Where can I gain experience?
Hello everyone! I do not currently own a German shepherd, as I live in an apartment where this breed is banned( when my lease is up in December, I'm sooooo out of here!) I have owned German shepherds almost my entire life. Nothing fancy or special. My mom just loved shepherds so she had her two favorites that she would breed once a year( she had good intentions, and loved her dogs, but she probably would have been called a back yard breeder, since she didnt show them or do any kind of sporting events, or even pay attention to bloodlines) But anyway, I have always been surrounded by German shepherds, up until I lived in this apartment complex.
I have been so desperate I have been spending a lot of time at shelters, walking the German shepherds and making sure I spend as much time with them as possible, just trying to give them some time outside of their cages. I'm not officially a volunteer, I go up there strictly to interact with any shepherds I come across, and I try to make sure via word of mouth, Facebook, ect, that the German shepherd finds a new home. My favorite dog was a four year old male German Shepherd called Spartan. I spent hours with him every day while he was in the shelter and put the word out about him, and he ended up getting adopted by this guy who works as a professional body guard for famous athletes, and he takes Spartan with him everywhere, including a meeting with the redwings! Spartans adopter texted me today telling me that Spartan was a favorite of some of the redwings, and he's promised to take pictures the next time he's working with them. How amazing is it that a dog that was nearly put to sleep has such an awesome life now?!:)
Now the reason I'm here is this: I really, really need to get some professional experience with German shepherds, but where do I go for that? I'm not interested in breeding or showing, and I'm not interested in trying to make any money, I just want to volunteer my time, but I'm very interested in trying to make sure no German shepherds in my area have to ever be put to death again, just because the shelter is full, or the dog is too old, or whatever the reason!
This is so important to me. I know I am a bit naive about how things are professionally done in the German shepherd world. I have trained my own dogs, and worked on basic obedience with some of the shelter dogs, but my techniques are very 'crude', as in there's no theory behind the way I work with GSDs, it's all basically just me using my instincts, and I want to provide better for them than that. I really would like to get some real experience, and to be around people who live and breathe German shepherds every day of their life, to pick up on how they handle their dogs. I know different dogs will probably require different techniques, and I know the showlines are a lot more laid back in general than the working lines, so I realize different handlers will have different opinions, but that's ok! I would love to hear different opinions!
Also, when I do move into my own house I do plan on purchasing a working line shepherd of my own, oh how I have fantasized about it, and I want to be the best owner I possibly can be. I figure the only way to do that is through experience! I know working lines can be a handful, but that's actually why I want one. I don't do schutzhund or agility, but I am VERY interested in SAR, just still a little bit confused as to how I can become involved in it.:confused:
I just know that I think showlines are beautiful, but for some reason it's always the East German working lines that make me sit up and pay attention! So I would love some ideas on where I can go to get more experience! Like I said, I'm already spending a lot of time with shelter dogs, but that isn't enough for what I want to do. This may sound overly optimistic, and maybe there's already people out there doing this, but one day I would love to be able to train dogs, mainly shepherds or other working breeds, to do something useful like SAR. The only catch is, I only want to work with animals that are in high kill shelters, so everyone benefits. The shelter benefits, and then someone gets an awesome dog that otherwise would have maybe not found a home, also benefits. Of course the main benefit would be to the dog. It wouldn't just be for SAR, it would also be for maybe even something as simple as a therapy dog. I'm not sure yet, this is all brand new stuff I'm thinking of, so I don't have it refined yet:) I just know German shepherds are so amazing, and there's no need for one to ever die.
Unfortunately it's becoming more common where I see people only want a dog if they can figure out a way to eat off of them, like breeding them. And because so many people are breeding, the shelters are overflowing with dogs! I don't disagree with breeding in general; how else can I get my hands on an amazing working line shepherd if someone doesn't create him one day? But I don't believe in just breeding any two dogs because they are purebred. I believe there are people knowledgable enough and experienced enough to breed amazing dogs, but unfortunately they are in the minority. It's the dogs that are a result of back yard breeders that I want to work with mostly. Yes, I am dying for my own personal working line GSD, and I will have him eventually, but I want to work with ANY and EVERY shepherd that needs help. Sorry this is so long, I just don't have anyone to talk to who is passionate about this beloved breed except the people on this forum, so it builds up for awhile:)
If you share your city or what part of Michigan you are in, there may be people here who work with a GS rescue in your area, who can help you get started volunteering.
Otherwise, please volunteer at your local animal shelter. They need your enthusiasm and passion. Don't ever let anyone tell you one person can't make a difference in saving lives! Last year, I was part of a group of just THREE volunteers who saved over 50 GSDs from a high-kill shelter -- not a rescue, not a well-funded non-profit, just 3 shelter volunteers working their tails off to find homes for good dogs. We got GSDs "no kill" status in a high kill shelter in about half a year--in a shelter with a euthanasia rate around 50% for other breeds.
I would bet your local animal shelter would love to have a volunteer "breed advocate." I do that in my city. I evaluate all the GSDs who come through, exercise them, get pictures, write bios, advertise them, respond to emails from adopters who have questions about them, go to the shelter to do meet and greets, and train other volunteers. I also foster dogs and have an arrangement where the shelter staff all know to call me if a GSD is on the week's euthanasia list. Some days the work is tough -- the injured, sick, abused, and neglected dogs you will see will break your heart...and then occasionally give you a piece of theirs when you help mend them and show them the only kindness they've ever known.
I started out just walking dogs at the shelter. Over time, as I got to know the staff, and they got to know me, they trusted me to do more. Walking dogs is a wonderful way to get started at a shelter -- many volunteers are afraid of large, powerful dogs and won't walk them. We had many volunteers who came for the small dogs, but few for the large dogs.
GSDs get so depressed in shelters. Depression can lead to dogs being put on euthanasia lists. The thing about walking them that's magical is you can see their spirits lift, and the life come back into their eyes after a good long walk (or even run) -- and sometimes that is all it takes for them to turn around. I've had several of "my" dogs at the shelter get adopted within the hour of their walk -- they were still happy and excited when adopters came through, so they made a good impression. Before the walk, those dogs were withdrawn and sad in the back of the kennel--easy for adopters to overlook.
If you start walking dogs at the shelter, you'll gain experience as you see more and more dogs and practice your handling techniques. You'll also get better and better at "reading" different dogs.
Thank you so much for responding Magwort! :) I do love walking the dogs, and I have signed up to volunteer, but they haven't responded to me yet. Oh, I have become VERY familiar with people at my local shelters lol! They are all so nice, but I know what you mean! A lot of the volunteers and even the staff show a lot of fear of German shepherds, pitbulls, Rottweilers, ect. I have noticed though that the German shepherds are far more likely to show cage aggression than most of the other breeds. It always turns out to be all talk though, as soon as I get them out of the cage, they couldn't be more affectionate. I dont think i ever remember being in fear when with a german shepherd, maybe because I dont have enough common sense lol, because all i want to do when i see a gsd is hug it! I'm in Holly Mi btw:) I do not mind traveling at ALL if there's a rescue in the vicinity, so if anyone knows of one that's like an hour and a half or less, and could use some help, please please please let me know! Magwort I would dearly love to be in your position right now! Lol everyone in my personal life thinks I'm a nut job, because I collect German shepherd books and talk about them nonstop, so I'm glad to know there's other people out there that have so much passion. I just want as much experience with them as possible. I feel like I could do so much more to help if I was more 'professionally' experienced. Professional as in using techniques accepted and acknowledged by people in the dog world. And not just techniques I make up on the spot :) wish I loved near you Magwort, I would probably be begging to come with you to work with the GSDs everyday!
I am sure your help would be appreciated at the shelters . You don't have to aim for SAR or (anything but simple) simple therapy. SAR isn't for the benefit of the dog , is long and complex and requires one handler prepared with many skills and dedication to go to call outs and a special dog .
You would do wonders for the dog , and wonders for the adopting family, if the shelter allowed you to do basic obedience and manners - all dogs , not just gsd. You will get excellent experience .
I know when I was in the working world - a bunch of us "girls" would give up part of our lunchtime to go to the shelter to walk dogs around a parking lot so that they could go pee. Some of the older dogs used to "house" manners would hold on to their bladders and would only relieve outside. Since the dogs were "property of the shelter" until adopted we had to stay in the parking lot scrub area of the shelter - could not leave property. So we devised little back and forth heeling exercises, proper doggy social etiquette , some good manners. Dogs looked forward to the extra personal attention . They seemed to adopt better .
There are lots of ways where some volunteerism benefits the dog, the shelter, the adoptee , and you.
Shelter managers get busy. I think there were a few days I just showed up and asked "can I get started with the dogs?"
Do you have a trainer you know and trust? That person might be able to mentor you.
One thing I highly recommend is reading a copy of Patricia McConnell's book, The Other End of the Leash. Your local library will likely have it. It will give you a lot of insight into working with dogs at a shelter, or anywhere.
Be very, very careful with cage aggression as you work on learning to read dogs. There are some GSDs who will bite your face off, if given a chance--they are thankfully rare, but I don't mess with them. I don't have the skills to rehabilitate human aggression. Part of my credibility with the shelter is that I am very honest in my evaluations--if I think a dog can't be safely adopted, I say so. Then we can call in a professional to do a more thorough temperament test.
Most of the dogs I see are simply scared of the pandemonium and noise. I often spend a good ten minutes with a new dog who is displaying any uncertainty while it's still in its cage, letting it get to know me. One thing I do a lot is crouch down with my ribcage to the dog, looking down at the cement in front of me. Without looking, I talk to it and send a few high-value treats in through the cage and watch the reaction. If the bluster stops and I get a wagging tail, that's a good sign. I have been known to play bow with a dog through the gate too, with a fearful dog.
There are a few I have taken several visits sitting outside the cage, without opening it, letting the dog get used to me. One was so feral (terrified) that I called my trainer to come help, and it took him three weeks to get her out of the kennel -- he came and just sat in her cage day after day, letting her get used to him. He ended up fostering and adopting her -- and she's an awesome dog now, but she was a big project. We eventually learned that the only human she had ever seen until the shelter was her one owner, and she had never been out of her backyard, until the shelter. She wasn't a "bad" dog, just a totally unsocialized one who was almost like a new puppy encountering everything new in the world!
I would also caution you about the "hugging" you mentioned. As much as you want to wrap your arms around them, you honestly have to hold back. I know it's sometimes hard--but for your safety, it's important. Hugging can be very, very dangerous with a dog you don't really know. Hugging can trigger bites in some dogs with hair-trigger tempers. With a dog you don't know, respectful gentle caressing is good. Leash walks are excellent. Just avoid leaning over the dog, and train yourself to approach from the side, never front-on. It all becomes second nature -- and the book I mentioned will give you lots of insight.
Keep reminding the shelter staff you want to come help. You could be a great rescuer in the making -- get started! Good luck!!!
Just want to pop in to second Magwart's advice. As usual, it's excellent. :)
Thank you for the responses everyone! Great advice! :) Lol, I have never actually hugged any of the shelter dogs, but I always want to! Everytime I see a new GSD face I get butterflies in my belly and I just want to run up and hug them, but I've restrained myself :) My husband thinks I am way too trusting with the shelter dogs, as their cage aggression is usually what he witnesses first and he's really not much of a dog person, so he believes all dogs that are aggressive in the cage will be aggressive outside of the cage. Maybe I am a little too trusting with shepherds, and I guess that's come about because I've been around them my whole life and never once have a been bitten by one.
I have personally known two Siberian huskies, and one of them gave me about fifty stitches in my face when I was seven! And they aren't even considered to be aggressive for the most part! Then I had a golden retriever chow mix when I was ten that the shelter ended up coming and getting because my brother and his friends were playing with a frisbee, and the dog went beserk and attacked one of the friends so badly he needed around 80 stitches.
So I guess the most positive experiences I've had have been with shepherds. They are such good dogs! Even the fearful aggressive ones, once they learn to trust you they are so loving! I know they don't fall all over themselves to lick your face the way a Labrador would, at least not at first, but they are so sweet! That is kind of how I approach the cage of 'aggressive' animals. I try to lower myself to look less threatening, and I avoid looking them in the face, with my body tilted away from them. I haven't done the treats yet, that is good advice! I'm sure it will speed up the trust! Spartan would not wag his tail at me for a long time, he just started off by ignoring me rather than barking at me like he did everyone else. I was a little concerned with the no wagging tail, but when he realized he would be take out when I came around, I started getting the tail wag :) The other ones aside from him almost immediately gave me a tail wag.
I was interested in SAR just so I can have something to do with my dog once I do get him, only because if I were to have a working line dog, which is what I so desperately want, I want to have an activity for them to do. I'm pretty active as far as hiking goes(love it!) but I want to provide some mental stimulation for my dog as well. But as I said, I still find it a bit intimadating to even begin, as I'm not even entirely sure of the how tos of SAR. I've read the theory, but its a lot easier to read how something's done then to actually do it! I will check out the books you guys mentioned, they sound like really helpful books! This is the kind of information I really needed, so I appreciate it! :) I'm so glad this forum exists!
I think it's GREAT that you want to work with shelter dogs.
But what may also work for the time being is to find a breeder/trainer in your area and also help them, learn from them. So you can take that knowledge with you when you are helping out in the shelters/rescues.
Where do you live in Michigan (generally?). There is quite and active Schutzund community around there you may want to link into. If you are a willing worker, ready to listen, learn and work hard, you may be able to find some great connections there.
I would find a SchH club to go to or look up obedience clubs in your are. Explain that you don't ahve a dog at this time but want to observe and learn. There are lots of MI people on here so definitely post your area! They can give you input on where the clubs are.
What about joining a local GSD of America Club? Or do you want to stay away from American Show line?
Regional Clubs - Great Lakes
German Shepherd Dog Club of America - Information and resources for owners of German Shepherd Dogs and German Shepherd Puppies
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