What constitutes "Unstable temperament" in a dog, and can it be changed?
I’m a 3rd time GSD owner. My first was a rescued male with a gentle, submissive temperament. My second was a BYB female with a "classic" GSD temperament. She was aloof, but approachable, had intense focus and loved to train, and approached every situation with calm confidence. I think she made me prejudiced in favor of BYB’s.
My new puppy, is a different story. If I had to describe her in two words, they would be "hyperactive" and "neurotic". At first I thought she was just drivey and playful, but she doesn’t really have strong drive, its more like she just lacks an OFF switch. I got her at *supposedly* eight weeks old (I think she was really 6). Even though it was a BYB, he had the puppies and mother corralled in a large x-pen in the living room, with his wife and kids interacting with them, so I thought it would be ok. At this point, she is around 15 weeks old.
Here is how I am raising her:
I use "nothing in life is free"/positive motivation type training. I don’t punish her, I use a marker word + treat when she does the behavior I want, and ignore her/walk away when she doesnt. She doesn’t get petted or played with unless she sits quietly first, she doesn’t come into a room without waiting to be invited in, etc. I have my whole family doing the same thing.
We "ipe" and walk away, and redirect her into toys. We use the command "NO BITE" before walking away. A couple times, when she has gotten really intense, we have given her a scruff shake with a firm NO BITE, before walking away.
I hand-feed her dinner each night, making her train on basic commands to earn her kibble. She does great during this session, but thats about it.
She has been peeing outside on command since the day after we got her. She has had a few accidents in the house, almost exclusively when she excitedly urinates when a visitor comes over.
She sleeps each night next to my bed in her crate.
We walk every day to a secluded park (about 5 min away), where she and I romp around off leash in the grass, then walk back home. Takes about an hour for the whole thing. We have numerous 5-10 min a day play/training sessions with the flirt pole, or play fetch with the rope bone.
On our daily walk, I make a point of chatting up everyone I meet on the street and introducing her to them. I also take her to the park on weekends with a bag of treats, and allow strangers to give her a treat after she sits calmly for them. I bring her in the car with me, everywhere I go. She is in puppy kindergarten once a week. I invite friends and family members over frequently. She meets, on average, probably at least 10 new people a week.
I brush her every other day, and while I brush her, I touch her everywhere, on her paws, muzzle, etc, to make her comfortable with being handled. I have my kids do the same when they pet her.
Despite all of our efforts, she has shown minimal improvement.
Bite inhibition? not really. The other day, after I "iped" and started getting up, she bit my arm and purposely bore down while looking me in the eye. I actually felt her increasing the pressure on my arm while she bit.
Crate trained? After two months, she STILL whines and yips at length when I put her in. I give her stuffed kongs and special meat bones that she only gets in the crate, but she just finishes them, then cries to be let out. I NEVER give in, so she cries herself to sleep every night.
Socialized? Despite meeting tons of new people on the street, in the store, and at puppy class, she reacts unpredictably to all new people. She sometimes slinks behind me and hides, sometimes gets excited, jumps, and pees, and sometimes snaps, barks, and lunges. Other times, I have gotten her to be calm. This can all happen within minutes of each other-one second she’s scared, the next calm, the next hostile. At the vet, she freezes in fear, and is basically a statue. She completely shuts down.
At home? No "OFF switch". We spend the whole day doing a constant cycle of trying to play, getting bitten, giving a time out, then repeating. She stops to train for her kibble or play with the flirt pole, but that’s about it.
My whole family is on the same page, my kids play with her under my supervision and I make sure they use the same commands as me, and time her rewards correctly. We are literally putting in a minimum of 2-3 solid hours of working with her daily, but have hardly seen any improvement. I truly feel that I am putting 110%, and honestly, I’m exhausted. Something needs to give, because she is hardly ever pleasant to be around. I need to fix her. But is it possible? Sometimes she will have good days, which give me hope, but then she regresses. I keep reading about temperament, and how it can be improved, but never really extinguished because it is an inherent part of the dog.
What am I doing wrong? I have successfully trained other dogs to be good citizens before, and I don't understand why it isn't sticking, and why this puppy acts nuts. Has any one else had a puppy like this? What did you do about it?
All I can say is that she's a puppy and with this one there might be more drive so training will take longer. You said after 2 months...so I'm assuming she's around 4 months old...so I wouldn't expect that much from her. Maybe you are comparing her to your last dog too much and not realizing that your last dog wasn't a perfect citizen after 4 months either.
Not all training techniques work with all dogs. Maybe positive only won't work with this one. She might have more drive and be more hard headed, and your positive only outlook will only teach her to be more independent (if she truly doesn't care about your approval). The "ipping" technique doesn't work with all dogs either. Some dogs don't care if they're hurting the other dog (what the ipping simulates) and won't stop. If she did come from a questionable breeder, and was taken away at 6 weeks, she might not have learned good enough manners from her litter in order to associate the "ip" with a dog in pain.
Stick with it, and don't expect too much. She's a puppy, have fun with her, don't expect her to be an obedience robot from day one.
The only thing that's alarming is her unpredictability around new people. That might be a poor genetics type thing. At this age, she should be very happy to meet anything and everything. They shouldn't cower, hide, and they shouldn't snap and lunge either. Out of all the things you've written, that is the only one that is truly alarming IMO. That will take more training, more controlled socialization, and has the chance to grow into a bigger problem. It might also be signs of a 4 month old fear stage which many dogs go through. There are many ways to look at it.
I don't have much advice, but I will tell you that "ipe" with our puppy just made him go even more nuts. The best thing for him was to remain calm (I know, easier said than done when he's biting!) and walk away into a different room and ignore them until he quiets down. We did that until he learned to open the door after us. Luckily, with time, his bite improved and got softer, but ignoring worked more than "ipe" with us.
I would be a little concerned too about the unpredictable greetings. Hopefully someone else will chime in with helpful tips for that.
Did you get your other dogs as puppies?
I don't know that temperament can be changed really, but I think you can build up the dog to manage itself better. Our puppy was pretty shy when we first got him and lacked confidence. We have been overcoming "challenges" and rewarding with treats and praise for "bravery" and now, at 6 months, I don't think many people would say he has confidence issues at all. Our trainer was actually surprised that he ever was. Your pup is so young, I think with socialization and training you can definitely correct any issues from her nerves, but core temperament - probably not. JMO
It isn't a 4 month fear stage, unfortunately. She has been like this since we got her.
You mentioned she may be too hard-headed for all-positive motivation. What do you recommend? We have tried scruff shakes/pinning by the scruff before. It set her off really badly, she got riled up and tried to bite worse. my husband does it more often than me, and she acts avoidant around him, she doesn't seem really bonded with him, honestly. Is there anything else you have found that works with stubborn pups?
It is comforting to know that your puppy learned to cope with his lack of confidence. I keep reading all these articles about how if your puppy was adopted too young, they will have a lifetime of behavioral problems, and how their temperament cannot be changed, no matter what. I want to hear from people who successfully had a puppy who learned to "manage" their less desirable traits.
A lot of what you stated is just puppy stuff.
However, her reactions to strangers and the still whining in the crate I think is fear and is probably genetic. If it is you can work with it but it will always be her default setting.
In other words she will always have some level of anxiety that you will need to learn and work with.
I can't be 100% sure it's genetic because you may inadvertently be doing something that brings about some of her behavior.
You can't change genetics only work with what you have.
We tried the "ipe" thing too with our pup, and he got just as riled up over it as yours. Actually, what you're going through with your pup in general sounds just like ours. Except for the unpredictable greetings.
With the biting, we tried several different things. We tried gripping his lower jaw (not squeezing) and holding on as he tried to get away, purely to teach him that biting gets him an undesirable response. (Learned that with my cat jumping on me at 3AM, had to pull him under the covers and trap him until he realized that would happen if he attacked me at night) We also tried pressing his own lip on his teeth, so he feels the bite. My boyfriend also taught his ferret not to bite by sticking his finger in the back of the ferret's mouth (not to choke him!) but just to induce the gag reflex, sounds terribly cruel, but it only took two times and the ferret never nipped again. I know ferrets and dogs are different, but it is food for thought. I prefer positive training as well, but I did learn that sometimes you just get a hard-headed dog that has drive that requires correction every now and then.
It was a long first year for us with our pup. But I will tell you, he is a year and 2 months now, and he is settling down! Sometimes I would swear he would bite or do something and the look in his eye was saying "yea, I'm doing this because I know you don't want me to!" I doubt that's what it was, but they are very often too smart for their own good ;) Believe me, there were a few nights I went to bed thinking "what have I gotten myself into." There is a light at the end, I promise. It just takes a lot of patience (which I rarely had with him between 6-10 months of age!). Also, every now and then, just put her in her crate, pour yourself a glass of wine, sit down with your husband, and enjoy some quiet time. I always felt guilty doing that, but sometimes you just need it. For a while, we lived by the practice that after our pup would tick us off, we would go and do something that reminded us how great he is again. Just to stay sane! :crazy:
What you might want to try is crazy redirection. If she bites you, tell her no, then shove a toy in her mouth. She takes the toy? Give her a treat or give lots of praise (whatever she goes nuts for). If you don't have a treat yet that she goes nuts for...find it...it can be people food (cheese/salami/raw meat). Whatever gets that dog to do anything you ask...find it! I've heard of stories of people that couldn't find anything and then ending up on salad croutons.
If you need to correct...do it with a leash and collar. That way she CAN'T react and bite your hand. Just a quick tug should do at this age...don't over do it.
When it comes to bitting puppies, I teach my puppies that I "bite" back. I don't actually bite them because that would be awkward, but I do use this trick my breeder taught me (she is also a professional trainer).
When my puppy bites my hand I take thumb and forefinger and pinch down on the bottom part of her mouth, like you would a fish when removing the hook (I actually joke and call it fish hooking her). After she lets out a little tiny yelp, I let go. Then I offer her my hand again, so she can make a decision on how to precede next. 99% of the time she licks my hand. On the off chance that she is feeling bold and bites again I repeat the action and then she always returns to my hand with a gentle lick.
Now this may be controversial to some people, but it works like a charm for my current GSD puppy and all my previous dogs. My current puppy isn't afraid of my hand at all, but she does know to be gentle with my hands.
I think it works so well because I'm correcting her in the most direct way, unlike when a puppy bites your hand, so they get a correction from a different part of your body, to another part of their body (ie. neck).
Instead she understands at the very moment my hand enters her mouth it results in a small amount of trouble. There is no confusion as to why she is being corrected and what action caused it.
I try and repeat this idea the best I can with my other body parts. If she bites my arm I push it further into her mouth until it becomes uncomfortable (this rarely happens because she learned quick with the hands). If she bites my foot, I gently step down on her. Be very careful that it is a gentle amount of pressure though because you would never want to harm them.
What constitutes "Unstable temperament" in a dog, and can it be changed?
Why not just teach her how to play with you? Redirect to toys. Won't bite toys? Okay get up walk away no attention.
I can actually play with her using with my hands and she understands not to bite down. I know a lot of GSD owners who can't say the same for their 10 week old puppies. She doesn't fear me, or my hands. It's a very minimal amount of discomfort. I'm not pinching to cause pain, I'm just making her uncomfortable. All of my dogs learn very quickly to just lick my hands as puppies using this method. I had a very well established breeder who titles and trains all of her own (very successful) dogs who also recommend the same pinch method, so I know I'm not entirely crazy.
However, I probably wouldn't try this on an older dog, and I know not every training technique is for everyone :) Just an idea for a puppy that is having a very hard time learning not to bite using the re-direct method.
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