Force, choke chain and control

force and choke chain unnecessaryForce and control may keep other dogs safe, but it doesn’t improve how beautiful Milo feels about them. The opposite in fact.

It’s always a treat for me, in my job, to meet a German Shepherd that welcomes me into his house! Milo is great with people.

The seven-year-old dog is the most gorgeous, friendly dog. They have come a long way in many respects having worked hard with his ‘manners’ and training since they adopted him four years ago.

However, there is one thing that simply doesn’t improve. That is his attitude towards other dogs when out on walks.

Continue reading…

Sudden Aggression. Redirects Onto Other Dog

Sudden aggression seems, to Harry’s owners, to come from nowhere. They took the German Shepherd on in good faith five years ago, at the age of two, little knowing what they had let themselves into.

The couple are experienced German Shepherd owners and have stuck with it.

Sudden aggression

Harry and George

The other day, seemingly with no provocation at all. The lady was by herself and both dogs were asleep on the floor.

With no warning, Harry suddenly attacked their other Shepherd, Bomber.

He grabbed the younger dog’s neck and shook him violently.

The poor lady sat and cried

Continue reading…

Bored, Over-excitable and Looking for Trouble

German Shepherd Kerry is bored.

Bored German Shepherd

Kerry

Although it’s natural for adult dogs to sleep for up to eighteen hours a day, this is only so if the rest of the time is filled with stuff natural to the dog – and its breed. Sleep probably won’t be in long blocks of enforced inaction during the day, but dozing between doing other things.

Young dogs in particular need action and fulfilment (just like young humans) or they get bored.

Kerry is a beautiful eighteen-month-old German Shepherd living with another GSD, Lemmy, aged four. They are both gorgeous dogs with lovely, friendly basic temperaments.

Young Kerry, unfortunately, probably isn’t getting enough action in her life and she’s very easily aroused. I saw this by how the smallest thing results in her leaping at someone, me in this case – grabbing my clothes and even hair with her teeth. 

Continue reading…

Ignores Them. Won’t Come When Called. Unmotivated.

Not only does 9-month-old German Shepherd Max look beautiful, he has a wonderful personality. Like many teenagers he’s full of himself and this is a lot better than being the opposite –fearful. He’s confident and friendly.

Max ignores them!

Max also is a law unto himself! Continue reading…

Shy Dog. Scared of Men. GSD Mix Looks Like Tamascan

Tala is shy with people she doesn’t know. She is particularly scared of men.

shy dogA year ago she was rescued from an abusive situation. Where shy dogs are very often more frightened of men than of women, it may be that Tala has particular reason to be shy of men.

She now lives in a lovely family. It took her time to relax with the two men when she came to them from the RSPCA a year ago, but now she’s soft, funny and loving. Continue reading…

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…

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…

Adolescent German Shepherd. Excitable. Biting

Adolescent German Shepherd Knight is a challenge. He is now nearly nine months old, wilful and strong. His owners do all they know to give him a good life – they walk him, feed him and love him.

Unfortunately, living the life of a much-loved family pet just isn’t enough. Knight is a working dog without work to do. Much of how he is will be genetic.

Adolescent German ShepherdThe poor lady showed me the bruises up her arms and a bite mark.

He is big, bold and confident – and a bit of a bully. Unfortunately he missed out on early training because the couple both had fallen ill when they first got him at eight weeks old and things have basically got out of hand as he’s got bigger and become adolescent.

The family of five adults sat opposite me. Knight repeatedly targeted the two youngest, jumping on them with his mouth open. He also did the same with me.

Throughout the time I was there we were rescuing one another. Telling him off only fired him up further, as it does, so I had a person across the room calling him away and giving him something else to do. Diversion only lasted briefly.

I did some clicking for calm which gave us some respite. I lent him a Stagbar to chew and then an Ancoroot. Both kept him occupied for about five minutes.

He was already trailing a lead, but there was simply nowhere to put him away from us. There was no door between the two downstairs rooms and the gap was too wide for any gate. Even the garden isn’t secure.

It was hard to know where to start with improving the situation for both the family and for Knight. 

So – getting down to basics first.

The biting is unacceptable.

When I was ready to leave, the young lady took Knight into the back garden on the lead – just as they do for a toilet visit. I needed to pick up my Stagbar and Ancoroot with him out of the way as he guards resources – even his own poo. We said goodbye.

As the door shut behind me I heard “He’s attacking my sister!” and loud screams from the back garden.

She was very shaken, her arm was bright red but thankfully the skin wasn’t broken. The whole morning had been very arousing for Knight with so many people all together for so long and, unfortunately, she got the fallout.

On the plus side if there is one, although the biting is dreadful, the adolescent and angry dog was actually able to show a some degree bite-inhibition and self-control.

Control and management

The challenge will be in implementing new boundaries without using force or confrontation which can only make things worse whilst also enriching his life. He needs more happening – more constructive stuff. This will be a big undertaking.

The times and places where the behaviour is most likely to occur are predictable and must now be controlled using management and change in routine – or Knight muzzled.

For instance, they always have trouble with him leading up to his meals. He won’t leave them alone while they themselves eat (there is nowhere in the house to shut him apart from a crate) and he gets more and more rough and hyped up until he’s fed.

I suggest now that they break the routine and feed him first – in the crate, and leave him there until they have eaten and cleared up.

This isn’t the problem solved for the future, but it’s managed for now.

Control and management also means making it impossible for the behaviour with some physical restrictions. Physical restrictions are hard in a small house with no doors, and gaps too wide for a gate.

We considered anchor points with cable attached and at making the crate a place he loves to be.

Free use must be made of the muzzle. He knows he can control them by using his teeth and he can sense their own fear. With a muzzle they can relax and no longer give in to him.

The more the adolescent biting, grabbing and bullying is rehearsed, the more of a learnt behaviour, a habit, it becomes.

Adolescent, frustrated and bored.

Knight has little space at home, is at present unable to be outside off-lead in the garden and can’t be trusted off-lead when out. The lack of freedom must add to an adolescent’s frustration. Something needs to be done about this along with working on his recall (we will look at this later). Meanwhile, maybe they could perhaps sometimes hire a safe field so he has a chance to run.

Knight’s roughness and biting is all about controlling people but he wouldn’t do it if it had never worked. There are times when he’s gentle and peaceful, but once aroused – frustrated or angry…off he goes.

They should now add as much fulfillment to his life as they possibly can. Getting the fine line between enrichment and stirring him up will be tricky.

Earning some of his food.

They were a little resistant to using food. It’s almost impossible to train without food unless you use force, old-school style. Then it would all be about dominating the dog and his complying only to avoid punishment. The result of this approach would likely be real aggression, particularly when the person exerting this control wasn’t present to keep him under check. I’ve met many dogs like this.

Positive methods are the only way to go. Barking Up the Wrong Tree for 110 years, by Ian Dunbar.

Knight can earn the food he would anyway eat – it’s not treating him, it’s payment. Food is also for reinforcing the desired behaviour – positive reinforcement. The end result, with sufficient time and effort, is a biddable and cooperative dog.

There is a lot more to cover over the weeks I shall be working with them. Walking on a long line in the park, they can work on recall whilst giving him some freedom. They can teach him to settle on a mat when he’s calmed down a bit. Work needs to be done on his resource guarding and also separation problems.

Finally, they have a cat. Just hearing the cat at the door gets him going.

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. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Knight and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

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).

Control – Carrot or Stick?

GSD lying down

Murphy

After a run of German Shepherds who are very reactive to anyone coming into their home, it was great to go to a Shepherd who welcomed me immediately.  Murphy and Mastiff-type Bailey are well socialised, well-trained and gentle with their children.

But it’s a tricky case of finding a compromise between two approaches – what the gentleman himself calls ‘carrot and stick’. He is the stick and the lady the carrot – not really an accurate description in that although he uses a certain amount of force and mild punishment in getting the dogs to do what he wants, I’m sure he would never hit them. He is extremely conscientious and loves them dearly. The carrot implies something dangled in front of the dog to entice him to comply, where the lady feels most comfortable using encouragement and reward.

Rottweiler cross

Bailey

People’s way of interacting with their dogs usually reflects their own personalities. The gentleman, by nature organised and routine-driven, feels he needs control over things around him. The lady is more relaxed, but she is unable to exert the control over the dogs that he can using his ways. So she needs the tools – different tools!

The couple well illustrates the divide between the methods of the past where the owner must be Alpha and ‘in control’, and modern science-based methods that enable dogs to develop ‘self-control’ by giving them encouragement, reinforcement and choices. One teaches the dog to avoid doing something ‘wrong’, and the other focusses on showing the dog how to do ‘right’.

Teaching self-control with reward and encouragement means that physical strength simply isn’t required in order to walk your dogs and manage encounters with other dogs. The young lady no longer dares to walk them on lead now, despite using head halters, after a final incident when she was pulled over as Murphy and Bailey charged excitedly towards a frightened puppy whose owner was not pleased.

The gentleman as a person needs routine, the upside of which has contributed to creating such beautifully mannered and friendly dogs. Where things are coming unstuck is that the lady is unable to match this. We are working on replacing some old routines with some different ones – based a little more on the psychology of dogs than on dominance. We want the dogs to use their brains and not rely on commands. I tried asking Murphy, gently, to sit and then lie down. Nothing. I had to ‘command’ him.

In my own life I have done a complete U-turn from the methods of control and force I, and nearly everyone else involved in training dogs, used many years ago. I can therefore well understand how it can take someone ‘old-school’ quite a lot to be convinced that reward-based, force-free methods work a lot better in the long run (and no thanks here to Cesar Millan). It needs a lot more patience and takes a bit longer as force can seem to produce ‘quick-fixes’, but the results are more permanent in the long run and our relationship with our dogs a whole lot more balanced.

So, now the lady will use different equipment for her walks – no more head halters but a front-fastening Perfect Fit harnesses – and she will take the dogs out one at a time for now. The deal is that if the gentleman doesn’t feel he can go through the necessary steps of letting the dogs walk freely on a longer looser lead, then he can stick with the old equipment. To the dogs, the harnesses should be associated only with a different kind of walking – and not ‘contaminated’. The lady will no longer need to be strong. The dogs will learn that walking on lead beside or near to her, focussing on her when necessary, can be fun and not a matter of ‘being under control’.

I hope that her results will speak for themselves and inspire the gentleman.

A note from the lady about five weeks later: ‘The very fact that I am enjoying my dog walks again is massive. Feeling very positive.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Murphy and Bailey, which is why I don’t go into 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 – as this case demonstrates. 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).