Very LONG but please HELP!!
My husband and I had always wanted a family dog. My husband helped raise two GSDs during his childhood/teenage years. One gave its life protecting him as a small child. For those reasons and based on our family environment (time, space, activity, number of people and ages etc...) we decided a GSD would be the perfect addition to our family. Last year we decided our children were old enough (13g, 14b, 16b, 17b, 18b) to be responsible dog owners and we (finally!) had a fenced in yard on an acre of land. The conditions were perfect for adding a puppy to our family.
For a year my husband and I searched for information, breeders, tips and things to know before we even started looking for a puppy. Financially, we couldn't afford to go through a breeder. So we decided to rescue. For four months we searched, until we found a rescue sponsoring a litter of GSD/Lab puppies in a high kill shelter that were to be euthanized in two days. They were 8 week old females. I drove four hours to another state to visit with the litter. When I got there, two of the three in the litter were in the process of being adopted already. I sat with the last one of the litter for about an hour before deciding to bring her home.
We started training immediately in that we took the time to introduce her to each person in the house one by one. She was introduced to her crate with rewards, given toys one at a time, and started learning the "sit" command on the second day. She was trained to sit and wait for her food within the first week. Potty training went really well, she could sleep through the night (about 6 hours) by the end of the first week. We started leash training right away, though that was a real struggle and still is. We started bite inhibition immediately giving her a toy each time she mouthed any of us, yelping and removing our hand if she bit too hard, yelping and walking away if she continued.
We soon discovered that she preferred being outside to being inside, so we built her a 100ft by 60 ft dog run and spent loads of time out there playing in it with her. She wouldn't stay in it alone though, just sat at the gate and barked or whined if we left her in it with us elsewhere in the yard or in the house. We tried numerous times to curb that separation anxiety, to no avail. So we decided to pull the dog run down and section off a much larger portion of the back yard for her to have more freedom to roam on her own. That only seemed to help in potty training (she could go whenever she needed in her spot) and we could generally be in the house for bit.
As a stay-at-home mom, most of the training and care was in my hands and then up to me to teach everyone else in the house the things I had taught her so we would all be on the same page and consistent. She and I stayed outside on the back porch, in the yard, or walking up and down the street from early morning until late evening when she would go to her crate and sleep through the night. The kids would spend time with her in the yard playing chase, or trying to teach her fetch or catch in the afternoon after school. My husband and I would take her on a bike ride, about a mile, in the early mornings when he was off work.
The problem we're dealing with has gotten to the breaking point for me. Biting. I am not referring to mouthing, teething, or nipping. Those things we persist in the give chew toy, yelp and remove, or yelp and walk away methods (although it seems to give her no 'light bulb' moment, we still do it). The biting I'm referring to is bark, down, lunge/jump, and bite. More often than not it is broken skin and when it isn't? She missed. There are very few specific triggers I can pinpoint. It's completely random most times.
One specific trigger I had pinned down is when she had the dog run; I would take her out, play with her for 15 - 20 minutes, and then walk out to let her continue to play alone. Always on a positive note, never if I had just corrected her for something. She would see me leaving, go to the gate, and stand or sit there barking or whining until I came back to get her(sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes a half an hour or more if I could stand it). When I opened the gate to let her out, we would walk two or three steps and she would turn around and go after me. I tried many different ways of getting her out of there. I would walk into the run with her to play for a few minutes before leaving. Opening and walking away. Opening and offering a treat for sit then walking out, staying in with her the whole time and leaving with her. Nothing would stop her from turning on me a few steps outside the run. So we eliminated the run and removed the problem. If every time she turned on me was that simple to fix, we wouldn't hesitate to fix it. However, it isn't that easy.
One random occurrence; she and I are on the porch, she’s laying down on her bed, chewing a toy. I’m sitting a few feet away on the computer. There is no sound on the computer; I haven’t looked at her in at least 10 minutes. I haven’t interacted with her in about a half an hour, but we just had a nice long walk up the road and back for about thirty minutes. She drops her toy, barks, (I look at her) she goes to the down position, lunges, grabs a hold of my leg, leaving a long scratch. I yelp, say no bite and walk into the house.
Another random occurrence; we walk up the road and back. I’m not leash training her so she can stop and sniff everything, I don’t guide her in any direction, just a relaxing, exploring walk. We reach the end of the road, I stop at a safe distance from the main road so that her leash doesn't allow her to reach it, and I don’t pull or tug at her to turn around, just stand still and steady so she knows the end of the line. When she comes back towards me I start to walk back towards home. Nine times out of ten this is how we walk the road. The one other time; we’ll get halfway back down the road and she’ll turn, bark, lunge, and bite. Then I have to hold her away from me and quick step her all the way back to the house before I can tell her No bite and walk away from her.
Those are just some examples, there were many times that, with no warning and seemingly no trigger, she would turn on me. At 10 weeks old I signed her up for a puppy playgroup class for obedience and socialization. The first class, a 20 week old puppy was either trying to “mount” her or stand over her dominantly and she reacted with full snarl and a snap. I almost jumped in to separate, but the trainer said it was ok; she was just giving a warning. The 20 wk old puppy continued to try to mount/dominate my puppy, and when it didn't take the hint my puppy lost it and went after her, full attack mode. The trainer stepped in to separate, picked my puppy up by the ribs and promptly received a bite on her hand drawing blood. The class had to stop so she could bandage it up.
In light of that situation and all the others leading up to that, I contacted that trainer and set up a home visit so she could help us work with my puppy to “curb the German Shepherd in her” (The trainers exact phrase). She came for an hour and my puppy was the perfect angel, until my son walked away from the group. She lunged and grabbed a hold of the back of his calf, head shaking and pulling (thankfully he was wearing pants and didn't end up with a bad bite!). The trainer distracted her with a treat and kept her attention with treats walking her around the yard until everyone but the trainer and I were the only ones left outside with her. The trainer then told me to keep working with her on the come command, gave me a toy for her, suggested getting a Kong, and left. Not a word about the biting.
We have continued to work with her daily. We wear her out with exercise, keep training obedience, and spend time sitting with/by her, just letting her relax near us. The random biting never stopped. It got so we felt we had no choice but to buy a muzzle for my safety so that I could continue to walk her because the random times she would turn she was leaving bruises and bites all over my arms and legs. I took pictures of my arms and legs with each separate bite circled and counted them. Twenty one different bite marks or bruises.
On the recommendation of our vet, we got her spayed at 4 months old. (Yes, I know this is a very controversial subject with many different opinions, it was a shot at calming her down, as some dogs’ do, that swayed our opinion in favor of getting it done.) The week following the surgery was nothing different, still randomly biting at any of us but me and my daughter most often as we were with her most. The second week I was walking her in the yard on the leash because she wasn't allowed to run or jump yet, she was carrying a toy in her mouth, I had treats in my pocket (she knew they were there), and I had the muzzle in my pocket just in case. She dropped the toy, lunged and grabbed a hold of my hand. She wouldn't let go. I had to pry her mouth off my hand. I put the muzzle on her, hooked her to a tree and walked away to tend to my hand.
At that point, my husband and I had a long talk about whether or not we should keep her or try to find her a different home. We were both positive we weren't going to put her down, but maybe our home wasn't the right home for her. My husband suggested letting him and my son take over her training completely and removing me from it. So we gave that a try. He took her for a walk in the morning, fed her, played a bit with her then went to work. While he was at work, my son would go play with her, feed her, walk her, and sit with her. When my husband got home from work; he took her for another walk/run, gave her dinner, and spent some play or training time with her.
After about two weeks of me not having anything to do with her at all, we re-introduced “me” to her slowly. At first I would only go out when he was home and she had a leash on for control. I would let her approach me, offer my hand to sniff. When she “gave me kisses” I would praise and pet her under the chin or on the back (not the head). If she offered her belly, I would give her belly rubs. Then my husband would take back her attention and I would go away.
After about a week of that, I started to go out when he wasn't home. Same routine, approach, sniff, praise and pet, go away. Last week, I started going out to play with her for a few minutes every day. Same routine of approach, sniff, praise and pet, but instead of going away I would offer her a toy and play fetch with her for about 10-15 minutes. Two days ago my husband and I were on the porch talking about how it seemed to be working while she chewed a bone he bought for her. She stood up, and took a flying leap at me, grabbing a hold of my side and leaving a long gash.
I honestly don’t know what to do. I have never encountered a dog with this type of temperament. We have never hit or abused her in any way. I have never “alpha rolled” her, though my husband has given it a try in effort to stop this (she just tried harder so he never did it again). We don’t neglect her; she gets a ton of exercise and affection, has an entire box of chew toys and is smart as a whip when training. But for some reason we cannot find a way to stop this biting. It seems worse with me and my daughter, though she does go after the guys also. It’s completely random, there seems to be no trigger.
So, any advice? Suggestions? Recommendations? We’re completely at a loss. My husband and son do not want to find her another home. They want to keep training her, but at this point I've given up hope that she will ever be trained out of this. I’ll say up front that we CAN NOT afford a behaviorist (I contacted one suggested by the vet, $190 an hour!!) I’m worried that they’ll keep trying until something really bad happens (she bites someone else or their kid) or until she’s too “old” to be re-adopted quickly. What can I do? Thanks for reading my Book!