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?
German Shepherds aren’t known for their outgoing, I-love-everybody nature. In fact, the breed standard obliges them to have “a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.”
But this doesn’t mean your dog has to bark like a maniac at everyone who comes through the door, or worse, bite or threaten to bite.
The secret to having a German Shepherd who is safe around non-threatening strangers is teach him or her what friendly people look like. The message should be, “Everyone is friendly.” That way, if your German Shepherd meets someone who isn’t, he or she will pick up on the person’s intentions right away.
Some dogs, no matter how well socialized, are innately shy or innately suspicious. If your dog has a history of growling, snapping or lunging at strangers, do not attempt behavior modification without the opinion and/or supervision of an animal behavior professional.
Socialization to strangers should begin in puppyhood. Every person your puppy meets should be as kind and as rewarding as possible. This is not a breed that socializes itself. Early puppyhood, from 3 to 12 weeks, is a vital time in a pup’s brain development. While the breeder should have taken care to socialize your puppy until 7 or 8 weeks of age, your job isn’t through. Your puppy needs to meet at least five new friendly people per day, and take at least one trip away from home every day, as well.
If there is a subset of people your puppy seems uncomfortable with (such as young children), expose your puppy to them in a gentle, lighthearted manner. Do not allow others to pick up your puppy by the scruff of its neck, for instance, or flip it onto its back without warning. Have all strangers, children especially, feed your puppy tasty treats (even better if done in exchange for sitting politely)!
Socialization for German Shepherds doesn’t stop once the puppy is 6 or 7 months. In fact, German Shepherds need regular, diligent exposure to nice and neutral strange people, places and objects until they are close to two years old! This will be a mostly painless process if you are dedicated to teaching your German Shepherd obedience and good manners — he or she can go with you everywhere!
Most German Shepherds (and other herding and guarding breeds) begin to differentiate between “strangers” and “their pack” around 7 to 8 months. This is a vital time to remind your dog that no one they meet in the course of everyday life is dangerous.
Oftentimes, a young dog will start barking at strangers or other dogs, raise its hackles, or moves away when strangers approach, seemingly overnight. If your German Shepherd has only recently started to display such behavior, and is less than a year old, chances are he or she is going through a phase in the maturation process.
Even if such behavior is a phase of doggie development, it is still unacceptable to the public at large. Start listening to your young German Shepherd about what he or she is or isn’t comfortable with — and act accordingly.
If your dog seems to dislike bearded men, for instance, do not force him or her to interact with bearded men. Instead, keep your distance in a relaxed manner, and if your dog observes the man without barking or growing, praise and feed a treat. If your dog does bark or growl, you must move farther away until your dog is able to focus on you and be calm. Feed and praise the dog for looking at you, making your distance to the undesirable person closer ONLY AS THE DOG FEELS COMFORTABLE. Any signs of discomfort from the dog should be interpreted as though you are moving too fast.
Typically, a soothing laugh from you and a cookie or two given BEFORE the dog begins to react are enough to calm most young dogs’ nerves. But always, always, listen to your dog’s body language before allowing a stranger to pet the dog.
Dogs who move away from a stranger’s touch are stating in no unclear terms that they do not want to be petted. Forcing the issue could lead to a bite!
Teach your dog a solid “go to your crate” command, using clicker training. This simple command is a wonderful way to control your dog’s access to strangers while you are at home. Teaching a down-stay can be equally effective.
Remember, not everybody loves dogs, and for those afraid of them, the sight of a grown German Shepherd can be enough to start some folks’ fear signals flowing. Teach your dog to be respectful and polite with everyone, but be prepared to remove him or her from the scene if necessary. Your friends will thank you for it!
What can you do if your five-year-old German Shepherd has been hurling himself at the door, teeth bared, every time company arrives — for years? Contact an animal behavior consultant qualified in dealing with aggression issues.
German Shepherds are amazing dogs, and typically biddable (making them easy to train) and smart (making them quick to learn). However, this doesn’t mean your dog fits the mold, or even if she does, that you’ll always have a smooth relationship.
Most folks who get a German Shepherd either know of or used to have a dog that was absolutely perfect — never made a mess in the house, didn’t shed, never jumped up, never barked inappropriately, never lunged at people or other dogs, never chewed the furniture, always laid quietly in another room during dinner, always paid its taxes on time, never forgot to bring home the milk, etc.
Not all of us are as blessed. Sometimes, a dog comes into our lives who has perfected a different art: making our existence miserable!
Here are a few signs to indicate that your dog’s behavior may require professional intervention:
Your dog is actively threatening to harm or has harmed a person. As much as dogs will be dogs, this is the land of people — and sometimes litigious ones. Besides not wanting anyone to be hurt, it’s important to get a handle on your dog’s aggressive behavior, because sometimes an aggressive display (barking, lunging, jumping at a person’s face, etc.) can be misinterpreted. In fact, any “biting incident” involving a dog, even a dog with no prior history of aggression, and even if the bite did not break the skin can be grounds for euthanasia in this country, as the case of Rolo demonstrates.
Your dog has threatened or harmed livestock, cats or other dogs. Again, besides the potential for euthanasia (or worse, if a neighbor or livestock owner has vengeance in mind), these kinds of dog problems aren’t simple to fix. Unless there’s a sibling rivalry issue between two dogs, this type of behavior is likely rooted in predation. Lots of well-meaning folks follow the advice of friends, “trainers,” or relatives, and punish the dog in an attempt to “correct” predatory actions. But predatory behavior is unlikely to be wholly suppressed with positive punishment, no matter how creative. And painful and/or threatening treatment (including yelling and leash-popping) of a dog who dislikes other dogs can exponentially worsen the problem.
You’re feeling helpless about, hopeless about or afraid of your dog’s behavior. If you’re dog is soiling his crate every day, or tearing up the house, or refusing to budge from the couch or bed when asked, ask yourself whether it might be time to call for professional help. Although animal behavior consultation can be expensive, it is a far smaller price to pay than chancing the dog’s life — which is likely to be the outcome when you decide not only can you not handle the behavior, but life would be easier without the dog. A well-known fact is that dogs are relinquished to shelters for behavior problems more than any other reason. Don’t let your dog be one of them.
For help finding a professional dog trainer or animal behavior consultant near you, visit the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants at iaabc.org, or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers at apdt.com.
German Shepherds are notorious for telling everyone in a group training class what they think, typically by barking — loudly — at people and other dogs.
If you’ve been in this situation, then you know how embarrassing or frightening it can be, especially when the other dog owners give you dirty or fearful looks and the trainer implies (or outright tells you) your dog is “aggressive.”
Photo by Raveller
First, let’s break this down a bit. Lots and lots of dogs are “reactive” on leash. “Reactive” is dog trainers’ lingo for a dog that barks, growls or lunges in response to exciting stimuli — people, other dogs, cats, squirrels, and the like. Often these “reactive” dogs are perfectly fine off-leash with people and other dogs.
Dogs use aggressive displays, such as barking, lunging and growling, to let us know they are uncomfortable with the situation at hand. Clearly, these displays are unacceptable in modern-day society, and if we don’t react appropriately, our dogs can transition from threatening displays to actual bites. However, in most cases, the dogs are content to announce their presence, so to speak, and we must teach them to be calm in the face of exciting or fear-inducing stimuli.
NOTE: Be wary of a trainer who tells you your dog is aggressive and then proceeds to show you how to physically punish the dog to control the aggressive behavior. With a dog who is merely reactive, this will create even more problems. With a truly aggressive dog, physical corrections are likely to lead to someone being bitten!
A dog who poses a prominent danger to people or other dogs typically responds differently than an insecure or reactive dog. These dogs might:
If your dog displays any of these signs, he or she is NOT safe to have in class and should continue private lessons with an animal behavior consultant experienced in dealing with aggressive behavior issues.
First, is there a way for you to physically leave the training area with your dog (another room, down the hall, outside the door, etc.) each and every time your dog starts to bark? Doing so will give your dog the opportunity to calm down instead of continuing to be excited by the sight of other dogs.
Second, most dogs enjoy working with you and getting treats, so if all the fun (fun = seeing the other dogs, getting treats and your attention) stops when he barks, he’ll have to pick another strategy. In other words, it becomes HIS responsibility to stay quiet, not yours to correct the barking.
Third, position your body so you are in front of your dog during class, blocking his view of and access to the other dogs. Do NOT let him sniff or interact with the other dogs without your or the instructor’s permission; and get comfortable asking classmates to keep their dogs from making eye contact with yours. Eye contact is the first precursor to staring, which leads to barking. And of course, you’ll be doing everything in your power to keep your dog focused on you.
If you are thinking you will get very little obedience training done and lots of time out in the hallway with these methods, you are correct! But this is valuable training for your dog.
Ask the instructor if you can repeat the class as many times as it takes to make this work (and if he’s a smart dog, which most German Shepherds are, it shouldn’t take a terribly long time).
So, it looks like this: Dog barks, you immediately start pretending he doesn’t exist and go back the hall/into other room/out of the building. Once he is quiet, can focus on you and perform a sit (or other simple behavior), he comes back inside. Barking = process repeats. If you manage to get inside and have more than two seconds of quiet, reward HEAVILY and keep him busy! Chances are this means you’re not doing what the rest of the class is doing, but that’s OK!
This method works outdoors as well, provided you can get your dog out of sight of whatever it is he finds so enthralling until he settles down.
See “There’s Money In Dogs… Well, Sort Of,” for similar ideas.