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.
She 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.
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 will 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.