Old Dog Intolerant of Younger Dog

Elderly German Shepherd is finding life hard with new younger dog

Chloe

I felt quite inspired being with this couple and their two rescue dogs – one elderly German Shepherd who without their offer of a home would have been put to sleep and a younger Belgian Shepherd who was found in a canal.

Since the four-year-old Jack arrived from Wood Green a couple of weeks ago, Chloe’s barking has escalated. It is hard for an old dog like Chloe to accept an energetic younger dog in her home.

The couple badly want both dogs to be happy together. They already have a very ‘positive’ outlook on dog communication, but some things need an outsider’s perspective.

This is quite a challenge. Many of the options for the sort of behaviour exhibited by GSD Chloe are impossible due to her being in quite a lot of pain from arthritis despite being on the maximum dosage of Metacam. Even getting up is a labour, so they are working on getting eye contact and reinforcing quiet.

The constant discomfort together with lack of mobility I’m sure will be contributing to Chloe’s intolerance of active new boy Jack.

To help her properly, they need to change the emotions that are driving her barking behaviour.

Newly rehomed Belgian Shepherd feels uneasy around their elderly German Shepherd

Jack

Seeing Jack petted and fussed may be upsetting Chloe. She barked at him when he was excited around me. She barked at him when he was chewing a toy. She barked whenever he came back into the room from the garden. She sometimes barks when he just walks about. She barks constantly on walks with him.

As we could see from his body language, Jack at times feels a little uneasy when entering the room or walking past her.  He is treading carefully – for now.

Their way to make him feel at home has been a lot of touching and petting, he’s certainly irresistible – but they are fair.  Chloe gets her share also. However, something tells me that it would be best for now if the fussing of Jack was kept to a minimum, best for him and best for Chloe.

Despite the Metacam, Chloe was stressed and restless the whole evening. It ended with a spat between the two dogs over a toy she had been chewing and which Jack then took and started to destroy. (They dealt with it beautifully – immediately and calmly separating the dogs).

Chloe’s barking on walks when she sees other dogs has escalated these past two weeks. This is a shame because she used to be so well-socialised and friendly as for now, fortunately, is Jack.

The couple is afraid that he will learn the wrong things from her.

For now the two will be walked separately in order to work on Jack’s loose lead walking and give him the exercise he needs, and to properly work on Chloe’s barking and reactivity. You can teach an old dog new tricks – with patience and kindness.

Then, all being well, they will be able to walk both dogs together again.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Chloe and Jack, which is why I don’t go into the exact details of your plan here. 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).

Aggressive to Callers

Black German Shepherd Kody on the left does not like people coming to her house

Kody

 Kody on the left does not like people coming to her house and she makes that very clear with a lot of barking. While white GSD Portia is less reactive, she will join in.

The evening didn’t start like this, with two calm and happy dogs.

After a very noisy start in the sitting room with both dogs on lead barking at me, I went back outside, rang the doorbell and started again. This time we went into the kitchen and sat at the breakfast bar with a bowl of tasty tit-bits prepared and to hand.

The dogs were then let in to join us.

As you can see, both dogs are happy and this was achieved very quickly. Portia is sitting beside me waiting for another piece of cheese, and Kody also was eating out of my hand. Usually she would have been barking at someone’s slightest movement and she has nipped people in the house.

White GSD Portia is sitting beside me waiting for another piece of cheese

Portia

I go to a great number of German Shepherds in particular that behave in an aggressive to callers coming into their homes. I believe one very big part of it starts in early puppyhood. These dogs need socialising with plenty of people (and dogs) from about six weeks of age, getting as much as possible in in before four months old. Even then it’s never ‘job done’.

Maintainance is key.

Meeting people and other dogs needs continue to be a regular feature of the dog’s life else they will lose their sociability. Sometimes people at work all day simply don’t have time, but they pay the price.

I have personal experience of all this with my own German Shepherd, Milly. She used to belong to a client who bought her from what was to all intents and purposes a puppy farm. The lady didn’t even see Milly’s mother, and Milly herself had met nobody at all apart from the person who fed them all until she was twelve weeks old. A recipe for disaster. The poor lady who bought her couldn’t ‘bond’. Milly was scared of absolutely everything and everybody – including the couple who bought her.

When the dog growls and barks at people most owners try everything they can to stop her – scolding, restraining and maybe threatening with something. It might ‘control’ the dog, but this is only a temporary fix and makes things even worse the next time. One reason we show anger to our barking and snarling dog is that we feel we somehow owe it to the person who is the brunt of it.  We need to get over that and put the dog first. We need to try to understand the underlying reason why she’s doing it, and deal with that, so she doesn’t need the aggressive behaviour to callers that she hopes will send them away.

If they continue to keep Kody and Portia away from all people, things will never change. As I say to owners, the only way you will change your dogs’ behaviour is to change what you do yourselves. In this case each dog needs to be worked on separately, outside in the real world where people can be seen from a non-threatening distance, and they need ‘obedient’ visitors!

The bottom line is, it depends how much we want something. If it’s important enough we’ll do it.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Kody and Portia, 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

German Shepherd. Failed Police Dog

Cora is a failed police dog

Cora

German Shepherd Cora is a four-year-old ‘failed’ police dog. Who knows what her puppyhood was and what essential socialising she missed out on?

Like so many German Shepherds I go to, she is reactive to people coming to the house though she settles quickly. She is also very wary and barks at anything that worries her – and a lot does worry her: people who look different when out, new objects in different places, anything sudden, other dogs when she is on lead, vacuum cleaner, fireworks, the neighbours. The list goes on.

She lives with young Wheaten Terrier, Molly, who a couple of times has received the fallout as Cora redirects her stress onto her and they end up fighting. Molly herself is quite good also at winding Cora up and a couple of fights have been over bones. She, too, is a barker – particularly indoors at every little thing she hears. Understandably, the neighbours aren’t happy.

Wheaten Terrier Molly barks at everything she hears

Molly

Our starting point is to calm everything down in every way possible. The barking needs to be addressed. Telling a dog to be quiet when barking at sounds outside may stop her briefly but it does nothing to resolve the problem. Holding a frantic, barking dog on a tight lead does nothing to teach the dog to be chilled around other dogs, traffic and approaching people.

Cora’s owner admits that had she known just what she would be like she wouldn’t have taken her on, but they love her and are now fully committed to do all they can to give her a good life – to help her to become more relaxed so that eventually they can enjoy walks, take the dogs camping and be confident that there will be no more fights.

GSD Barks Fearfully at People

Bella barks fearfully at people German Shepherd Bella only lies still if I don't moveBella still barks fearfully at people.

I went to see Bella three months ago when she arrived at her new owners, and they have come a very long way. The couple have worked very hard indeed and it’s not been easy. They have developed a firm bond.

However, Bella is still barks fearfully at people, especially people coming to her house. Today she was fine if she couldn’t see me – even though she could hear me – but went into manic barking if she sighted me.

She was okay if I sat still

After a while she got used to me sitting down and lay down seemingly relaxed so long so long as I sat still, a great improvement on last time; as soon as I stood, though, the barking started.

Whilst the couple have made brilliant progress considering what she was like three months ago, it is now time to advance things further. Bella needs to learn to be more confident around visitors to the house.

We worked at my going out, ringing the doorbell and coming back in again. When I last came she was in such a state that we had worked by removing her because she was so frantic; now we all felt it was time to progress forward. With me as the ‘guinea pig’, we used a clicker to reward her for calm behaviour in my presence.

Because she is such a clever dog, Bella soon realised that barking and then stopping barking would be followed by a click and a treat! It’s called chaining. She was barking in order to stop barking in order to get the click and then the treat! So, we had to get her to wait for the click and wait for the treat. I took a video of her wonderful lady owner’s attempts. The timing will improve with practice – the click and reward should come for having looked calmly at me for several seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGl8BiDECuc

100% committed

Now, after a very shaky start, Bella’s new owners are 100% committed and have made great progress already. When they took her on they were told she was socialised. It was a big shock to discover what she was really like, but after a lot of soul-searching they decided to keep her and to give her their all.  Confidence building can be very, very slow.

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. Barking Chases Dogs Away

Barking chases dogs awayIt was a treat to visit such a calm and friendly German Shepherd. Most that I’ve been to recently have had problems with people coming into their homes, but not 20-month-old Storm. She was chilled – and actually a lot more interested in the doggy smells on my bag and on my trousers than in me!

Storm makes very few demands on her owners, and they make few on her. She is biddable and obedient.

Barking chases dogs away

But, unfortunately, she is becoming increasingly reactive to other dogs they meet on walks and she has now injured a small terrier.

I don’t myself see this as a problem solely to do with dogs on walks. I feel this is a symptom and not the cause.

At home she has free access to the front gate and a lot of dogs walk by. She takes up her station there and flies at the gate in a territorial fashion whenever a dog goes past. To Storm, barking always chases dogs away – they always go after all.

When her owners go out she may be left outside on guard duty. Her stress levels will be continually rising.

In the car she has her head out of the window and barks at any dog she sees. Barking chases dogs away after all, even if in the car they are the ones moving away.

Rehearsing the behaviour

Storm is simply given too much opportunity to practise the undesirable behaviour. Scolding her or saying NO doesn’t help at all. She may stop temporarily, but it teaches her nothing. It doesn’t teach her that, as her dog parents and guardians, protection duty is their responsibility and not hers.

She’s not always reactive to every dog she meets when out however. It seems that she can tolerate so much, and then she will ‘go’.

Understandably, they try to walk her away from other dogs. Avoiding dogs altogether will get them nowhere of course – particularly as the only interaction she does get is negative – the aggression from behind their gate along with unplanned encounters. She is usually either chastised or she is left to get on with it by herself.

Storm has a very close bond with her gentleman owner in particular. Dealt with sensitively, given time and patience, I’m sure he will bring her around. Opportunities for guard duty should be cut to the minimum, and when she barks she should be helped, not scolded.

Opportunity to be left to practise barking and chasing dogs away from the garden should be avoided.

Such a good dog

Because she is generally so good, they are too relaxed.

Out on walks she needs to be more under control with less freelancing. They now have techniques to work on that will gradually get Storm more used to other dogs whilst connecting with her owners, to be calm around them. This work has to start at a distance within her comfort threshold – before she begins to react. Once over that threshold, she will become deaf and incapable of learning.

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!

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.

‘Come’ Works a Whole Lot Better Than ‘Go’.

Today three of my five dogs were by mistake let out of their ‘daytime’ enclosure into the sitting room (with five lively dogs one needs some physical boundaries). The three offenders were the three youngest, German Shepherd Milly, Cocker Pickle (of course), and Labrador Zara. ‘Man’ had left the barrier open on his way through so it was time for a party.

I heard a lot of noise and shouting of GO BACK IN THERE and found three dogs chasing gleefully about, evading him, with the rug sliding about on the wooden floor.

Why do people make things so difficult? (Sorry, Man. Living with someone who thinks they know it all is enough to make you dig your heels in and do things your way).

I walked through the room cheerfully saying ‘Come With Me, Dogs’. I walked into their enclosure followed by three willing dogs. They received a small treat each from my pocket – thank you for cooperating. Job done.

‘Come’ works so much better than ‘Go’. At night time, getting an unwilling dog to ‘go’ outside can be much harder than asking him to ‘come’ out with you. I prefer to call a dog to her crate or bed – COME TO YOUR BED (reward) works a lot better than GO TO YOUR BED as many people like to do – inviting defiance; likewise ‘COME away from the front door’ in preference to ‘GO away’.

It’s that old contest between the ‘dominance’ approach (‘they will do as they are told because I must show them who is boss’), and the positive reward-based approach where the dogs are treated with respect. The pay-off of the latter is that the dogs will then treat us with respect and want to please us.

It’s a no-brainer.

Gentle Duke Turns Into a Snarling Devil Dog When Cats Appear

Handsome HSD Duke sitting on the sofaToday I visited eighteen month old German Shepherd Duke. He is a perfect example of how people unintentionally teach their dogs to do the very opposite of what they want.

When they first got him as a puppy he was fine with their cats. In fact he would sleep with one of them. However, as he got a bit older an maybe over-playful, his family became anxious. Their initial reaction involving scolding and panic would have started things on a downward spiral. The cats now stay well out of the way upstairs when Duke is about.

Gradually things have escalated to their current situation. As soon as he hears a cat jump off a bed upstairs or meow, Duke hurtles at the stair-gate, snarling and barking. If the cat is visible he is truly ferocious – they say like a totally different dog. They feel if he actually caught one of the cats he would kill it.

How did things come to this? I asked the four family members what each does when Duke charges at the stair-gate. All immediately shout at him and dive towards him. They may try to grab his collar, still shouting, and may wack him with a rolled-up newspaper – firing him up even further.

The other day Duke bit the teenage son who had the rolled newspaper in one hand and was trying to grab his collar with the other.

Let’s look at this through Duke’s eyes. Cats mean trouble – his humans have taught him this. As soon as he charges at the stair-gate, snarling, his humans join in – all making angry noises. They back him up. They behave aggressively towards him too.

While I was there we tried something different. A cat was moving about upstairs. I immediately dropped a tiny bit of food for Duke. Every time we heard a cat I fed him. It wasn’t long before one cat was halfway downstairs staring at Duke under the open side of the stairway. So we could all relax, I slipped a longish lead on him and, making sure it was loose, continued feeding him.

Soon the cat actually jumped down into the room, going under the coffee table beside us. Duke gave one alarm bark but that was all. He stared at the cat so I then decided he should do a bit more for the food – something to distract him that was incompatible with staring at the cat. It worked perfectly. We then called it a day and separated them. This was more than enough for one session.

The family could see how responsive Duke was to a gentle and calm approach. Nobody had taught him what he should do when worried about the cats. There are one or two simple things they can do to make things easier, like blocking the view of cats on the stairs.

If all the family can behave the same way with no more shouting, panic or rolled-up newspapers – showing Duke by their own behaviour that cats are cool, I’m sure they will be all live happily together, given time.