Join Date: May 2008
Location: Ontario, Canada
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.