The last of German Shepherd Princess’ eight puppies went to a carefully checked home a couple of weeks ago and she has now been spayed.
Duke on he right (the puppies’ father) and Princess, both three years old, had the wrong start in life. Duke was in a barn and then not taken out until five months old which left a big gap in his vital socialisation, and Princess had been left alone for hours and was beaten for destroying things.
The family have made huge headway with both dogs. Unsurprisingly, their main hurdle is socialisation and reactivity to other dogs when out, particularly Duke.
There are five family members who are all involved and adore the dogs, but they have been missing the vital ingredient to real success – positive reinforcement, particularly food.
Although their sole aim in asking for my help is to be able to enjoy walks, this is where I take a holistic approach.
A dog walking nicely is about much more than ‘dog training’.
The relationship with the human is particularly important when a dog is ‘trapped’ on lead. Firstly, the dog needs to find them relevant so that they can get and hold his attention. Secondly, the dog need to trust the human to whom he’s attached not only protect him and themselves, but also to make the decisions when out. If off lead, this also involves coming straight away when called rather than putting the owner somewhere lower on his list of priorities!
In order for the human to be trusted, they must be confident and this is one big problem here in this case.
Ever since Prince had been attacked by another dog, the lady who does much of the walking has been extremely anxious whenever they see one and admits that her reactions could well be part of the problem. Even discussing it made her tense up.
The business of decision-making, trust in the owner or walker and their being ‘relevant’ in order to get and hold a dog’s attention begins at home. If these things are not in place within the safe and distraction-free home environment, seeing the person on the end of the lead as ‘decision-maker and protector’ will not happen when out in the big world in the face of potential threats.
This is why a holistic approach works best. The process isn’t just about walks and other dogs alone.
Princess and Duke will be learning to respond to a whistle which will be throughly ‘charged’ at home – using food. To teach them to really listen, they will learn to do their usual training tricks for one quiet request – and food. They will learn to give their humans eye contact and hold it upon request, they will learn to come immediately when called at home and they will learn that although they are the alarm system, their humans are ultimately in charge of protection duty.
Associating other dogs with nice stuff (food) will be part of the solution. Perhaps the lady would like to take a bag of her favourite sweets out on walks also and to pop one into her own mouth instead of reacting in panic!
This all takes time of course, but with these basics in place and calm loose lead walking established, these dogs will eventually be in a very different state of mind when meeting other dogs than they are now – as should their lady owner.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Princess and Duke, which is why I don’t share all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. 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).