Here’s a video answering a couple of burning questions about 1-year-old GSDs: When is biting other dogs while playing OK? And what to do with a 1-year-old German shepherd that barks at strangers, and jumps up at home?
Q: My German shepherd has been growling at me when I go to put on his harness. He fusses when I put it on, but lately he’s been more of a handful, and I have to struggle to get it on him. I’m worried he might bite me.
Owning a dog, especially a German shepherd, that you’re afraid might bite you is no fun. You are asking the right question — dogs growl to warn us that if we persist in our behavior, they may bite.
Besides the fear of injury for yourself or family members (or liability, should your dog bite someone else), when you’re afraid to interact with your dog because you might be bitten, your German shepherd is at risk for physical neglect and worsening behavior.
First things first:
Your next job is to learn about dog body language. When you know the signs of a dog who is feeling uncomfortable or on the offensive, you can better protect yourself and others against a bite. There are many resources online, and sites such as Dogwise.com and Tawzerdog.com offer videos and instruction on defensive handling and dog bite safety:
The more you know, the better you will be able to determine whether your German shepherd is a threat to yourself or others, and to take steps to remedy the problem. Maybe your dog has been acting especially rowdy lately, or has growled at you over a bone or a special resting place. Perhaps you have trouble getting your GSD back into his crate, or away from the door when people arrive.
Some areas in which German shepherds sometimes need help and training include:
Remember: If you are worried about your German shepherd’s behavior, you are not alone. Talk to your veterinarian, and find a trainer or behavior consultant who can help you sort out your dog’s behavior, before it’s too late.
Q: I’m trying to problem solve one of my German Shepherd’s behaviors. It happens at least once and occasionally twice when we are doing off-leash walking. I will call her from a far distance and she will get so revved up in the process of racing towards me that she will zoom past me, turn around and zoom back towards where she came from, zoom towards me again, and eventually be sniffing around near me, or sitting right in front of me. I’m worried that she’ll be hit by a car, or run into another danger, in the time it takes her to get to me.
A: I would build massive value for targeting (your hand, a particular target stick, sitting in front position), then use that as your recall when you suspect she’s in a racing mood. I’d also try to avoid calling her when she’s in zoomies, just turn and walk in the opposite direction and then quietly praise and feed your most high-value treats when she does catch up to you, and tell her to “Go run” again. This will reduce her desire to fly by, as well as put the zoomies on cue.
You could also start to keep notes of how many off-leash recalls result in the zoomies (location, immediate previous activity, etc). That’s about the only sure way to tell if your training is working and to predict when/where/how she’ll perform the behavior correctly.
Q: I am very interested in finding a great big beautiful and healthy GSD, but I keep reading that a good breeder is hard to come by and others say I should just get a rescue dog. I don’t really want a rescue dog. I read that it’s hard to come by rescue puppies, and they’re usually already juveniles or older when they’re adopted. How do I get a nice German Shepherd puppy?
A: You’re not wrong, it is really tough to find a nice puppy without doing a fair bit of research. I recommend joining some of the German Shepherd email lists (check Yahoo Groups) and forums (such as GermanShepherds.com), as well as searching for German Shepherd or working dog Facebook groups, and get involved there. Not only do breeders hang out and advertise nice litters with pedigrees, parents’ photos, and titles, but their puppy buyers do as well — so you can get a fairly comprehensive picture of what the breeder is producing, just by talking to other GSD enthusiasts.
And of course, nothing beats the experience of attending a trial and watching the dogs at work. Look for IPO, Schutzhund, Ringsport and Mondio competitions to attend (you’ll probably have to use Google to find a regional club). Those can be a few — or several! — hours’ drive, but it’s worth it to see the dogs in action and asking their handlers where they’re from.
Best of luck!
Q: I have a one-year-old GSD. He is a very sweet dog with tons of energy. I have trouble walking him, so to give him exercise I throw balls around and run him around the backyard. Still sometimes he can get bitey. I know he just wants to play, but sometimes he jumps on me and bites hard. Once he starts doing this it’s really hard to get him to stop. How should I handle this? I’ve searched for tips before online. One recommended to turn away and cross my arms but he is so big he can knock me down or will just continue to bite me anyway. How should I proceed?
Buy a Gentle Leader and train him to wear it; he should drag a leash anytime he is loose so biting, mouthing and other inappropriate behavior can be interrupted.
Here is a video on acclimating your dog to a head halter:
Teach your dog to love the head halter
Tethering him to a sturdy or stationary object while you are in the same area is another way to prevent inappropriate behavior, but tie him only using his collar or a harness, and NOT the Gentle Leader!
When your pup gets bitey, say “Ow!” in an unpleasant voice, and stop playing with him for 5+ seconds, then try again. Use toys as an intermediate when playing with him, like the fetch game you describe. If he bites you or grabs your clothing, pick up or step on the leash so he cannot reach you (if he’s wearing a Gentle Leader), or step outside his tether range (if you are not playing fetch and he is tethered). Try playing with him again in 20-30 seconds, or as soon as he’s settled into a sit or down on his own for three seconds.