two that are used to freely coming and going. Now they are scared and Lottie is becoming increasingly reactive.
As she settles in, she behaves like she increasingly regards the cats as scary intruders.
Another problem they are discovering and that wasn’t apparent initially is that Lottie now barks at people she doesn’t know when they come into their house.
I usually set things up so that I’m sitting down before dogs join me. Both German Shepherds were fine – quiet and interested in smelling my own dogs on my trousers.
However, she immediately rushed at me when I got up to get something.
Lottie needs help settling in to her new, much better, life. It’s very different to the one she knew. She certainly won’t have been living with cats.
When they picked her up to meet Dave several times before she moved in, the previous owner brought her out and put her in their car.
I suspect they didn’t invite my clients in because her reaction to someone coming into their house may have put them off having her.
I did what is a bit like a dog ‘behaviour MOT’. We looked at some of the basics – how they feed the dogs, the best way to react to any alarm barking and how to deal with callers to the house.
We looked briefly at walks and the best equipment for Lottie in particular.
Barks at cats
We discussed in detail strategies for changing Lottie’s worsening attitude towards the cats.
We have a systematic plan – a step at a time. This can be modified or added to depending upon how it goes.
First they will get a couple of gates to eliminate chasing and so the cats feel more confident.
The motto now will be: ‘No scolding. Only be encouraging and kind’.
They will get her used to just walking around the house and garden wearing lead and harness until she’s no longer excited, thinking she’s going for a walk.
Then they will pick a time when Lottie is calm. A cat will be in the room the other side of the gate. Lottie on lead.
As soon as she spots one of their two cats, the work starts. Every time she looks at the cat, they will click or say Yes and drop chicken. Lottie loves chicken. Seeing a cat is the only way now that she will get it.
Every time a cat moves, click or Yes and drop food.
If she barks at cats they will immediately remove her to a greater distance.
Eventually, the idea is that she will see a cat and, instead of barking, she will go to them for chicken.
Later when I go again we will add teaching Lottie to settle on her bed when she sees one of the cats – impossible at the moment. She is far too aroused.
‘Drinking from the same water bowl’
There is a bit of a hurdle, however. This is with her new owners themselves. There has been ongoing conflict between the lady and the gentleman over how they train and behave with Dave. It’s now spilling over to Lottie.
If there isn’t harmony between the humans, harmony between Lottie and the cats is unlikely.
It’s important that the atmosphere is calm and non-confrontational because dogs pick up on it.
Differences between family members over how to treat the dogs is something I encounter all the time.
The lady, who has done all the training and classes with Dave, gets frustrated and cross. She has worked so hard at the training and feels that the gentleman can’t, or won’t, back her up.
The gentleman gets frustrated and cross because he can’t see the reasoning behind what she tells him to do and whatever he does it’s never right. He can’t win.
I feel where this has gone wrong is at the very beginning. Dog training should have been a family affair from the start with all three of them taking part and going to the classes. (I, personally, only go to people if the whole family can be there). It never works well in families when one person is telling the others what to do!
It’s now all down in writing in the form of a plan that they can refer to.
In my first visit I pointed them in the right direction on several fronts so they can work together in order to help Lottie to settle in.
So, Lottie barks at cats. It’s too late now to ‘introduce’ her to the cats carefully. Any scolding or punishment will make things worse. She will associate the cats with bad things as the human behaves like her enemy too. It simply won’t work if one person uses positive methods and the other gets cross.
Their first task is to get at least one dog gate.