Guard Dog German Shepherd. Family Pet. Compatible?

“I was born to be a guard dog. I am an entire male German Shepherd now reaching my prime – eighteen months old. I am ‘The Bodyguard’. My job is to keep my humans safe and to keep safe the environment around them.

‘Go Away!’

guard dogWhen we are out, if someone comes too close I warn them Go Away. Lunging and barking has worked so far, but I may need to take it a step further one day.

Sometimes the person will look at me and make admiring noises. A hand will come out to over me. How dare they! This is my space. I’m not here to make friends but to protect.  Continue reading…

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).

At About Ten Months Old he Changed. He Became Wary of People

wary of peopleBoss, an American Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross is now two years old.

Despite getting him at the tender age of five weeks old, Boss was very well socialised as a pup. They lived in London and took him out to pubs with friends and running in Regents Park. He was used to traffic and crowds.

Boss’ fear of people kicked in at about ten months old, coinciding with when he was castrated. There may or may not have been a connection; there is a probability that early removal from mother and siblings will have contributed, but I have sometimes found that this an age when perfectly friendly dogs can ‘turn’.

Now wary of people

The first sign of ‘aggression’ or fear towards a human is a crucial time. How it is dealt with can set the pattern for future encounters. Sadly, people instinctively show anger and dismay, they feel some sort of punishment is expected by the other person, and it is downhill from there. They only get advice on the best way to react when things have escalated out of their control.

With a dog of Boss’ physique they need to be especially careful because of the ridiculous laws of diagnosing Pit Bulls by their body measurements alone.

When Boss was brought in on lead to join us he was doing classic and prolonged ‘look-aways’, his whole body saying he didn’t want to be anywhere near me. He was yawning loudly. I took this photo after he had settled down a bit, but you can see he’s not happy – just look at his tail, his ears and his whole demeanor. It wasn’t long however before he was near to me accepting food, sniffing my face even, and though he seemed relaxed I didn’t push my luck! I sat still and avoided eye contact.

In cases like this the owners understandably avoid people when really the dog needs plenty of contact with people. This contact however shouldn’t be too close and they should not touch him. He should be at a distance where he feels comfortable and then he needs to associate people with fun and food, not fear.

It’s hard to find acquaintances and friends who are sufficiently relaxed and brave to work with, so creating positive associations with more distant people must be the start.

It is just such a shame the problem of Boss’ being increasingly wary of people wasn’t tackled immediately, with understanding, the very first time it reared its head.

It’s good to hear back from people after quite a long time. Sixteen months have elapsed: ‘He has made amazing progress…He is now able to walk past people and dogs without launching or showing signs of aggression. His recall is much better, thanks to the juicy treats! We are slowly making him realised who is the boss and its our judgement that he has to trust and not his own! And now that you have explained that its Fear Agression/ Anxiety that he’s experiencing we are able to judge the situation/ his body languages and moods’

Barking German Shepherd. Three Black German Shepherds

Three black German ShepherdsThese people are heroes! They already had eight year old Jet and then, four months ago, adopted a companion for him – one-year-old Cody.

Just after that they were asked to foster Jake, age 4, and he has just been left with them! Life will be a lot easier when a home is eventually found and they are down to the two dogs again.

Common sense and love

Common sense and love has brought Cody on wonderfully. He was extremely fearful when they first got him, but now all three dogs can be walked together – even to the extent that they go on a group dog walk at weekends with lots of other dogs.

All three dogs are completely unfazed by their little toddler daughter and this really is an achievement with dogs that have come from uncertain pasts.

Barking German Shepherd

The problem is, again, aggressive behaviour towards people coming to the house – from Cody. Another barking German Shepherd. I say ‘aggressive behaviour’ because he’s not an aggressive dog, he’s fearful, and all he knows is to respond aggressively.

Barking German Shepherd

Cody

So many German Shepherds I go to bark, lunge and may bite if given the chance when people come into their homes. Cody is crated but on the occasion that prompted them to contact me a friend was at the door. Cody had managed to break out of his metal crate and he flew at her, biting her arm. Skin wasn’t punctured so his aim wasn’t to destroy her – it was to get rid of her.

A big warning.

If a guest is in the house Cody has to be kept away, because the barking German Shepherd reacts if they so much as move. The other two dogs are just majorly excited.

I sat down – dogs find standing people far more threatening – and all three were brought in, one at a time, on lead – the calmest one first. The lead was dropped and the next dog fetched. Cody who was last barely reacted to me and I ignored him.

Soon I was dropping treats on the floor and he was coming to me to be fed and touched. I stood up. I walked about. It gave the lady great encouragement and hope to see what is possible if people behave the same way as myself with the dogs.

A calm alternative

All three dogs are being taught a calm behaviour incompatible with excited turmoil and using manic play in order to unwind. In a few minutes they were learning how to lie down quietly for the lady without even having to be told (see picture).

So many GSDs I go to are reactive and scared of people (and there are a lot, with another one tomorrow). Wouldn’t it be wonderful in a dream world if people breeding Shepherds accepted that guarding breeds of this sort who are easily spooked in particular need proactive and intense socialising from about 5 weeks onwards. They would only sell pups to sort of people who are committed to continuing this.

By about four months old the best opportunity for bomb-proof socialisation is passing.

I would bet that far more dogs end up being put to sleep for biting someone than would ever die of diseases from exposure to vaccinated dogs. Like human babies, for the first weeks they inherit immunity from their mother and her milk anyway.

German Shepherd Lunges at People. Barks at Visitors

lunges at peopleTara is onto her fourth home now.

Looking at her history, she had little or no socialising for the first year of her life. Her new owners hadn’t been told that she was going to be so reactive to people – and to other dogs. 

They hadn’t been warned.

Like so often happens unfortunately, new owners don’t get what they had bargained for. In this case, the rehoming organisation had taken the previous people’s word for it and passed her over on the same day. They had done no assessment of Tara themselves.

The couple had specifically requested a dog that gets on with people and other dogs. They wanted a dog as part of their lives for the next ten years perhaps.

Instead, when their first visitor calls, Tara horrifies and shocks them by suddenly morphing into a wild dervish, barking and lunging. She is just the same with people she meets out on walks, leaping and lunging.

An old-school trainer who used punishment.

Then they called in a trainer and OH DEAR!

The dog was already highly aroused by the man’s presence. Instead of helping her, he threw metal discs crashing on the floor in front of her. His aim was to intimidate her and make her submit. He then added the horrific sound of a compressed air from a can, something sometimes used to break up fights.

It sent poor Tara into a total frenzy. I would say it’s very fortunate the man wasn’t badly bitten. He deserved to be in my mind.

Fortunately the couple weren’t having any more of this with the dog they were growing to love.

They have had Tara for several weeks now and have made great progress at home – so long as it is just themselves. They are at their wits’ end and wondering what to do when other people are involved.

I don’t usually go into as much detail as I have here. The reason is that the strategies are fashioned around a particular dog’s problems and their causes. This method won’t apply to every dog that barks at people. If you have a dog like this, it is very important to get professional help so the strategies are appropriate to your specific dog’s needs and problems.

Barks and lunges at me

When I arrived Tara barks and lunges at me, straining on the lead which was tightly held by the gentleman. The lead was attached to a collar which would have added pain to the situation (dogs necks aren’t much different to our own).

I could see that the restraint was making her worse. With no known history of actual biting I suggested he dropped the lead whereupon, as I expected, she charged at me. I stood still, sideways to her, explaining to the couple the calming signals I was using – slow blinking, looking away, relaxed posture, breathing slowly. We carried on talking over the noise for a while. I pointed out that their own posture should be relaxed also (not easy!).

I then asked them what they would usually do. They had developed a strategy for when people did visit of training an incompatible behaviour. This was getting her to lie down and put her chin to the floor. This could have been good but only lasted a couple of seconds before she was up and barking again. Lying down did nothing to change her inner emotions and fears.

We experimented.

We worked on removing her from what she was finding a scary situation immediately the barking started. At the same time we associated my presence with good stuff, using a clicker.

They put a harness on her to avoid any unpleasant association with pain in the neck with myself if she lunges again. I sat down at the table to make things as easy as possible for her. I asked the man to take her just out of sight until she stopped barking. Then he’s to bring her back, being ready turn around again the very moment she begins to bark again.

Now, as soon as she was quiet he brought her back so she could see me. Timing is extremely important. As soon as she looked to me without barking, he clicked and fed her chicken. This went on for a while until I could walk around the room and she was relaxed – click/chicken.

Next we experimented with my going to the front door area and appearing again – upping the anti. Next I opened the front door and shut it again before coming into her presence.

Distance

This method needs to be used when they are out also, being careful to keep within her comfort threshold distance form people. If she barks or lunges they are too close. They will work on the ‘advance/retreat’ and clicker whenever she’s quietly watching someone. They have a big job to build up her trust in them and undo past history.

They need to practise with anyone they can get to visit – starting with people Tara has met before. It can be done with the neighbour whose presence looking over the fence sends her into a panic. As they turn, they can add ‘Let’s Go’ in preparation for encountering unexpected people or dogs outside. It’s just as much teaching the owners as teaching the dog. Good timing is essential.

Habituate and to a doorbell

Many dogs hate the sound of people banging on the front door which is understandable. I suggested a cheap wireless doorbell.

Before putting it up outside the door they could repeatedly ring it indoors and for several days associate the sound of it with food or games. When the bell is put up outside the door, they should continue to ring it for no reason at all. In this way when people come Bella won’t be fired up so early in the process.

One other point is that their sort of walks are probably not helping her to keep calm. A dog barks an lunges at people more if already aroused. They are over-stimulating Tara in terms of play and scary encounters.

It’s a big ask to get new owners to avoid close encounters for as long as it takes, but there is no other choice. Where there’s a will – there’s a way.

You can’t exhaust a dog out of being fearful.

How Can People Do This to a Puppy?

Rescue from Ireland isrelaxed and happyHeidi is yet another rescue dog from Ireland. A mixed breed with  some collie in her, she is around one year old and has been in her new home since last March. The poor puppy had been found with wire tied around her muzzle – there are the scars – with stones being thrown at her.

In the circumstances she is amazing. She is lovely – affectionate an obedient. Look at her! The lady, an experienced dog owner, has worked very hard with her. She has been to training classes and did exactly what was required of her, but all the time looking totally miserable. They admit to having over-compensated for her start by giving her a great amount of freedom because she ‘loves to run’.This is often out of sight. She is seldom on lead for long, even when leaving the house – which poses a risk. She has upset a neighbour with her behaviour.

The problem that just won’t go away is Heidi’s rushing aggressively at people, and dropping down and stalking dogs, then charging, hackles up, as though to attack. She makes contact but so far has not actually bitten. She is desperate to make them go away. It’s not every person and it isn’t every dog. It will also depend upon her state of mind. Considering her beginning it is not surprising. Normally her recall is excellent, but if they get the timing wrong it is to late.

We had a good look at the world through Heidi’s eyes, along with why dog training as such does not help in times like this. She needs to be rescued from the fear she feels, and only her humans can do that for her by how they behave. A natural reaction is to be cross out of embarrassment if nothing else, but this will only add further stress to the situation by her associating people and dogs with unpleasant stuff.

For starters Heidi needs to be saved from herself. It needs to be made absolutely impossible for her to do this again, and this means an end to all this off-lead freedom for now.  It will do her no harm at all and in fact may make her feel more secure to have owners who take over the role of decision-making.

How would Heidi expect a leader to behave in the face of perceived danger?

I received this email about seven weeks later: “I am really still so pleased and suprised how much Heidi has changed, the main improvement with her is the calmness that she shows now all the time.  This shows in her behaviour around the home as well as outside and because she is spending more time on the lead, when I do let her off she does not now go far away from me and constantly comes back to check with me besides being very good on her recall.   She only does an initial bark at anyone coming to the door and then looks for me to come and thank her and follows me inside.  She is far more relaxed and I feel that there is a much stronger bond between us now and that she looks to me much more now. We still have good days and bad days with other dogs we meet but there is definite improvement and I do realise that this is going to be the problem that will take the longest but there is definetly a huge improvement and there are instances when she will pass another dog and almost ignore them which never happened before so baby steps but they are going forward”.
I can’t thank you enough for showing me where we were going wrong with Heidi and to be honest I feel so much more relaxed now and have no worries about walking Heidi anywhere and she is sooo worth it. and such an affection little girl and she appears to be far more confident now”.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.