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
Monty 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’.
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.
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!