Enrichment. Brain Work. Self-Control

Yesterday I met Max, a twenty-one-month-old German Shepherd who was very pleased to see me. It’s a treat for me to go to a friendly GSD that shows neither aggression nor fear.

Enrichment for a working dogWith the family having a couple of teenage sons, he has no doubt been used to plenty of comings and goings, probably why he’s so well socialised.

Recent problems however are arising when he encounters other dogs on walks. Continue reading…

Sent Away For Dog Training

GSD had been sent away to boot camp but  came back worseTwo-year-old German Shepherd Fonz is a beautiful, friendly German Shepherd. His lady owner has worked very hard with him and is very much on his wavelength – that is until other dogs enter the equation.

He left his litter and mother too young – at six weeks old, and had a couple of early bad encounters with other dogs that was not a good start. Before he was a year old the lady had a one-to-one trainer in to help her with walking him around other dogs. No improvement.

Then, last summer, he was sent away for dog training for three whole weeks. They advocated a choke chain and old-fashioned training methods. All was OK while he was there – he had no choice – but when he came home and his lady walked him, there was no improvement at all – in fact, if anything, his recall was worse.

This is proof to me that it’s not to do with the dog, it’s to do with the humans. What has been lacking all along has been an understanding of why he reacts so hysterically and violently to other dogs, and instead of forcing him to comply, looking at it from his point of view.

He is scared. He is certainly not a naturally aggressive or territorial dog that wants to dominate. When there is a dog about he experiences discomfort as the collar is tightened around his neck, anxious vibes from the lady zip down the lead as she beats a hasty retreat, and loud scolding and jerking as he lunges if this is left too late.

Surely the only way to conquer the fearful behaviour is to conquer his fears, and this has to be done slowly. It’s far too late for ‘socialising’. He needs to feel comfortable with the equipment used. The situation needs working at from whatever distance necessary for him not to feel threatened; his human, his owner, like a good parent or guide should be the one who teaches him confidence without pushing him beyond his threshold, without bullying, and to behave like the leader/parent she is with him in other respects. Avoiding dogs altogether for ever contains the situation but doesn’t advance it.

‘Training’ of various kinds hasn’t worked so there really is no choice but to have a totally different approach if Fonz is ever to be relaxed in the vicinity of other dogs. It will be a slow business requiring considerable patience and sensitivity which I know this lady has. Being sent away for dog training can make little difference when it’s the humans who need most of the training.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Fonz, which is why I don’t go into all 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. 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).

 

Scared Puppy. Scared of People. German Shepherd.

Monty is a scared puppy and he’s not yet five months old.

A good number of the German Shepherds of all ages that I have been to over the past year have been the same. They have been reactive and scared of people coming into their homes. This is a high percentage compared with other breeds.

Scared puppy Monty is no exception. It’s sad for a dog so young to be thus burdened.

The importance of early socialisation

scared puppyMonty came from a breeder who had a lot of dogs but not many human visitors. I am a firm believer in puppies having a lot of handling by lots of different people from a very young age.  This is more likely to happen in a home environment than a breeder’s with several litters and lots of dogs, probably kept outside the house.

Monty’s owners chose a shy puppy and so he has not only inadequate socialising to humans but an unconfident nature also. Genetics also play a part. This is not an easy combination for a guarding breed like German Shepherd.

It was even worse with my own scared puppy, German Shepherd Milly. I took her home from a client at fourteen weeks old – a truly terrified puppy-farm puppy who hadn’t had any interaction with humans whatsoever until twelve weeks old. Then, shaking and frozen with fear, she was carried to their car.

Milly was in the same state when I carried her into my own house a couple of weeks later. She was terrified of all humans including initially myself.

I have worked hard with her ever since. Now the initial surprise of someone arriving is a few woofs which is to be expected and she settles fast. It will never be ‘job done’.

Scared puppy

Little Monty (with those huge ears!) is a self-controlled puppy. He is not destructive and seldom jumps up, it is like he is being careful. He’s very affectionate – but he is easily frightened.

On walks he is jumpy and skittish even with birds. He feels very threatened if a person approaches, particularly when he’s on lead – people can’t resist saying hello to puppies! The scared puppy will lunge and bark.

His humans will be working hard to show him that he can trust them to look after him by how they themselves react. They need to help him out. They will give him the positive associations with people that he needs and always giving him an escape route if he needs it.

Other dogs

It is also important that Monty learns right away always to touch base with them when another dog appears. There is a disproportionate number of dogs afraid of German Shepherds having been attacked by one.

Likewise, it’s important for Monty to meet only stable dogs so he, too, learns that dogs are not a threat.

His recall so far is good. However, a mix of being a scared puppy, a guarding breed and not being under complete control when out would not be a good scenario for the future. This needs work.

The lady suggested my methods were ‘alternative’. Modern positive methods used now by all principled modern trainers and behaviourists educated in learning theory. The days of old-fashioned punishment-based dog training is long over.

TV programmes and many dog training classes still use force and harsh commands and negatives. For instance, if he is harshly told ‘leave it’ when approaching another dog along with a jerk of the collar, what message does that give to a scared puppy?

The IMDT, the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers, is fast changing this.  How much better ‘Good Dog’ and encouragement – and food!