First Season and Driven by Hormones

PartonCleoWhen I knocked on the door there was no barking and I wondered whether I had arrived at to the wrong house!

I was greeted by two very friendly and curious German Shepherds, one of which was jumping up at me while the lady was trying hard to restrain herself from grabbing or scolding her because I had asked her not to.

We sat down at the kitchen table and for a while I didn’t quite know where to start. The situation was worse than usual because six-month-old Cleo, on the right, is coming into her first season and eleven-year-old (castrated) Leo can’t leave her alone. When he does eventually lie down, Cleo then pesters him. The house is small for the family and two large dogs.

At one stage the fire alarm went off and both dogs erupted into frantic barking, followed by a slightly aggressive episode between the two dogs. Cleo has now begun to show her teeth at two of the daughters, once when being over-fussed on the sofa and the PartonLeoother time when being pulled off the sofa.

The lady felt she needed to be on their case all the time with ‘no’ and ‘uh-uh’ etc. She works as a carer and I asked her how she spoke to her elderly people to get them to cooperate. She was brilliant after that! I wanted to start working with rewards. While both dogs are currently driven by their hormones, there was little we could do with both together, so we put Leo into the other room where he cried on and off to come back in.

The plan for the first couple of weeks is to ‘prepare the ground’ so to speak, for the family to work hard on cutting down on scolding, cutting down on too much excitement and on introducing praise and rewards. They will get a gate to go between kitchen and sitting room in order to make separating the dogs easier. They will, hopefully, cut out rough play and look for constructive games along with finding things for Cleo to chew to help calm her and occupy her.

There are problems with walking the dogs which we will need to address when Cleo has finished her first season as she badly needs exercise and stimulation, spending many hours a day in her crate which is the only place she can be trusted not to chew walls and cables. Currently most interaction with their humans is in the form of either fussing, excitement or else being told off. They must have got a lot of things right though – the dogs are so friendly, and each dog when apart from the other becomes biddable and attentive when approached in the right way.

Against a calmer background we can then get down to work properly. What Cleo in particular most needs is basic training presented in such a way that she has something fun and rewarding to work for. Both dogs badly need some rules, boundaries and self-control. It is going to be a fairly long road.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Cleo and Leo, 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. 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).

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).

 

Walking Nicely

Having lived in a barn till 5 months old, Duke lacked socialisation

Duke

Previously the GSD had been beaten for destroying things when left alone all day

Princess

The last of German Shepherd Princess’ eight puppies went to a carefully checked home a couple of weeks ago and she has now been spayed.

Duke on he right (the puppies’ father) and Princess, both three years old, had the wrong start in life. Duke was in a barn and then not taken out until five months old which left a big gap in his vital socialisation, and Princess  had been left alone for hours and was beaten for destroying things.

The family have made huge headway with both dogs. Unsurprisingly, their main hurdle is socialisation and reactivity to other dogs when out, particularly Duke.

There are five family members who are all involved and adore the dogs, but they have been missing the vital ingredient to real success – positive reinforcement, particularly food.

Although their sole aim in asking for my help is to be able to enjoy walks, this is where I take a holistic approach.

A dog walking nicely is about much more than ‘dog training’.

The relationship with the human is particularly important when a dog is ‘trapped’ on lead. Firstly, the dog needs to find them relevant so that they can get and hold his attention. Secondly, the dog need to trust the human to whom he’s attached not only protect him and themselves, but also to make the decisions when out. If off lead, this also involves coming straight away when called rather than putting the owner somewhere lower on his list of priorities!

In order for the human to be trusted, they must be confident and this is one big problem here in this case.

Ever since Prince had been attacked by another dog, the lady who does much of the walking has been extremely anxious whenever they see one and admits that her reactions could well be part of the problem. Even discussing it made her tense up.

The business of decision-making, trust in the owner or walker and their being ‘relevant’ in order to get and hold a dog’s attention begins at home. If these things are not in place within the safe and distraction-free home environment, seeing the person on the end of the lead as ‘decision-maker and protector’ will not happen when out in the big world in the face of potential threats.

This is why a holistic approach works best. The process isn’t just about walks and other dogs alone.

Princess and Duke will be learning to respond to a whistle which will be throughly ‘charged’ at home – using food.  To teach them to really listen, they will learn to do their usual training tricks for one quiet request – and food. They will learn to give their humans eye contact and hold it upon request, they will learn to come immediately when called at home and they will learn that although they are the alarm system, their humans are ultimately in charge of protection duty.

Associating other dogs with nice stuff (food) will be part of the solution. Perhaps the lady would like to take a bag of her favourite sweets out on walks also and to pop one into her own mouth instead of reacting in panic!

This all takes time of course, but with these basics in place and calm loose lead walking established, these dogs will eventually be in a very different state of mind when meeting other dogs than they are now – as should their lady owner.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Princess and Duke, which is why I don’t share all the exact details 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).

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!