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.

German Shepherd barks at visitors to the house

Lily needs a stable and predictable lifeIf the humans a dog lives with are not calm, stable and predictable, how can their dog be these things? If they are erratic then one might expect their dog to be the same.

The situation German Shepherd Lily has lived in for the first four years of her life has not been happy for her young lady owner, nor really for Lily either. She has now moved back home to her family and after just four months Lily is happier too. During this time they have had two different trainers to advise them. The trainers had totally opposing methods, one believing in punishment and dominance and the other reward-based more like myself.

There is currently a muddling mix of input for Lily.

The problem that has most impact on the family is her excessive barking at people who come to the house. I had asked them to ignore her so I could see what she did. It went on and on and on! I tried various things. Then the young lady showed me what she normally did and the picture started to become clear.  She had been taught a routine to get Lily to settle, involving a mix of actions, tricks and rewards until she lies down and is quiet. She doesn’t stay down, though, so she gets scolded and NO until the routine is started over again in order to make her quiet again.

I found Lily’s barking different from most dogs that do this. Although it was doubtless fear-based to some extent, she wasn’t that fearful. We tried various things until I worked it out that the dog was actually barking for the attention she gets in terms of the routine of attention, commands and rewards! Inderectly she is being taught to bark.

It is always a good idea to give a dog an alternative behaviour that is incompatible with the behaviour you want to eradicate, but in this case the alternative behaviour itself has gradually become the reinforcer for barking. The alternative needs to end up being something the dog will do if her own accord and not dependent upon all that owner input – to lie down quietly.

They have tried everything they can think of – except recognising the things that are really reinforcing the barking – and removing them. It’s also essential that Lily has confidence and respect in her humans in terms of responsibility for comings and goings – which is not earned by a confusing mix of fussing her, excited play and then harsh commands and negatives like LEAVE and NO.

Now they at least have a tool for stopping the barking, so it can be a starting point to build upon. They need to move forward. We have a new plan, taking it one small increment at a time – gradually cutting down the ‘routine’ until she can simply be left to settle without commands, reinforcing only quiet behaviour until she learns what is required and finds that rewarding.

Like all dogs that are reactive to people coming into the house, they need to have plenty of visitors to practise on!

About six weeks have gone by and this is the latest input from Layla’s young lady owner: She’s made really good progress with visitors.  She no longer needs the full ‘tricks’ routine. I just say ‘down’ followed by ‘settle’ and she remains quite calm for the rest of the time… I’m very happy about that. Walks are going well, she now also sits down calmly when I pick up the lead to go on a walk. We’re also working on exchanging sticks/balls for treats, which is going well, she’s happier to ‘give’ now and less possessive. She also had a very polite nose touch with another dog that appeared which was lovely to see and then she simply followed me. And again many thanks for all your help, I’m really happy with how Lily has been doing.
This is the message I received exactly four months after my visit, and shows just what can be done with time and patience when the owners really apply themselves: “Everything is going well here, we’ve been going on weekly walks with other dogs and Layla is really enjoying socialising with them. House visits are constantly improving, I had a visitor come (that Layla had never met) on Tuesday and she let herself me stroked and cuddlled, which was amazing”!

German Shepherd Trying to Fit in to his New Home

Charlie is settling in to his new homeCharlie has had quite a few ups and down in his two years of life. As soon as I saw him he reminded me so much of my Milly who also had a difficult start. At some point somebody must have cared because he has been taught quite a few commands, but he was discovered somewhere left to starve, then kennelled and then fostered. Considering all this he’s doing brilliantly.

He has been in his new home for one week now, and one or two disturbing things are surfacing. He is very reactive and aggressive towards other dogs when out – something they’d not been warned about. Also, some occasional growling at the family is starting. With resources it’s all about owning them and hanging onto them, and when he has a toy or a bone he will parade it, growling.

Most of the time I was there Charlie was trying really hard to calm himself down, bless him. The family interpreted his behaviour around people as friendliness where I see a large element of anxiety. He’s not hyper at all, but more like the swan gliding on water and paddling furiously underneath, so the signs are not too bovious. They hadn’t read his somewhat obsessive licking of people, yawning, lip-licking, pacing, foot lifting and general restlessness as stress. The adult son asked me how could I know what these things meant. I said I can understand Charlie’s body language just as he can read another person’s face when they smile or frown. It’s through training and experience.

Where walking is concerned, so long as they patiently follow the plan, just like so many of my other clients with similar problems who have stuck at it, the family will ultimately have their daily long walks – and walks will be a joy and not something to dread.

The lady says she feels it’s cruel not to going for daily long walks. I say what is cruel is to have a highly stressed dog, pulling painfully on the lead, being forcibly held or corrected, wearing a muzzle which he is constantly trying to scrape off, trying to chase traffic, watching out for danger all the time – and when he sees another dog it’s a nightmare. That is cruel. It’s what many people with the best will in the world subject their dogs to, day in and day out.

Charlie is a wonderful dog. At last he is with the sort of family he deserves, who want to understand him and do their best of him.

Dogs an Inconvenience Not a Pleasure

GSD Sascha watching the rabbit



GSD Sascha is a handsome dog


Sascha is a beautiful two-year-old German Shepherd who lives with GSDs black Tango (10) and Annie (4).

The couple who own them run a rabbit rescue and these dogs are incredible. Rabbits are free in parts of the house and run around the dogs who are completely chilled with them.

This visit was a good example of how people who are living in the middle of their situation can’t see it clearly, and how under the general pressures of life things have gradually slipped until, to quote the lady, their dogs were no longer a pleasure but an inconvenience to put up with.

Sascha is generally quite pushy but also more nervous; she hackles and barks when people come to the house. In no time at all after I arrived she was happy and friendly, as were the other two. All the time I was encouraging the lady to keep quiet, not to scold the dogs, not tell them to go away and not to use the word ‘no’. To relax. They are dogs after all. It’s natural for them to gently sniff a stranger.

These dogs get nearly all their attention when they are doing something unwanted – Sascha in particular, and mostly in the form of ‘no’ and scolding. They get no attention or reward for being good.

Annie is bullied by Sascha


Sascha opens doors and child gates, she toilets on the floor immediately after she has been taken outside. She bullies poor Annie who spends much of her time hiding in the kitchen. The couple would leave them to get on with it – to sort it out for themselves. I ask people in this sort of situation, ‘what would you do if you had a child bullying her sister?’. Would you leave her to get on with it? Would you not kindly teach her a better way of behaving and protect the victim? Sascha is a very brainy dog who needs more stimulation. We did a bit of very simple clicker training and it was marvellous to see how focused and eager to please she became with something that is reward-based. We wouldn’t want to work for nothing and it’s the same for dogs, whether it’s food reward, play or merely praise.

Reinforcement drives behaviour.

Soon this lovely young couple should be bonding with their beautiful dogs, and enjoying them once more like they used to.

Shepherd leaps and snaps at faces

GSD Scrummy has a mind of his ownScrummy is a magnificent 14-month old adolescent German Shepherd. He lives with two other male GSDs with a lady who has had several Shepherds over the years – but never one quite like Scrummy!

He has always been wilful. Here is another dog that has had plenty of basic dog training at classes, but understanding commands alone isn’t the answer. All three dogs are quite excitable and liable to redirect onto one another. There is a feeling of competition between them, with the oldest, Blitz, hanging onto his lead role (for now). I fear that Scrummy is becoming a contender and if all of them don’t calm down and have more respect for their humans, real conflict could develop between them.

Over the past few weeks Scrummy’s already challenging and controlling behaviour has become more worrying. He has developed rather a strange reaction to human hands. When someone has been touching him and the hand is taken away or a hand is moved past him – say someone has reached for something – he goes not for the hand but leaps up at the person’s face and snaps – so far only snapping the air. The lady is very afraid that he’s becoming aggressive, but I don’t think so. Surely aggression involves a particular intent or state of mind? There is no snarling, no hackling and no fear involved. It’s more like a desire to control and a conditioned reaction which needs to be replaced with something better. I watched the teenage daughter playing with him, and when she took her hand away he automatically went to snap at it. I could see there was absolutely no ‘aggressive’ intent.

I did a ‘personal space’ test, and although he comes near and is friendly, he doesn’t actively want to be touched. People assume that a dog standing beside them is asking to be touched – but that’s not necessarily the case.  ‘Just because I’m near you and friendly doesn’t mean I want your hand on me’. Added to this, Scrummy has a very strong prey drive and is extremely reactive to movement – including to hands moving past his face. Also uncontrolled, excitable jumping up has been unintentionally encouraged. I believe it’s a question of working on a calmer environment, and teaching him some self-control and manners.  He can’t both keep his feet on the floor and jump up at faces at the same time.

For now the lady is so worried that her anxiety is contagious to Scrummy. While she is getting her confidence back, Scrummy will be learning some manners and respect.

Seven months later and after a lot of work: “From being the worst behaved puppy I have had he has turned out to be one of the best dogs to live with…….I am teaching him relaxation with the clicker.  I have a small mat which I throw on the floor and if he looks at it I click and give him a titbit on the mat without saying anything.  I then progressed to him having his paws on the mat and then to sitting on the mat and now to lying down on the mat.  My aim is to continue to click and reward for any sign of relaxation, such as head lowering etc.  A friend asked me to help her with her obedience training today and so after training she and her husband and dog came into my kitchen for a coffee.  I had been telling her about this relaxation training so thought I would try it.  I bought him into the kitchen and threw down his mat and after a few minutes he was lying on the mat and did not show any attention to the people or dog present.  I feel this is a real step forward to teaching him to relax in the presence of strangers etc.  I was really pleased with the progress he made today.  Yes, at them moment his mind is geared towards how do I get the titbit but also his mind is not thinking about people and other dogs, so I thought a huge step forward”.

He Bit the Postman

Rory is a handsome German Shepher Husky mixHere is two-year-old Rory, a German Shepherd/Husky mix. A very handsome dog! He lives in a family with two kids aged fifteen and ten.

Rory is becoming increasingly protective and this has culminated a few days ago with his biting the postman. This is very serious, not least because the law is in the process of being changed so that owners are liable whose dogs attack even on their own property (and even if the person shouldn’t be there).

From Rory’s point of view, life should be blissful but in actual fact, in his mind, he is burdened with huge responsibility. He keeps an eye on each family member’s every movement. He patrols back and forth as they move around the house, and if they settle in different rooms he places himself strategically in a central spot.

He likes to lie on the landing watching the front door. He likes to be higher. He likes to be ahead also. When someone gets up he is instantly ahead at the door, pushing through the door first.

He simply never rests when people are about until everyone is in bed, asleep – and even then he’s not off duty as he sleeps in the son’s bedroom.

Rory is reserved and slightly aloof by nature, but suddenly fires into life if someone comes up the drive or to the door – hurling himself at the door, hackles up and barking ferociously. He believes it’s his job to protect his family and the territory.

Although he is a guarding breed, in a family environment it’s not safe to have a guard dog. Moreover, it’s unfair to allow the dog to believe the job is his and then to punish or scold when he is driven to execute his job to the best of his ability. Rory needs to learn that his owners are their to protect him and not visa versa. He can be a very good burglar alarm, but he needs to know that they deal with the problem and not him.

It’s a ‘leader’ who is the protector, provider and decision-maker. Rory needs to be of this duty.

About six weeks later: “Rory is actually doing very well, calmer, obedient and generally so much easier. My son has noticed that he does not pull when he takes him for a walk.  Dog walker thinks he is an angel (biased I suspect). We are still following everything to the letter!! ……quite a few friends have commented on how much calmer he seems. We will keep going!!
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Blind Black German Shepherd

Black GSD is yawning, uneasy


Here is Jet – yawning. He’s feeling a bit uneasy in the presence of their other black German Shepherd Max who is just out of the picture. Max is blind, just a year old, and they have had him for just a few days.

After a promising start, things have deteriorated between the two dogs who have now had four fights – each one worse than the one before ending with a visit to the vet for Max. For the past two days they have been kept completely apart, their first reuniting when I was there.. They were both soon lying down, seemingly relaxed, so I feel things haven’t yet gone too far.

The big problem is that the two dogs don’t understand one another. Jet will be giving all the right signals and body language that he wants to be left alone, but of course Max can’t read them. Jet can’t know this. Max, on the other hand, tries to use Jet as his eyes, following right behind him which Jet doesn’t like. Max started nipping him or maybe he was just grabbing onto him – perhaps because Jet wasn’t doing what he wanted – and eventually, having warned him with signals and growling, Jet turned. Other fights followed.

Outside the house Max is terrified of every sound, resulting in hackling, barking and even grabbing quite aggressively. He has no idea where he is. For this reason the first thing they must do is to allow Max to gain his bearings and a sort of mental map of first his garden, and then very gradually, outside the front of the house. This responsibility is with the humans not with Jet, so he needs a lot of walking alone on lead around the place. He sometimes loses the door in from the garden, so I suggest they put something scented near or on it.

Max' eyes look normal

Max’ eye

For now the dogs will only be together when their baby is in bed and they both are on hand. Both should be trailing a short lead and everything should be calm.  At the first sign of tension, someone needs to walk or stand between the dogs, splitting them up – just as another dog would do.  Poor Max has been passed between about five different people in the past few weeks, which would be bad enough for a dog with eyes, let alone a blind dog.

I hope, taking it slowly, that they can help these two dogs to understand one another, help Jet to be tolerant, and help Max to be more independent, so that they can all get along happily. It is a small house and keeping the dogs apart and taking them separately to the garden is complicated. It goes without saying that their dear little girl is their number one priority.

This photo of one of Max’ eyes is interesting. You wouldn’t know he was blind to look at him. I took it close up using flash. Most dogs’ eyes would glow white because to give good twilight vision they possess a light-reflecting surface known as the tapetum lucidum which operates like a mirror.

The next day I received a phone call. For the safety of their little girl they have decided to return Max to the the rescue. I agree that this is wise and must admit the situation worried me. Good rescue organisations do home checks before placing a dog. Whilst this couple would be ideal if they didn’t have a toddler, it’s not the right environment. He will now go back into foster. I do so hope a forever home is found for Max with someone experienced andwith  no children, where he is the only dog. In his short life this blind dog has had to adjust to seven or more different homes, and it’s testament to his basic sound temperament that he is so friendly.

German Shepherd Terrified of People

White German Shepherd puppy is feeling stressed It is sad to see such a young dog so scared.

Darcy is only five months old. At home, with family and close friends, she is relaxed, friendly and biddable. She is surprisingly calm for a puppy, she doesn’t chew things and she is house-trained.

The problem is ‘other’ people. When I arrived her hackles were raised high all along her back, she was backing away and barking like mad. This carried on for a while. She would find the courage to come a bit nearer and then back off barking again.

The natural reaction of humans is to either tell the dog to be quiet, or to pet and ‘comfort’ her. They were doing both these things. Scolding a dog for being scared isn’t appropriate, and stroking is reinforcing her fears – telling she is rightDarcy is looking a little happier now to be frightened. I am showing them what are the appropriate ways of reacting. You can see on the right she is yawning – a sign that although she now looks in settled position she is still anxious.

Out on walks Darcy shrinks away from people and other dogs. She has already started to bark at things she hears outside the house or garden. One can imagine what she will be like as an adult German Shepherd if something isn’t done now.

Darcy displays all the signs of a puppy who has not been handled by a sufficient number of new people before she even leaves the breeder. One or more of the following factors could also contribute to the cause: being born to a fearful mother and maybe of a natural nervous disposition anyway, kept out of the way in another room or a shed for the first eight weeks of their life, possibly some inbreeding.

I shall be helping Darcy’s family for the next few months, maybe longer, helping them to understand her and to help her gain confidence. There is no quick fix and we can’t put the clock back.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Poor Sabre was Badly Provoked

A brief respite from Sable's attention seeking activitiesSabre is a rescue German Shepherd, probably around eight years old. He has a very friendly temperament. In the evenings poor Sabre can become almost obsessively attention seeking and stressed.

It took Sabre getting on for three hours to calm down completely. All evening he was whining for attention, jumping up on his owners (he is a large dog), pacing, squeaking, barking and persistently asking to go out – anything to get them to react to his demands. He has learnt that this behaviour does eventually get him what he wants because it is so hard not to give in, and now he just carries on and on, becoming more and more worked up. Even when he wins the attention he continues to want more. His stress was evident by the panting, licking of his lips and nose, and excessive drinking of water.

We worked on how to react appropriately – like another stable dog would do if pestered. It was lovely to see him eventually lie down, sigh and relax. Soon he will be able to get plenty of attention – when he is polite and calm, and not always on demand.

Sable himself is very good at giving other dogs messages that say he doesn’t want to be jumped on and pestered so I am sure he will get the message if it’s done in a way he understands. He’s not interested in other dogs and wants to be left alone, which is fair enough.

An unfortunate incident happened recently. He was out with his gentleman owner when two very boisterous smaller dogs ran up to him. The gentleman put Sable on lead and then tried to walk away. Sable would have been doing his best to ignore the dogs, turning away from them and looking away – giving all the doggy signals he could that he wanted to be left alone, but they simply followed and would not give up. He will have warned, shown his teeth and growled and still he was ignored. The owner of the other dogs never called them back. So Sabre, as a totally logical thing to do in his mind and after all his very reasonable and patient warnings had been ignored, bit one of the dogs on the tail. Sable was blamed.

If we have off-lead dogs, then it is our reponsibility to call them back if we see a dog put on lead. There must be a reason. It’s our duty to control our dogs and the poor dog on lead who is trapped is all too often blamed. If dogs don’t come back when called, then they should be kept on lead around other dogs until intensive recall work has been done. So far as Sable is concerned, his owners need to know how to react as his leader and protector – how to step in on his behalf and how to spot the signs when he has had too much. They also need to reduce his general stress level so that he will be more tolerant.

Email received about five days after my visits – and they have gone from strength to strength: “We have had some unsettled evenings for the first couple of hours. I don’t want to jinx it, but sabre has been fantastic today!. We’re amazed that in such a short amount of time he’s come so far. We’re looking forward to calm walks! We’re still feeling very confident and comfortable with all of the points, the hardest thing has been not getting him excited again once we have him calm…On the whole, early days though it is, we feel already that a huge amount of progress has been made!”
Nine months after we met, things still going well: “We are doing great! I was away (working abroad) for about five months and was amazed to see the difference in Sabre on my return home. Ben has been following all the new rules you gave us….Walks are relaxed now and Sabre seems pretty disinterested in other dogs on the whole…..Even when I walk him on my own I experience no problems with him. So on behalf of all three of us, thank you! Thank you very much for being able to point out our flaws and helping us to find a resolution for them and for Sabre!
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.


A Lovely Dog That is Being Ruined

German Shepherd Shandy has no leadershipShandy is a fourteen month old German Shepherd, a friendly dog who in the circumstances is unbelievably stable. Not only does he lack any sort of boundaries, he  is actively taught to do the very things that should be avoided. It is a tribute to his great personality that he is not aggressive or fearful – or both. In fact, I have very seldom watched while someone behaves in such an inappropriate way with their dog.

That they love Shandy goes without saying. He is adored. At the same time he is not treated with respect, and he is encouraged to show his humans no respect either. They may tell him to do something, but he takes no notice and they give up. He does exactly what he wants.

Shandy jumps up at them, he jumps all over them, he jumps up at visitors, he stands on the sofa pawing the man to share sweets with him; he literally walks all over them. He is encouraged by teasing kind of play to mouth and bite hands and feet.

While his owners are eating he will be staring, drooling and pawing so that they share their food with him.

On walks he is a problem. The only way they can handle him and stop the pulling is by using a Halti. He lunges and barks at cats and shows aggression to dogs he doesn’t know. This is hardly surprising. Outside in the big world he is trapped, attached by his lead to a man who is an unpredictable responsibility not a leader, or to the sensible young daughter who is very frustrated by the whole situation and who contacted me in the first place. She however is slight of build and unconfident when out with Shandy and he will sense this. Needless to say, off lead he only comes back when he is ready.

I can see Shandy’s behaviour taking a turn for the worse as he matures if they can’t somehow quite drastically change their ways which I fear they may not wish to do. He is a powerful dog. He does not need a silly playmate nor a servant. He needs to be taught good manners. He needs responsible ‘parenting’.

Shandy is, quite literally, being spoilt – ruined.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.