Need some help with my 1 YO adopted male - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-18-2017, 10:03 PM Thread Starter
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Need some help with my 1 YO adopted male

Please be gentle

Our family has had GSDs for the last 14 years and I guess we've been lucky because we've never had any serious behavioral problems with our dogs.

We adopted Reece from a rescue when he was 12 weeks old. He had a very rough start and was under heavy medical care for most of the 1st three months of his life. Very little socializing with humans outside of the rescue director and the vet.

He has been great until he hit around 9 mid old. We took him everywhere with us, dog parks and daycare. He is fine with dogs- but people...,,He will bark excessively and lunge at people both in my home, car and in public.

The first time it happened, he ran full speed after a water softener guy in my house and put a hole in his pants. This was the first incident that caused concern. The second time, was when he went after my brother in law. He was visiting for a few hours. All was fine- brother in law leaves the room, Reece was relaxing on the couch. BIL returns and Reece full out ran to him, lunges and is caught by my husband mid jump before he could do real damage.

Prior to this, We have done 3 obedience classes with him- no problems at all. Reece goes to Daycare where he has been since 4 mis old- no problem there with the staff or other dogs (although, I am petrified that I am going to get that call one day)

So we are doing the obvious- got a trainer who came to our home and did an initial assessment. She told us that we have to be prepared because Reece will bite one day. He will always have this in him and the best we can do is to learn to redirect him and give him something else to do when he loses it.

It should be noted that When Reece was rescued, it was with both parents and 7 litter mates. They were guessed to be 10 days old.

The trainer (rescue referred) is working with 2 other dogs from that litter with the same fear issues.

I am currently acclimating him to a muzzle and once I have him comfortable with it, the trainer will start the real work with us.

The reason I am reaching out is because I would like to hear if anyone has been through similar situations, had success or words of encouragement should I have to think about the alternatives if we cannot correct this behavior. There is a part of me that has a bit of fear and uncertainty myself. Every once in a while- he gives my husband s strange gaze- just not right. He went after my 20 year old son for trying to take a bone from him (although there was plenty of warning and my son chose not to back off. He has bitten me in the leg already- because I was in his way as he was lunging after someone.

I don't want to give up on this boy, I am committed to doing everything I can. I feel like we have had so many close calls already....am I doing the right thing trying to help him (and myself) or is it too late?
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-19-2017, 05:52 AM Thread Starter
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-19-2017, 10:00 AM
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If the trainer is working with others out of the same litter with the same issues - my opinion is this a genetic issue.

I have a male that can be human aggressive with the no-dog sense crowd. At one point that aggression would have included any human BUT his family. The only time he bit me was on a redirect and due to handler error. We went through vets and trainers that said to pts until we located one that worked out for us.

My concern for yours is, he is willing to actively charge/leap for a bite. Mine would move forward but feet didn't leave the ground and you could see/hear an element of fear in his behavior.

If you haven't taken your dog in for a check up recently, do so and describe the strange gaze to the vet. Next would be a complete change in handling this dog. This dog needs to be 100% managed - no slip ups. Stranger in the house, he is crated. Place commands for a corner bed etc is not going to work for this dog, he needs a crate to be put away in. Son stops all teasing. Short lead is kept on him at all times for redirect. Muzzle is used liberally even in the house when he is being transported around strangers.

Keep in mind that at some point you may have to make some tough decisions.
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-19-2017, 11:50 AM
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Have you taken him to the vet to see if the problem goes beyond just behavior? Twyla mentioned genetics, so what if he needs meds to help him calm down since he clearly has a threshold that's really, really low. It could be a psychological problem on top of a genetic problem which might require medicine to assist.

Seems worth investigating. You could try homeopathic (essential oils like valerian root or something, pheromones, or both) in addition to your training. If that's not enough, then I guess you could try anxiety meds.

I don't think it would fix him, but it'd probably make his life less stressful on the whole.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-19-2017, 03:58 PM
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You mentioned doggie day care, out of curiosity have you noticed these things happen on the days he was or wasn't in doggie day care?

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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-20-2017, 08:01 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone for the responses.

I have not had him to the vet recently but that is something I will schedule right away. I though it could be genetic as well and I'm not opposed to medication (or any treatment really) if it gets help for him (and me).

His feet definitely leave the ground- he is all in when he lunges. It is scary.

He is on low security prison rules now. He is crate trained and confined when I cannot supervise him. He is also crated (now) if anyone outside the family is over.

On the flip side- he is quite obedient when I tell him leave it- I can usually get his attention back to me pretty quick. Holding that attention is where we fall short. This is what gives me hope with him- I am praying that our trainer will be able to teach me to hold his attention more securely.

We are making progress with muzzle acclimation- we can walk up and die the street with it on- so that is also positive.

I understand that if I cannot learn to get this behavior under control- I do have to make some hard decisions.

I have accepted and have no problem with the fact that he is ALWAYS going to be a look-no-touch dog.
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-20-2017, 04:07 PM
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I am in the same position with a similarly aged dog, but I did not get this pup until he was 6 mos old. so don't really have a solid history on him. Like you, I have had other shepherds, even other shepherds that displayed aggression but this guy had me confused and like you, I felt that there was a lot of hope for him. The differences are that my pup's bites have never actually caused any damage but that could be for any number of reasons. My pup can also redirect when he is in a heighten state of agitation, but again no damage here, though I now suspect there might have been in his first home.

My pup was supposed to start obedience classes but they did not think it was a good idea as he was suffering from growing pains. especially as he was reacting. They did suggest a doggy massage therapist who came out and was the first to be nipped by this pup. It was a nip, as in front teeth only to her hand. No damage. Needless to say, he did not get a massage. Guess I don't have the smartest dog in the world I have carefully managed him since but he did get a guy on Thursday who walked into my house without knocking. I was furious at the guy, not the dog. I saw a full mouth "bite" I think but again no damage. I put the dog away and lit into the guy. All my work to prevent it.....

I don't think it this instance that his feet came off the ground but I am also not sure of the significance of that. Does the movement involved in the bite really reflect on the motivation behind that bite, or could it be a reflection of the chosen target for the bite?

Btw I suspect that weird look might be the focus before the bite. I have seen it in my pups eye and think it is the brain kicking in before the instinctive bite occurs. Last chance to make the right decision. I have seen it directed at me a couple of times, always during my attempts to control him while he was agitated and always thought, "****, the ass is thinking about biting me. Don't you dare..." The message has been received. He did nip me a couple weeks ago under those circumstances but he was completely losing it (no warning stare or I missed it) and really it did not hurt at all. It was very, very gentle. I did not even acknowledge it, just keep working on gaining control and settling him.

Back to the visitor walking into my home....once I settled down (5 mins or so) I leashed up the dog (flat collar) and took him outside. I worked him on obedience of the more fun nature (touch, watch me, find it, leave it) all good distraction techniques that are fun to do with your dog. Decreasing the distance to the guy who had entered the house (he was there to help with lawn cutting and had entered the house looking for a glass of water) I want the dog aware of the person but not acting out when I do this. Alert but not barking. In the end I had this man about 5 ft from the dog tossing him treats. Three times, three treats. This is when I took the dog back inside. I do everything in my power to end all reactive outbursts with a positive encounter of some kind with the thing that caused the reaction in attendance. I never want the pup to have success with his behavior. If I cannot get the dog to settle which did happen once, I ask the people to wait and remove the dog. This is my approach right now to issues at home. It makes sense to me but I am sure other more experienced people can comment on that. I could be wrong here. If I cannot work with the dog when people are around I put him away.

I am doing a reactive dog class. My favorite part of this class is a controlled safe environment to work with my dog in. I live on a farm so while much easier to deal with in a lot of ways, visitors are far and few sometimes. And really, the hardest part of working with a dog like this is people!!! Your muzzle will serve as a good "no touch" sign. I really like a lot of the things they are doing (most of which can be found on this forum) but not all. Questions I asked here have helped and I noticed in class that I can easily do things my way. So, instead of distracting the dog during an outburst with food randomly tossed on the ground (which I felt was rewarding the behavior and way overdone) I play "find it" with food. He always decides eventually that finding a cookie is better then barking. Same end result, different approach. There are some other things too, but you get the idea.

I finally asked on this forum for help finding an experienced large breed trainer. (a big thank-you to those who helped) Why is this so important? Well I went up and saw him last week and I can explain it now. General trainers that deal in obedience training or behavior modification in my experience have limited experience working with large breed, working pups. That does not mean they are not knowledgeable, it does mean they are very hesitant with the dog. Despite all the warning signs the dog might or might not give prior to reacting they can be quick and nobody wants to suffer a bite.

This guy met my pup. Pup reacting. Feed him a couple pieces of treat, watched him a minute and took the leash! No muzzle. Off they went. I have been involved at some level with two other really nice trainers but nobody has even gotten close to him so quickly and confidently. The dog settled with this trainer soooo fast. It was amazing. He tested him in a variety of ways; voice at different decibels, different levels of correction, strange objects, loud noises....but nothing that made me think, "stop hurting my dog". Now I feel like I have a better understanding of my dog's personality, this also is something that had not happened prior to now and it was so important to me.

This man's ability to handle my pup means we both have confidence in him. Makes him a perfect training partner for us. We are going to work on obedience with the pup and I have decided to continue with the reactive dog class for now, for the reasons I explained. This pup came with no obedience training and I have not done obedience before so this is going to be a lot of fun for me. You of course have the obedience but maybe you can do more with the dog and the right trainer. I have had to travel quite a distance to find somebody like this to work with btw. I could not find anybody local so will only see him bi-weekly. Again, this is something you might want to consider.

I cannot tell you how to "fix" your pup, but can say you should trust your instincts. You are not denying the pup has a problem but you are hopeful that it can be controlled, so was I. So you have already accepted the dog you have, now you just have to figure out what you can do to make it better. And, now you know what I am doing.
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-20-2017, 04:28 PM
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Originally Posted by indygsdmom View Post
On the flip side- he is quite obedient when I tell him leave it- I can usually get his attention back to me pretty quick. Holding that attention is where we fall short. This is what gives me hope with him- I am praying that our trainer will be able to teach me to hold his attention more securely.

We are making progress with muzzle acclimation- we can walk up and die the street with it on- so that is also positive.

I understand that if I cannot learn to get this behavior under control- I do have to make some hard decisions.

I have accepted and have no problem with the fact that he is ALWAYS going to be a look-no-touch dog.
Think of attention as having a beginning and an end. You tell him when to start and when he's done, but they're an alert, aware dog and you can't make the world go away. If he's obedient to you, that's whats going to matter. His attention can just be one piece and another one is going to have to be, you aren't going to do that. At some point you don't want to depend on him focusing on you to avoid whats bugging him. He has to get to a point where he knows not to get stupid.

Strangers not petting your dog isn't a bad thing. Removing the idea from his head that he needs to think about what other people are going to do can help with him not acting out, lunging, that stuff. One less bogeyman in his head. See what the trainer has you do.
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