A gsd noob with a puppy in need of help/support/advice - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 03-07-2014, 03:32 PM Thread Starter
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Unhappy A gsd noob with a puppy in need of help/support/advice

Hi everyone. This will probably be a long message, but I thought the more information available the better, and if you can hang on in with me until the end and offer some help, it would be so, so appreciated.

I live with my boyfriend in a decent sized apartment in a rural village. In December last year the opportunity to foster a five month GSD puppy presented itself, and my boyfriend was super keen (he's always wanted one).

I was unsure. We have both talked about one day getting a dog but wasn't sure we had the space for such a large breed. I asked a few customers from work who I knew had GSDs and they all agreed that as long as the dog was given adequate attention, time and exercise, space wasn't really an issue.

So fast forward and Ode is dropped on us at five months old and a little disorientated. I realise this is not the ideal circumstances to obtain a dog, but I rolled up my sleeves and was determined to try and make the whole thing work.

I was amazed at how quickly he settled into our routine. I work 9 - 6 Tuesday to Saturday every week, but my boyfriend works strange shift patterns and is often home all day, so Ode is very rarely alone. After reading up alot, we quickly established a strict daily routine with him - meal times, play times and walkies are all at very regimented times in the day.

We also employ NILIF and have made sure he has all basic manners - he sits and waits by his food bowl until we allow him to eat, he waits while we cross the front door threshold first, he walks to heel on lead, he doesn't sleep in the same room/bed as us etc. He is currently 8 months old (we have had him three months) but we are starting to lose our minds. WE NEED HELP.

First off - his good points;
He is blazingly clever and quick to learn (when he thinks it's worth his while). We have taught him a number of tricks and useless little movements, just as a way of bonding with him and engaging him in a fun way.
He can be left alone for quite a few hours and he is completely chilled out and relaxed about the whole thing. He doesn't get anxiety from separation, and when we return home we just have a very happy puppy waiting to greet us - no destruction!
He is very affectionate and people-friendly. Loves cuddles and kisses and being made a fuss of.

His bad points (and why I'm here);
Walking him is the most stressful point of our day. Our life REVOLVES around his walks. He gets an on-lead walk around the village in the morning (as we are in an apartment this is his chance to go to the toilet), an hour and a half of on/off lead in a field playing fetch or forest hike in the afternoon, and then another walk on lead around the village at night (again, for toileting purposes). He is generally very alert when outside - any noises or movement and he's immediately watching and ready for action. This is fine... Until there is another dog.

When there is another dog he goes crazy. Barking, lunging, growling, snarling... The lot. Despite this, he is not aggressive in any way. When he actually comes face to face with another dog off-lead he just invites to play (play bowing, occasional barking) and loves chasing them round or wrestling. But walking past others when he's on his lead and he looks like he wants to rip someone's throat out. It unnerves all the labradoodle walkers I can tell you!

Same if he sees another dog and is off-lead. Ode will go temporarily deaf and just bolt away toward them. Tbh since he hit around the 7 month mark he has become much naughtier, and his recall has dropped considerably. This has led to us putting him on a 30ft training lead at all times. It isn't ideal, but we don't want him pestering other dogs that don't want to be pestered.

I wake up in the morning and DREAD having to walk him - either off or on lead. Inside the home he is the perfect dog... But outside, he is a nightmare. We realise that as we don't know his former home, his socialisation may have been inadequate. In order to combat this we walk him through the town centre, through dog parks, through forest hikes... We have enrolled him in dog daycare where he gets to meet dogs of all shapes and sizes for an entire day once a week (and the staff there say he is amazing) and I booked him in for a training session with a professional to conquer his lead manners.

He was MUCH better in the lesson (we had the lesson in the car park of a dog park near us, so there were dogs being unloaded from cars every so often as a distraction), and we learnt a few techniques for trying to make him ignore the other dogs walking around him... Although it's a comfort for us to have it as a crutch, his behaviour doesn't seem to be getting any better.

My boyfriend confessed to me today he feels like he is reaching the end of his tether. We wanted a dog we could take on hiking trails off-lead and happily meet other dogs... But right now we are both knackered with shot nerves trying to keep him under control.

Is the general naughtiness and the fact that his recall has all but disappeared the dreaded adolescence phase? Or are we doing something wrong? What else can we do to help teach Ode to straight up ignore other dogs?

I just need some support guys. I'm so tired and ill with it all. I've never known a reactive dog before, and to be honest, it's terrifying.

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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 03-07-2014, 03:51 PM
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My advice would be teach him to ignore other dogs and quit the day care. If he's fine in the house he doesn't need it. I would also question exactly what he is doing in day care?? Most likely where your problem started and where other dogs dealing with him problems are coming from?

Most likely a Dominant Dog? If so he's most likely learning to push around other dogs once a week then on walks you don't want him doing that.

Not saying any of this is the case but that is my spin on it.

My advice would be to ditch the day care and teach him to ignore other dogs. If he is a dominant dog and gets a free run once a week to push dogs around ...well that's what he's learning.

Confused messages who's he learning from you or day care?

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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 03-07-2014, 04:01 PM
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what type of collar are you using on your walks?

I agree with teaching him to ignore other dogs while your walking, and I would keep him ON leash/long line, as you say to not bug/disrupt other dogs.

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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 03-07-2014, 04:58 PM
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And this is the joys of puppydom - find something to plague the humans with! See how they react --- honestly, keeping calm is the best. For reactivity, see a ton of Whole Dog Journal articles on working with reactive dogs (basic - work under threshold and gradually decrease the distance).

I have a 6 mo old right now. She's fine with the dogs at the club. My neighbor's pup (who is loose all the time) - she wants to play with this one - bark, lunge, wiggle, writhe. My 4 yo thinks (and I agree with her BTW) that the neighbor's dogs should be fenced. They aren't. They won't be. We're learning to deal with it but not very well when they are up at the fence and mark in the driveway... I guess we're all a little territorial at my house!
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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 03-07-2014, 04:58 PM
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Sorry to hear you're going through this.

I know you said you wanted a friendly dog you could walk off leash and he could greet other dogs, but even letting a friendly dog approach strangers isn't a good idea... You never know what the other dog or person is like!

I think it's great that you've decided to contact a trainer... I think working on your pup's recall and focus and teaching him to ignore other dogs is going to be your best bet.

Sounds like you have a lot of love for your dog, so try not to get discouraged... With proper training I think it'll start getting better soon.

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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 03-07-2014, 05:19 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the quick responses guys - it's very much appreciated.

The reason we put him into daycare was mainly because we were concerned it was a socialisation issue, so we wanted him to meet lots of different dogs and have a chance to learn dog manners in a controlled environment. The staff at the centre say he plays very well. We have been on a couple of group walks with a facebook group of GSD owners - the last one was a forest hike with 18 dogs! Ode was fantastic on this walk; he actually seemed a little unsure and was quickly "told off" when he became too much for the older dogs. He stayed within a ten foot radius of us at all times and I was very proud of him.

The issue seems to be when it's a one-to-one confrontation on walks.

Ode knows the command "watch!" which is where I hold my fingers to my eyes and he has to keep focus on my face until I release him. I've tried doing this with him when we see another dog but it falls apart as soon as he clocks another dog on the horizon - there doesn't even seem to be a point where he has noticed the other dog and is okay with it.

Our best technique at the moment (which the trainer told us to do) is to have a toy that he's ONLY allowed when on a walk (in our case a tug of war rope shaped as a duck) and we play tug of war with him at our heel as the other dog passes us on the other side of the road. Sometimes it works and he's entirely focused on the duck and the game... But mostly as soon as the dog gets a certain distance away, all interest in the game is lost and he resumes his manic lunging. It's so disheartening, tiring and humiliating.

He wears a standard flat collar with his ID on it at all times. We walk him on a Gencon collar, which is a figure 8 head collar that loops back and attaches to his flat collar as a safety precaution incase he manages to remove it (again, it was recommended by our trainer). Originally we had him on a halti but it seemed to make him much, much worse. The gencon is better and allows him to keep control of his own head while I lead him. He works perfectly to heel on it, just not when there's another dog around.

Is it common for adolescent dogs to lose interest in recall? When we first got Ode at five months he wouldn't leave our side for the first six weeks, even off-lead. He seems to have gotten so much more bull-headed and difficult to train!
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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 03-07-2014, 05:23 PM
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I'm by no means an expert, but I've heard it said that the older puppy/young adult phase is the worst time to get a dog. They no longer have the cute puppy looks to flood your brain with lovey-dovey hormones, and they're coming into puberty, etc. That's not so say getting a dog at that age is a bad choice, just that it's generally understood to be more challenging. So, in that spirit, you're not alone.

Also, there's a "3 day, 3 week, 3 month" adjustment period that dogs go through when adapting to a new home. It seems like you've just reached the 3 month period, so even though you said he's good in the house, he might get even better now that he has had time to settle in.

Maybe contact whoever you've fostering him for and see what advice they can offer?

Unfortunately, that's not much solid advice, but I'm sorry it has been so stressful for you!
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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 03-07-2014, 05:36 PM
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Not much a fan of headcollars and gimmicks myself. If a dog isn't doing what I want then I try and figure out what I'm doing wrong!

At five months, losing focus is not a big surprise, that's why your training him. But If you need that "crap" to walk him then that's probably, your first step in the new dog process,ditching it. I gave "my" opinion on "gizmos" so you can infer from that what "I" think of your trainer.

Notice on the video I posted..no gimmicks for the walking and treats not toys were used. Some dogs will work for toys some won't. Yours seems to indicated he won't? Why are you still using it?
Your "thinking" about what you're doing and that's the most important step! Give this a thought also.

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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 03-07-2014, 05:45 PM Thread Starter
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The gencon isn't a permanent thing - we all know this. If I walk Ode on a standard flat collar (and he will walk to heel with a standard collar/lead; we have done it late at night on empty streets), but if he sees another dog and "does his thing" - I have NO way of controlling him, he is just too, too strong for me. The head collar means I have the power to drag him away or lead him on or whatever. Without it, and with all the power in his neck, I have no chance and he'd be dragging me into the road or hurting his own throat.

I have been in contact with a customer at work who's parents breed GSDs and he says he can get me the number of a GSD specific trainer, which may go a ways to helping. I am really trying EVERYTHING I can think of. And it's knackering. But because I'm the one working 5 days a week and it's the boyfriend, not me, having to put up with him day in day out, it's a real stressful situation. I'm not usually the one at the end of all of Ode's naughtiness and stubbornness. I just come home and hear stories about how my OH can't cope with him anymore.

I love Ode so much and the thought of having to rehome him or something makes me feel sick. If there's a way past this to get the dog I want I am willing to spend the time and money... I just can't help scaring myself that this is something we will be dealing with every day of our lives for the next ten years. I also fret that if we don't find a method that works the excitement will one day flip and turn into aggression.

Sorry... Just ended up ranting a little bit there.
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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 03-07-2014, 05:47 PM
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Lol yeah, I think this is the age that they start testing the boundaries... Our 10 month old can be a serious butthead sometimes.

We actually do daycare with Warden too. He loves it, and I trust the handlers and the dogs they choose for him. Like your situation though, this does not translate to real life! I do not let him interact with strange dogs. He is in a heel at my side when we pass another dog, and I'll go out of my way to avoid a dog that's pulling towards him, growling, etc.

I found that fenced In tennis and basketball courts are a great place to let them loose to roam, and practice off leash commands. Still a park environment, but safer than letting them loose.

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