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 seventeen 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. 

Hyperasousal.

There is only one thing on this illustration I didn’t see, and that’s because she’s a female.

We sat around the dining table, myself, the couple and their young adult son. Having demonstrated what to do, the lady (a natural) was now reinforcing Kerry for every smallest bit of desired behaviour, using a clicker (and food).

The lovely dog was very quick to catch on – so quick that she was soon working us! She started jumping up in order to go back down in order to be clicked for feet on floor in order to be fed.

We taught a quiet ‘Off’ and then just a small hand signal when her feet were on the table. We also waited until she worked it out for herself. Kerry wasn’t bored anymore.

Until now commands have been shouted and repeated over until she’s complied.

She obeys the man more because he is louder and more forceful and she seldom leaps at him with her mouth open. As is often the case, the lady is usually her main victim, when there isn’t a visitor like myself she can get at.

Eventually she was sitting by us and resisting the jumping. Lemmy, bless him, was polite throughout. We were giving Kerry the kind of attention she yearned for. She settled….until…..

Someone laughed, or someone moved or there was a noise somewhere. Immediately she was back jumping and grabbing, wth most of her focus upon myself.

Enrichment and freedom.

Loving dog owners get a clever, active breed of dog, little realising what they may be taking on or the time, training and commitment involved. Only yesterday I was muzzle-punched in the eye by another excitable, bored young Shepherd with the same jumping and grabbing behaviours.

Both yesterday’s dog and Kerry’s lives contain insufficient freedom and enrichment; much of their behaviour is due to boredom and frustration so they orchestrate their own action. Insufficient early training has resulted in their lack of freedom.

Being bored is almost certainly why she is destructive.

During the day when they are at work, Kerry is crated. Because she destroys all bedding, there can be no bed. The other day they decided, quite rightly, that she would be happier with run of the downstairs with Lemmy. Unfortunately after a couple of days they came home to a wrecked sofa. Now she’s back in the crate.

For a healthy mind, young dogs in particular need ‘dog things’ to do like sniffing, exploring and foraging.

For the dog to change, the humans have to change what they do.

Lemmy

The main change in the humans’ own behaviour should be resisting shouting and too many commands whilst looking out for and rewarding the behaviour they want. The dogs can begin to earn some of their food. This behaviour training can’t be done without food (play is also rewarding but with play comes the excitement).

As our dogs tend to reflect ourselves, acting calm will help.

When one person, usually the man, controls the dogs through strength and dominance, it often means that if another family member can’t do this the dog seems to take advantage. The dog, though ‘under control’ with the man who commonly says he finds the dog no trouble, will often be lacking self control around other people.

Talking to our dogs is lovely – we share our thoughts, problems and life stories. However, if they want Kerry’s brain in gear and to do something for them, the fewer words they use the better. A lot of things, like sitting before receiving food if that’s what they want, the dog will do anyway if they wait. Lots of talking simply stirs her up.

I suggest that every time the jumping and biting behaviour occurs, they look at what has happened immediately beforehand for the reason why. As we saw, it can be as little as someone laughing.

‘Operation calm’ is the starting point.

The lower Kerry’s general stress levels are, the more tolerant she will become of the current triggers.

Operation calm includes doing something about walks which currently do more to stir both dogs up than to relax them. Because they are big pullers, ready to lunge at cats and even birds and reacting to both dogs and approaching people, it takes two people to walk them together. For physical control, both dogs wear Dogmatic head halters on shortish leads.

They really do need a bit more freedom like on long lines in fields or woods. There is a good website with secure dog fields that can be rented by the hour.

They need to walk comfortably on longer, loose leads. I can’t see much progress being made with either pulling or their reactivity to people and dogs unless walked separately for now.

The daily hour-long walks will be different. A to B is unimportant. The walk is about the journey not the destination. With one dog at a time they can now go in different directions and begin to work on each dog’s reactivity without them bouncing off one another.

We get home from work tired, just wanting a break in front of the TV. We often don’t realise some young dogs like this will be such a big, time-consuming commitment if they are to be easy to live with.

While the humans are at home, they will now initiate more activity and brain work for Kerry.

Bored. The devil makes work for idle paws.

Boredom is a big problem for young, active working dogs – the devil makes work for idle paws!

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 Kayleigh and Lemmy 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. 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)

Won’t Come When Called. She Freelances.

Lily won’t come when called.

The word here is Won’t. Lily hears. Lily understands. Lily decides not to.

She has been taken to special recall classes and was a star pupil in that environment.

She won't come when calledEighteen month old cream German Shepherd Lily and was a joy to meet. She had the ideal start in life. Her mother and father were both friendly family pets so she has inherited great genes temperamentally.

I don’t see a fair example of dogs, particularly German Shepherds, because I go to help sort out problems. It’s was real treat to be welcomed so happily.

The problem with Lily is that she won’t come when called.

Lily has got out of the front door. She then ran from garden to garden as the lady called her frantically. She sat in the middle of the road and just looked at her. Eventually a neighbour caught her.

Chasing cows.

What brought this to a head is that recently Lily got into a field full of cows and was chasing and barking at them. What a nightmare! She had run off, out of the field they were in and into a cow field. The lady, uselessly, was running after her, shouting for her to come back.

The lady loves to see her beautiful young dog running freely but that can no longer be possible if she won’t come when called. People with children can be intimidated as can someone with a small or nervous dog when a large dog runs up to them, barking.

So long as she’s off lead she loves other dogs. On lead, she will lunge and bark.

The fact Lily won’t come when called on walks will be part of a bigger picture. I did a bit of digging (something Lily likes to do but that’s another story!).

Lily won’t come when called in from the garden.

When out in the garden, particularly at bed time, young Lily won’t come in until she is ready. She may even enjoy refusing – playing games, teasing.

If she won’t come in from the garden when called, then there is little hope that she will come away from a rabbit running towards a road when they are out.

That Lily often won’t come when called isn’t due to lack of ‘training’. Good recall is about motivation and habit. Lily is constantly rehearsing not coming when called. She understands what is wanted and then decides to comply when she is ready.

When off lead, Lily may sometimes chase off people on bikes, people with dogs on lead or children – or cows. She is rehearsing this same behaviour at home by barking at people passing her garden fence. It works and the people go.

Despite training classes, Lily is such a puller that the lady can’t cope without using a Gentle Leader head halter.

She showed me what Lily does when she picks it up. The dog runs away from it. She hates it. This in itself is an eye-opener. It’s like she is being called for punishment.

Lily doesn’t display the usual doggy joy preceding a walk.

She walks down the street, restrained by something that is uncomfortable and makes her feel trapped. Stress builds in both her and the lady. Now she may react to a dog, something she never does if off lead and the dog is free too. She is held tight by the nose. More stress.

Then….off lead at last…she has freedom!

She runs. She plays with other dogs.

Then lady calls her. She won’t come back.

If I were Lily I wouldn’t want to come back to have the leash attached to that head halter again.

Lily will be introduced to a Perfect Fit harness and learn to walk nicely on a loose and longish lead – in total comfort. With a little work, both will enjoy walks a lot more.

At home Lily must lose her freedom in the garden. No more rehearsing the unwanted behaviour. She can be out on a long line (or retractable lead to avoid tangling) so recall is no longer optional. The lady will call her in immediately each time she barks.

Lily will be paid for coming. She will always be rewarded with food as she steps over the threshold.

Lily simply must lose opportunity to rehearse chasing dogs away and ignoring being called in – for a some time.

Indoors the lady has work to do too. She will repeatedly call Lily and reward her, ‘Lily Come’. Lily can earn some of her food. She can be ‘programmed’ to come to a whistle which hasn’t a history of being ignored, with constant repetition and reward.

In open spaces the long line will be attached to the harness so she can have partial freedom. Now the recall work can really begin – building on what they are already doing at home. Lots of repetition and lots of reinforcement.

To come back when called must be worthwhile to Lily.

Being called should never herald ‘time to go home’, or ‘I see another dog’. It must be random as can the reward. It need not always be food.

Lily will lose the option to decide ‘no, I won’t come when called’, because she will be on the line.

Importantly, her brain and her life will be enriched in every way possible with stimulating activities to compensate for what she lacks in off-lead freedom.

Dogs that freelance can cause real problems for other people, dogs, and other animals. We do things the wrong way around. We give our puppies freedom (puppies tend to stay close), and as they become teenagers, too late we then try to rein them in!

It’s so much better to give puppy very little freedom and gradually introduce more distance in a controlled way, reinforcing recall constantly. We are prepared for some teenage rebellion and having to reintroduce temporary restrictions! Lily is still an adolescent too.

Recall is recall. Recall is not ‘come when you are ready’.

Reliable recall is the key to freedom.

Manners Maketh Dog!

The stunning German Shepherd lacks manners

Prince is aptly named.

He is treated like a prince and he behaves like a prince!  He lacks what I can only call manners.

About eighteen months ago I regularly saw a lady walking her German Shepherd puppy down my road. Soon, as he grew a bit bigger, she was walking him on a Halti.

I would watch as the pup repeatedly tried to scrape the thing off on the ground or with his paw.

One day, thinkingStunning German Shepherd lacks manners how frustrated and uncomfortable he must be feeling, I stopped to talk to the lady. I told her about a harness with the ring on the front, the Perfect Fit, and that if she wished I would pop in to show her.

The other day, over a year later, she phoned me. She is at her wits’ end with a dog that pulls despite the Halti. The other day he jumped up at the postman and he wasn’t being friendly.

Although I went to help the lady with walks, it was soon apparent that I wouldn’t get far if Prince isn’t treated a bit differently at home by the man in particular, learning some manners. Prince rules the couple’s life.

The retired man, who chose to have a German Shepherd, is unable to walk him due to health reasons so the much slighter lady has the job.

We need to be in control of a powerful dog. In this case Prince is mostly in control of his humans.

.

It’s like the man is the dog’s – not the dog the man’s!

It’s common for a dog to follow a person about. In this case, if Prince is out of sight for a minute the man gets up to check on him.

The dog jumps all over him, he grabs his arm with his teeth. The man will stir up an already excited dog and, to quote, Prince goes ‘berserk’ when his son calls. He finds it amusing but I find it unacceptable, dangerous even.

The man is at home all day and he and Prince are inseparable. He obeys every whim of the dog but if Prince is asked to do something he’s likely to ignore it. The constant attention and fuss make Prince what he is and it seems the man can’t help himself. He insists his dog is the softest dog who would never really hurt anyone.

We were adjusting his harness when Prince air snapped at me. A warning (which I heeded!).

Oh dear.

It’s so hard for the lady to walk a large dog that takes little notice of her. It’s not only about equipment but also the relationship between human and dog.

She walked Prince around the garden beautifully on the new harness. For the next three days she will be going out several times a day for five or ten minutes instead of one hour-long walk, loose-lead walking outside the house.

Then I shall be going back. We will extend the walk a bit further and look at what to do when passing barking dogs behind garden gates and what to do if something suddenly appears.

I must confess I am worried about this one. Prince’s genetics aren’t great. His mother was so aggressive they couldn’t see her. His father was a police dog. Several of the eleven siblings were returned due to aggression problems – having said which, the couple’s kindness instead of using ‘dominance’ tactics may well have saved him from the same fate.

I really hope the man now realises how important it is for them to control Prince (I don’t mean to dominate the dog but to teach him manners and training in a positive way). He really needs some serious training and brain-work. Internet advice may tell them to be ‘Alpha’. Prince would have none of that! Try dominating him or making him do something he doesn’t want to do and it can only go one way – down the slippery slope to anger.

Unless I am taken seriously I can see somebody getting bitten. I worry for the grandchildren. The gentleman knows the new dog law means someone need only to feel threatened for him to be prosecuted. They were lucky with the jumped-upon postman. Next time they may not be so lucky. I feel he’s in denial.

From our bantering and friendly conversation I know the very genial man won’t mind me saying that he doesn’t really take the matter, or me, very seriously.

The lady does, however.

 

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 prince. I don’t go into detail. 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, 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 Get My Help page)

The Puppies are Littermates

White German Shepherd puppy

Buster

They brought their two beautiful cream-coloured German Shepherd brothers home a couple of months ago at eight weeks old, believing they would be great company for one another thus making life easier and not realising it could actually be a lot more work.

They soon were given information that littermates could well become overly reliant upon one another, even to the extent of not bonding as fully with their humans as they might. One puppy can become overshadowed by the other and not reach his full potential. Puppy play can, as the pups mature, turn into full-blown fighting. This isn’t inevitable – I have been to siblings who are the best of friends – but it is possible that things could turn out not so well unless fairly special measures are taken. They called me in for professional guidance.

Already they have Samson and Buster, now sixteen weeks old, sleeping in separate crates. They walk them separately and they feed them separately. They will need individual training sessions. They have been having more one-on-one time with their humans than they have with each other which is perfect.

When I was there and for my benefit the two puppies were together more than they usually would be. We were in the conservatory watching them playing in the garden. It wasn’t long before play became unequal – even at four months old. Samson was becoming a bit too rough and Buster was getting scared. Their relative personalities are already very clear with Samson more nervous, more excitable and more bossy.

six month old white German Shepherd puppy

Samson

I was quite amazed actually at just how well-behaved the two dogs were for such young puppies and the hard work is paying off already. They are fully house trained and they don’t do chewing damage anywhere. There is a bit of jumping up from just Samson and they have already discovered that ‘get down’ doesn’t work. Their owners have, from the start, gradually weaned the two puppies into being left apart and all alone for reasonable periods of time.

There are a couple of ‘flags’ I feel they need to be aware of that could develop into problems. Prevention is a lot better than cure. Already Samson is barking in a scared fashion at people and other dogs when out, and Buster barks at dogs. Possibly, because they are currently held tight on short leads to try to stop them pulling, they feel trapped and uncomfortable.

The two dogs need as much socialising as possible. I know from personal experience that too many German Shepherds can be reactive and aggressive towards callers to their homes if the don’t regularly meet people from an early age. Plenty of people coming through the door would be good if they can find volunteers, and they should be associated with food or play.

With one dog at a time and the other shut away, we did very successful loose lead walking around the garden and the front of the house. We used a longer lead and using my technique the puppy simply walks around beside or following the person holding the lead. One of the puppies even had a pee when on lead, something they never do, and I suggest this is because he felt sufficiently comfortable and relaxed.

Samson likes to play tug of war with the lead, but reacting with reward when he stops rather than reacting with scolding or tension while he’s tugging will soon cure this.

The play between the two dogs needs careful monitoring, and terminating as soon as it ‘turns’.

With two soon-to-be large dogs, the owners need some sort of ‘remote control’, particularly in public, so the dogs will learn to respond instantly to their own names, to ‘come’ and to other cues like ‘sit’, ‘down’ and ‘stay’ requested gently and just the once. Over the next few weeks and months we will have a lot of fun!

My advice to them is to treat their puppies like one lives next door – for the forseeable future. They can meet frequently and be friends, but ‘live’ apart. Fortunately the couple has a good-sized house and the gentleman works from home, so logistically it’s possible. The couple have already researched and are well prepared to do whatever it takes.

Relaxed Indoors, Reactive Outside

Relaxed German ShepherdAfter a run of German Shepherds I have been to recently who barked frantically when they heard me at the door and continued to bark at me when I entered the house, I was really surprised to ring the doorbell and to hear nothing.

Tia, a very youthful nine-year-old, stood calm and friendly beside the lady as she opened the door, and followed us into the sitting room.

I knew already that the lady would be telling me her problem was her dog’s behaviour when out of the house and on lead, but I wanted to take a holistic approach and get some knowledge of Tia against the background of home life before exploring what was happening outside, why it was happening and what we could do about it.

Tia is the lady’s first dog, and she got her when looking for a puppy some six years ago. Tia was the mother dog and the breeder more or less said she ran a business and Tia was merely a puppy-making machine to her and now expendable. So the lady took her home.

The bond between the two is incredibly close and the lady describes herself as devoted to her. It is just the two of them. I noticed how the dog spent much of the time gazing at the lady, or asking her to do something like fuss her or throw a ball – and she was never disappointed. There are all sorts of human emotions here that the dog will be picking up including adoration and also some guilt that she can never do quite enough for her beloved dog. On balance this must be working very well as Tia is the perfect dog indoors with everyone – visiting young children included.

However…. when she steps out through the front door and anything moves, Tia morphs into a lunging monster! She is ready to have a go at anything and the lady, slight in build, has trouble holding her back. She has been pulled over at least two times. I saw Tia’s transformation for myself. It was amazing to see how a dog who is so relaxed and friendly in the house could change to being so reactive outside, only a few feet from the front door.

The only time Tia does go out of the front door is to go for a walk, so the whole walk process needs looking at. There is a lot of excitement from the moment the lady starts to get ready. She may then run the gauntlet of getting Tia to the car in order to take her to a playing field where the dog can be let off lead. There is no evidence that Tia is anything but friendly when running free.

It seems that, as the behaviour starts immediately outside the house, to Tia this is where her territorial protection duty begins. She is pulling, lunging and barking at anything that may move whether it’s a bird, person, cat or dog. She’s fine with dogs elsewhere and they have a cat themselves. She welcomes people in the house – but not outside when she is on lead.

The lady needs to show Tia, starting at home, that she can look after herself and make her own decisions. She herself describes Tia’s following her about as ‘ushering’ her and that probably says it all.

The desensitisation process needs to be taken step by step, little by little. Every single element is to be worked on individually: The lady picking up her coat.  Lifting the lead. Picking up her keys. Attaching the lead.  She can vary the routine by putting on her outside clothes in different places and attaching the lead first. Next she’s to wait for calm at the door. Open the door – wait for calm again.Take a step out and wait for calm. Stand and look about, then go back in again. No longer will going out of the front door necessarily be a precursor to a walk.

Advancing a step at a time, in very short sessions (whilst being ready to take action as specifically planned as soon as there is any reactivity from Tia) the next goal will be for her to see something a bit distant that is moving without instantly reacting so that the desensitisation/conter-conditioning process can begin.

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

German Shepherd Barks at People

nualaThough she’s not completely comfortable with having her photo taken, Nuala and I made friends very quickly! What a stunning dog the two-year-old cream-coloured German Shepherd is.

She lives alone with a lady in a quiet country cottage, where anyone even coming up the path is a major event. Like so many German Shepherds that I go to, she is very reactive to people who come near to her. Her response is to lunge at them, jumping and barking. She has never bitten.

Nuala is very good with other dogs – she has mixed more with dogs than with people. The lady began by taking her to puppy classes and then, due to an operation for elbow dysplasia, the young dog was confined for quite a long time. Since then her dog walker has taken her out with other dogs and the lady also takes her on Big Walkies. Like many dogs, if the humans have dogs with them Nuala is fine.

The situation has come to a head because the lady is having to spend several days at a time at her daughter’s house, looking after her seven grandchildren.Nuala1 Where, strangely, Nuala gets on fine with the smaller children, there are five teenagers who are as scared of her as she is of them – understandably. As soon as one enters the room, if not caught fast enough she flies towards the child, barking.

The lady could see from how quickly Nuala calmed down when I arrived just how the few other people who do come into her house should be asked to act.

The two main challenges for a dog like this are people entering the room and people getting up and moving about – even people the dog has met before. Often the dog is worse with men.

The teenage grandchildren are very cooperative and not over-noisy. They will do their best to help, so we have devised a plan. Unfortunately they live too far away for me to visit their house too, else I would do so.

‘Safety First’ is vital. Even with the younger children the lady should be looking out for signs of any stress from Nuala – lip-licking, yawning, looking away etc. It’s easy to assume a dog is enjoying a fuss when really she may only be tolerating it.

The older children will do lots of walking in and out of the room through different doors. Nuala will be on a lead (I decided against asking her to sit or lie down as not only could this put more pressure on her, the ultimate ubject is to have her walking freely and happily about). As they do so the lady will feed her something especially tasty. The child will walk in quietly – not burst in! Soon the children could be throwing her food as they walk in. If it happens enough times and they blitz her with comings, goings and food, I’m sure Nuala will become sufficiently desensitised for the leash to be dropped – until possibly after a period of quiet like when the kids suddenly appear again having been at school when they will need to do some more desensitising.

The older kids will also teach her to be happy while they stand up and move about. Again, bit by bit, moving slowly and so Nuala remains comfortable whilst also being on lead, they can work on this. They can be taught the best way to move and the body language to use.

When the lady comes back to her own home she can spend a couple of weeks weaning Nuala into wearing a muzzle – just as something to fall back on and so everyone can relax a bit next time. She should regularly take her somewhere a bit more busy to get her used to people. They can start at quiet times of day and the other side of the road from a passing person at a distance that doesn’t stress her, and gradually go at busier times as Nuala’s confidence grows.

In my experience, in many of the cases where a German Shepherd barks at people it’s because the dog hasn’t been adequately socialised with people in the first few vital weeks of her life – well before she has even left the breeder – so we are playing catch-up. It can be a big challenge requiring a lot of hard work.

PS. Here is an excerpt from a recent paper which scientifically backs up the importance of early socialisation where German Shepherds in particular are concerned: http://www.journalvetbehavior.com

One month later and the lady has decided to upgrade to my ‘lifetime’ option: ‘Nuala and I are making progress and are an on-going project and I am very aware of that.  I am so delighted with the consultation and plan and have been recommending you to everyone. I do wish to take up your continuing support.’

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

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).

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.