Q&A: Older dog biting and mouthing

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?

Either a tether or a Gentle Leader headcollar can be effective in these situations.

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.

10 Reasons You Do NOT Want a German Shepherd Dog

“Now, wait a minute!” you’re saying. “Of course I want a German Shepherd! Otherwise, I wouldn’t be looking at this article!” Very good. You have taken the first step towards becoming a responsible purebred dog owner, first by doing your research, and second by taking the time to examine the problems inherent in your chosen breed.

Here are 10 reasons you might want to reconsider your choice of a GSD:

1. Health problems.The GSD is not a dog for those who just want to plunk down cash for the first puppy they see and head home (in fact, you should never do this with any puppy, for a number of reasons). German Shepherds, like any large breed, are prone to canine hip dysplasia, a crippling and potentially fatal disease. (Although costly hip replacement surgeries have become more commonplace for dogs with severe CHD, the expense and possible complications lead many people to the decision of having the dog humanely put down. This doesn’t, however, exempt the dog owner from the heartbreak of losing their precious companion.) The breed also struggles with or is prone to elbow dysplasia, allergies, cleft palate, degenerative myelopathy, perianal fistulas, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, bloat, panostetis, Von Wildebrand’s disease, Wobbler’s Syndrome, heart and skin disease and thyroid disease. (This is a partial list.) Many of the congenital diseases in dogs can be tested for and therefore prevented by responsible breeders. But you must be willing to ask questions of your breeder to find out what problems have cropped up in his or her lines. (Any breeder who tells you he’s never had a health problem in his lines is either lying or has not bothered to follow up with his puppy owners. Run, don’t walk, in the opposite direction!) Good GSD rescuers will also be aware of such problems, and whether the rescued dog you’re considering has shown symptoms of or has been treated for any health issues while with the rescue.

2. German Shepherd Dogs SHED. I’m not sure who started the rumor that GSDs don’t shed, but if you’ve heard it perpetuated, be prepared for disappointment! The GSD sheds heavily year-round, and “blows” its undercoat (the thick, dense fur under the harsh top coat) twice a year. You can avoid as much coat-blowing with certain long-haired shepherds, although they are considered outside the breed standard. While GSDs require little formal grooming, they must be brushed at least twice weekly and have their coats raked during shedding season to keep them comfortable and to prevent skin problems from developing.

3. Good breeders are hard to find. Sure, there are shepherd breeders everywhere. But a good GSD breeder is difficult to come by. Among other things, responsible breeders: guarantee against severe hip dysplasia and other inherited disorders; provide written proof of health exams for their dogs; exchange your dog or refund your money if major health problems arise; require you to return the dog to their kennels if you can no longer keep it; keep a waiting list of puppy buyers and carefully screen (ask questions of) each buyer; willingly answer your questions; can tell you why a particular breeding should produce puppies who are a credit to the breed; and ask you to sign a contract with terms and responsibilities outlined. An overview on finding a responsible breeder is available at dcweimclub.org/responsible.html. For a more in-depth look, see Dog Play’sChecklist for the Responsible Breeder: Short list and long list.”



4. Temperament. As with any breed, temperament in GSDs is best determined on an individual basis. However, the breed standard indicates that the dog must be “poised, but when the occasion demands, eager and alert, both fit and willing to serve in any capacity as companion.” There are many steps you can take to “stack the cards” in your direction. First and foremost, is temperament a priority for the breeder? If not, look elsewhere. There are far too many dogs in the world today to live with one who is not social to people, who guards resources (food/water/precious objects), won’t tolerate young children or has an aggressive reaction towards unusual sights or sounds. Keep in mind that the phrase “ideal German Shepherd Dog” may mean different things to different breeders.

5. Socialization. This goes hand-in-hand with temperament. All dogs need early and frequent socialization to people, other dogs, cats, young children, loud noise, crowds, the world in general; but with GSDs it is an absolute necessity. You cannot lay socialization by the wayside, thinking it will make your dog a protection dog — in reality, the dog will grow up afraid of unusual encounters, so should the time ever come to protect you, he will be thinking only of his own hide! What does this mean for you? You’ll be out every day with your new puppy, exposing him gradually to new sights and sounds, different people, etc., in a careful manner.

6. Good GSDs are hard to find. Wait, isn’t this the breeder’s responsibility? Yes and no. Half of your battle here will be solved by finding a responsible breeder (see number 3). However, remember from “Temperament” that the GSD can be many things to many people. Don’t accept less than the best, in terms of a breeder, bloodlines, temperament, conformation and health. In other words, if the shepherd or puppy you are considering differs markedly from the standard (AKC, SV and FCI), look elsewhere. (Do make exceptions for rescued dogs who may not have the best breeding — though the number of “well-bred” shepherds in rescue may surprise you — but be aware of what faults he/she carries and be able to recognize an outstanding example of the breed when you see one!)

7. Bonding. German Shepherds bond very tightly to their owners, usually to the extent that frequent rehoming can cause behavioral problems brought on by insecurity. If you are considering obtaining a GSD but don’t know what will happen to the dog when you move/get a new job/get married/have children/etc., please don’t get a German Shepherd. (Or any dog, for that matter — wait until your situation becomes stable!) A shepherd can live 10 to 14 years, so you must be prepared to commit to the dog for his lifetime. In addition, this bond requires that your GSD live in the house with you, not out in a kennel or tied in the yard (perish the thought). As pack animals, dogs need close and frequent interaction with their owners, and this applies especially to German Shepherds.

8. Training. The GSD is a large dog, usually weighing 65-90 lbs. or more. A GSD must be taught manners in the house and with guests, children and the elderly; he must not be allowed to roam free or intimidate passers-by. While German shepherds are relatively easy to train, they can achieve the most success through positive training rather than training that employs harsh methods, choke or shock collars. Shepherds also must be exercised by you and/or be contained in a yard with a real fence — electronic or underground fencing should not be an option for the responsible shepherd owner.

9. GSDs need a job. This is not a breed for someone who “just wants a dog.” Your GSD will create his own work if you cannot find work for him! A doggy sport or activity such as tracking, agility, obedience training, flyball, Schutzhund, search and rescue, flying disc, herding, therapy work or similar is absolutely necessary to keep your shepherd happy and healthy (and your sanity intact). Do not expect your GSD to be content to lie around the house all day and then do nothing when you get home! He will need both mental and physical exercise — a couple trips around the block is just warm-up time to a GSD.

10. Shepherds are unique. Why wouldn’t you want a unique dog? For many of the reasons listed above and more! Shepherds are less “doggy” than most breeds, and for this reason it has been said they are “the Cadillac of dogs.” This is certainly true — if you have the time, energy and understanding necessary to choose and raise one with care. A bored, ill-tempered, sickly or untrained GSD can become a nightmare for you and others. Once you obtain a GSD, you and he are ambassadors for the breed, and that means he must be presented at all times as a clean, healthy, well-groomed, and skillfully trained member of his species. Anything less does a disservice to the breed as a whole and to the legions of people who work and dedicate their lives to improving the German Shepherd Dog.




If you’ve considered the above and are still interested in getting a German Shepherd, check out our free guide to Choosing Your New German Shepherd!

Five things to do before bringing your new puppy home

Those little balls of fluff are adorable, but life can become miserable without accomplishing at least these five tasks first:

  1. Buy a crate. A crate is an indispensable tool for house training, as well as keeping your belongings and your puppy safe while you are gone. Crate-training takes a few days if your breeder hasn’t already started it with your new puppy, but most puppies take to it quickly if you are diligent.
  2. Choose your vet. If you don’t already have a veterinarian for other pets, ask your friends, co-workers or breeder who they recommend. If possible, schedule a “well puppy” visit with your veterinarian for the day after you bring your puppy home. (Most breeders will require the puppy be examined by a vet within 48 to 72 hours of purchase for the health guarantee to be honored.) When shopping for a vet, don’t hesitate to ask about recommended vaccination schedules, costs, restraint methods, and whether the clinic offers any “extras,” such as boarding or microchipping.
  3. Enroll in a puppy kindergarten class. A training class for puppies aged 8 to 18 weeks is a vital component of your new puppy’s life. These classes will not only get you started on the basics of obedience training and house manners, but should also allow your puppy the opportunity to play with other puppies. This is a must if you plan for your puppy to interact with other dogs throughout its life. Again, ask friends, your vet and breeder for recommendations, and visit the class in advance of enrolling, when possible.
  4. Prepare the menu. Decide before you bring your puppy home what food you will feed. Kibble, raw, home cooked or frozen — the variety of choices at the moment is astounding, so take some time to research options before selecting a food or feeding method. The solution is to choose an option that meets your puppy’s nutrient requirements, and that you feel good about preparing and feeding.
  5. Get some toys. What’s life with a puppy without dog toys strewn about the house? Choose sturdy, easy-to-wash toys that appeal to your puppy’s desire to chew. Rope tug toys and “puppy” chew bones are fine, so long as your puppy is only playing with them while supervised. Do not allow a puppy to chew any toy not specifically labeled for chewing (especially rope or cloth toys). Buy enough toys that you can rotate a couple sets in and out of your puppy’s life — they’ll be like new again!

Do German Shepherds ‘turn’ on their owners?

Fuzzball or future terror?

Every once in a while, you’ll come across someone proclaiming that a breed of dog (usually a large one) will grow up to “turn” on its owners. We guess this means a dog whose behavior was “just fine” as a puppy starts growling at or biting its handler once it’s an adult. Is this a real thing? Are German Shepherd puppies likely to attack their owners once they become adult dogs?

Where this idea comes from

It’s hard to say exactly how this notion started, but the truth is that a young puppy that bites or otherwise acts aggressively is unlikely to cause much damage to an adult human, unless the pup’s teeth hit a nerve or an eyeball. On the other hand, a fully grown dog of any breed who bites hard enough to break skin will do more damage, because it has adult teeth and stronger jaws.

Are all puppies “good”?

Another reason for the popularity of this idea is that many people think all puppies are playful and sociable, or that puppies who behave aggressively are “just playing.” The truth is that dogs of all ages display the full range of canine body language, including stress signals and bite warnings, and these are often only noticed by people who are trained to see them. Most pet owners are unaware of these subtle signs, leading to claims that the dog “bit out of nowhere,” when in fact the pup may have been displaying warning signs for months and months leading up to the bite.

Do German Shepherds’ personalities change as they get older?

As dogs mature, especially dogs who have not been spayed or neutered, they develop less tolerance for things that might not have upset them as younger pups. Unaltered dogs also have hormonal surges that can affect their excitement levels. (More excitement = more likely to aggress.) So while the dog’s overall personality likely stays the same, its tolerance for other dogs and for events that might not have bothered it as a puppy goes down. This often translates into a German Shepherd who dislikes other dogs starting around 2 to 3 years old. It sometimes means extra sensitivity to strangers starting at around 2 years old, as well.

A scary or unwanted experience during the puppy’s sensitive periods (9-12 weeks and again at 6-12 months for German Shepherds) can permanently alter the puppy’s personality, at least under those circumstances. We once had an otherwise-friendly-with-everyone male German Shepherd who was traumatized by a veterinarian at 8 months of age. He barked, lunged and growled at that veterinarian every visit thereafter, to the point that we ended up switching vets. Even then, it took years of training and behavior modification for him to quietly accept an examination from the new vet.

Bite inhibition

A German Shepherd puppy who was never taught proper bite inhibition can grow up to do real damage. Bite inhibition means a puppy learns to use its mouth gently. This process is taught to the puppy starting with the mother and litter mates until 8 weeks or so of age — which is why you should never remove a puppy from its mother and litter mates before 7 weeks. The process continues with the puppy’s new handler until the age of 4-5 months. If you don’t know how to teach bite inhibition, you can find numerous examples on YouTube.

Resource guarding

One common cause of dogs biting or acting aggressively towards their owners is resource guarding, which means the dog growls or bites if someone comes near or tries to take the dog’s food or toys, or tries to remove the dog from a resting place. This trait can often be seen even in young puppies, and is sometimes made worse by people taking the puppy’s food or toys in an attempt to “train” him not to guard. Thankfully, prevention in puppies is possible. If you have a German Shepherd who resource guards, it is imperative that you seek help from a qualified behavior professional right away. (See APDT.com or IAABC.org to search for help.)

Medical

Medical reasons for aggression, especially aggressive behavior that seems to start abruptly, are not uncommon. Brain tumors or other neurological problems, chronic diseases or severe pain can cause all dogs, not just German Shepherds, to act in ways they otherwise never would. We once had a client whose normally friendly, loving dog (not a GSD) bit her arm repeatedly and broke skin through her heavy winter coat — because he was in extreme pain. Once he had surgery to repair the medical problem and had recovered, he became his friendly, loving self again.

Abuse

Probably the most obvious reason, but thankfully rare, that an adult dog might decide to aggress towards its handler is abuse. While most German Shepherd owners never knowingly hit or hurt their dogs, harsh training methods can also bring out aggressive behavior. A study of training methods showed that “confrontational methods applied by dog owners… were associated with aggressive responses in many cases.” (Herron, et al)

It’s also worth mentioning that many, many dogs who are physically abused never bite anyone. But few people would blame a dog whose tolerance for abuse came to an end in the form of aggressive behavior.

Will my German Shepherd become aggressive?

The only guarantee we have is that ANY dog can bite. However, being an educated German Shepherd owner who learns about dog body language, who works to socialize and train your dog using positive training methods, and who keeps your dog out of situations he or she hasn’t learned to handle emotionally can significantly decrease that risk.

For tips on raising German Shepherd puppies, or training an older dog, click here to sign up for our newsletter.

Cited:
Herron, Meghan E.; Shofer, Frances S.; Reisner, Ilana R. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science vol. 117 issue 1-2 February, 2009. p. 47-54

Why German Shepherds go into shelters and rescue

Shelters and rescue groups are overflowing with young GSDs (8 months to 2 years). Most have ended up there through no fault of their own, but are victims of the misunderstanding of what it takes to train and care for a German Shepherd.

Shepherd rescuers hear some of the same reasons for relinquishment again and again. Let’s break down two of the most common:

1) The German Shepherd sheds too much.

2) The German Shepherd is too rough with the kids.

Number one: Sheds too much.

This is a fact of German Shepherd ownership: German Shepherd Dogs DO shed. A lot. All of the time. And sometimes, when they’re blowing their coats, they shed even worse.

DogTime.com has a handy chart showing which dogs shed the most and least. It’s a simple tool you can use when you’re comparing breeds for your next puppy, or your friends or family ask you for advice about getting a German Shepherd.

Brushing your German Shepherd multiple times per week and having a reliable, strong vacuum cleaner that can hold lots of hair is key. (We’re partial to the Dyson Animal.) Understanding that you’re getting a dog that sheds a lot, all of the time, on a good day should be written into every German Shepherd breeder’s puppy contract!

Number two: Rough with the kids.

German Shepherd puppies are notorious for using their mouths to explore EVERYTHING until four or five months of age — mouths full of needlelike, razor-sharp teeth. Anyone getting a young pup must be prepared for the absolute onslaught of “shark mouth” and be ready to manage all interactions between your GSD puppy and child.

For starters, young children (4-5 years and younger) and German Shepherd puppies generally don’t mix. Baby gates, crate training and tethering (temporarily anchoring the leash to a sturdy location so snapping jaws stay out of reach of clothing and hands) are essential tools if you’re going to try to keep everyone safe and under one roof.

And the ONLY way to ensure your puppy and your child get along is by training — and lots of it, daily. If you haven’t already started puppy training classes with your GSD pup, you can search for a trainer who offers them via the Association of Pet Dog Trainers or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

Exercise is a good start, but it does not solve the problem of a dog who has not learned to control himself. German Shepherds are not fully mature until about three years of age — that’s a long time to live with an excitable or hyper BIG puppy. Hence why so many of them end up in shelters.

You can do your part to keep German Shepherds out of shelters and rescue by sharing this article with your friends and family — pass it on!

Welcome!

Welcome — we’re glad you’re here! Whether you’re a current or would-be GSD owner, take some time to browse and see what’s waiting for you in the world of German Shepherds and dog training.

This site is run by Sarah Filipiak, dog trainer and German Shepherd enthusiast. I’ve had four German Shepherd dogs in my life, and raised and trained German Shepherd pups for others, and each has taught me some incredible lessons.

Please feel free to ask a question, or sign up for our newsletter. We’ll email occasionally when we have new or interesting German Shepherd information to share.

Have fun!

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