Stair Climbers Beware - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old 04-10-2019, 09:23 PM Thread Starter
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Stair Climbers Beware

Hi there! I could use some thoughts on an odd behavior that my almost 2 year old neutered male GSD (Klaus) has developed in the last month or so. He is not allowed upstairs which hasn't really been an issue. We haven't had to use a gate since he was about 6 months old, he just sort of picked up on the fact that the stairs and that level of the house are off limits to him (I love how smart GSDs are!).

What is weird is lately when my girls (13 and 11) go upstairs he's started barking at them (he rarely if ever barks except during play with other dogs) and in the last few weeks has started to chase behind them and nip at their legs on the way up. It scares them and he doesn't respond to leave it or no when it is happening (these are otherwise commands he is fairly good with). This doesn't happen when me or my son (16) go upstairs. Thoughts on what is up and how to get him to stop? We've done training sessions having them walk past him to the stairs and going up and down while I give him treats and good boys when he sits or is in a down, but in the moment that seems to disappear. It's disruptive and affecting their relationship with him.

Thanks!!

Klaus' Mom
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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 04-10-2019, 10:32 PM
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hmm, trying to mentally imagine this happening in my house with my dog...things I might try...

"Management" for the instant cure...
put a gate at bottom of stairs, and when the girls go up, they simply close it behind them.
Gates are a pain though, so I understand why you might not want to use one...

Or if possible I would accompany the girls to the stairs and block my dog by standing between him and the girls, with a stern "No." when he starts to bark and get amped up. If he turns away and abandons, I would say "good dog!!!" and give him a treat.

iI would remind my girls not to squeal, giggle, run faster upstairs...don't want him to think it is a fun chase game!!

I am sure more ideas are on the way!

(As to why he does this with them but not you and your son, I have no clue! Maybe sees them more as playmates since they are younger?)
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Rumo ~ rescue shepherd/husky mix
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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 04-11-2019, 09:27 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by GSDchoice View Post
hmm, trying to mentally imagine this happening in my house with my dog...things I might try...

"Management" for the instant cure...
put a gate at bottom of stairs, and when the girls go up, they simply close it behind them.
Gates are a pain though, so I understand why you might not want to use one...

Or if possible I would accompany the girls to the stairs and block my dog by standing between him and the girls, with a stern "No." when he starts to bark and get amped up. If he turns away and abandons, I would say "good dog!!!" and give him a treat.

iI would remind my girls not to squeal, giggle, run faster upstairs...don't want him to think it is a fun chase game!!

I am sure more ideas are on the way!

(As to why he does this with them but not you and your son, I have no clue! Maybe sees them more as playmates since they are younger?)
Thank you! I'll definitely try physically blocking him with good boys for wanted behavior, and thinking about it more this morning, I think you're right in it becoming a game with the girls. They are nervous, which probably makes him more alert and they are just in a weird cycle.

Maybe we need to go back to basics with pack hierarchy too. It took a lot of work to get them established above him - he outweighs the older by 30 pounds and the younger by 20 and when he barks, well, it's loud. Lol.
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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 04-11-2019, 10:26 AM
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Yea, I think the trick is in the Timing...

Like, you are Stern Disapproving Owner as he is barking and getting ramped up.
Then AFTER he gives up/turns away/stops barking/relaxes...then he gets rewarded.
I'm a little wary that he might associate the reward with his mindset + barking activity, hopefully he won't!
If it seems like he feels he is getting rewarded for bark/chase, then maybe you have to insert a "Sit" in there, have him hold it for few seconds, and then give the reward, or something.

I also hope he won't do weird "backchaining" things like my dog ...he outsmarts me.
I used to give him a treat when I called him in from the backyard.
Then he began to ask to go out, stand right by the back door for a minute, and come back in! Really bizarre behavior, but logical in a doggy way.

So I have learned that dog-training is a lot of trial and error!

( One thing I'm pretty sure of though, is that the girls have to not act like Prey (run, shriek, seem excited) because your dog will love that and think it's his personal chase game...that's how I get my dog excited to run zoomies in the yard...)

Rumo ~ rescue shepherd/husky mix
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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 04-11-2019, 02:37 PM
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GSD choice is right, encourage your girls to keep calm and collected as they go upstairs, so it doesn't become a game of tag!

Since you've definitely ID'd the girls as being more of a trigger, and that he definitely understands that the upstairs is off limits, that makes your job easier. Though he is obviously the most "up/amped" when your girls do it, that's a higher stimulation/reaction. Does he show any change of behavior with you or your son? If he does, correcting the behavior with a "trigger" that is lower stimulation will be an easier first step. If it really is just the girls, I'd suggest to keep doing what you're doing, with a few tweaks.

Set up the stair passes as you've been, but be sure you start with Klaus in an actually relaxed/calm state. (which means no treats right away - if he's at all food motivated, that will up his level of brain engagement) Once you know he's calm, do some low level pass-bys as well as the other stuff you've been doing. As long as he stays calm/relaxed/in his down (or whatever behavior you're setting up), he can have some treats (but make the treat delivery low key, it's all about maintaining the calm mindset). As soon as he "passes" that level of challenge, up the ante and make the activity more intense, still only rewarding as he stays calm. If he starts to get amped up, try a firm "no," and continue as long as he comes back down to a low level of energy. If he continues to amp up, regress your level of stimulating behavior, and keep building on it as he adapts.

Doing this, you'll hopefully be raising his threshold for stair interactions, making him less likely to react. As you're watching for any "upping" of response level, give him a verbal "no" or "hey" with any change you see. If he starts in a calm down, but then gets alert (even holding the down) that's going from level 1 to level 3. Don't let him amp up to level 4 or 5 without a correction/redirection. If after the "hey" he goes back down to a 1 (or 2), THAT'S when you give the treat. (again, in a nice, calm manner)

Hopefully that makes sense? I just speed-typed this all and did zero proof reading. I used this method for desensitizing my keeshond to doors being opened (by anybody), and it made a huge difference.

It may also help to train a "chill out/cool it" behavior away from the stairs, and then use it i that context after Klaus learns to generalize it to many situations. (this type of behavior is AWESOME and useful in so many situations.)

- Kayla

Zage (GSD, 3 yrs)
Dutchess Lena of Black Lake RATI (Keeshond, 12 yrs)


“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished.”
― Dean Koontz
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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old 04-12-2019, 11:17 AM Thread Starter
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Yea, I think the trick is in the Timing...

Like, you are Stern Disapproving Owner as he is barking and getting ramped up.
Then AFTER he gives up/turns away/stops barking/relaxes...then he gets rewarded.
I'm a little wary that he might associate the reward with his mindset + barking activity, hopefully he won't!
If it seems like he feels he is getting rewarded for bark/chase, then maybe you have to insert a "Sit" in there, have him hold it for few seconds, and then give the reward, or something.

I also hope he won't do weird "backchaining" things like my dog ...he outsmarts me.
I used to give him a treat when I called him in from the backyard.
Then he began to ask to go out, stand right by the back door for a minute, and come back in! Really bizarre behavior, but logical in a doggy way.

So I have learned that dog-training is a lot of trial and error!

( One thing I'm pretty sure of though, is that the girls have to not act like Prey (run, shriek, seem excited) because your dog will love that and think it's his personal chase game...that's how I get my dog excited to run zoomies in the yard...)
Yes - Klaus totally does the go in and out for a treat thing AND he steals things for food if he thinks he should be fed. Remotes, phones, shoes, clothes. Picks them up, gets our attention then drops them by his food dish. Its annoying in an, oh you've outsmarted me, kind of way.

I see now how it is rewarding. He usually stays well (we call it wait here) so I'll run through lots of that this weekend while they walk past and up. Thanks for the tips!!
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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old 04-12-2019, 11:21 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Mesonoxian View Post
GSD choice is right, encourage your girls to keep calm and collected as they go upstairs, so it doesn't become a game of tag!

Since you've definitely ID'd the girls as being more of a trigger, and that he definitely understands that the upstairs is off limits, that makes your job easier. Though he is obviously the most "up/amped" when your girls do it, that's a higher stimulation/reaction. Does he show any change of behavior with you or your son? If he does, correcting the behavior with a "trigger" that is lower stimulation will be an easier first step. If it really is just the girls, I'd suggest to keep doing what you're doing, with a few tweaks.

Set up the stair passes as you've been, but be sure you start with Klaus in an actually relaxed/calm state. (which means no treats right away - if he's at all food motivated, that will up his level of brain engagement) Once you know he's calm, do some low level pass-bys as well as the other stuff you've been doing. As long as he stays calm/relaxed/in his down (or whatever behavior you're setting up), he can have some treats (but make the treat delivery low key, it's all about maintaining the calm mindset). As soon as he "passes" that level of challenge, up the ante and make the activity more intense, still only rewarding as he stays calm. If he starts to get amped up, try a firm "no," and continue as long as he comes back down to a low level of energy. If he continues to amp up, regress your level of stimulating behavior, and keep building on it as he adapts.

Doing this, you'll hopefully be raising his threshold for stair interactions, making him less likely to react. As you're watching for any "upping" of response level, give him a verbal "no" or "hey" with any change you see. If he starts in a calm down, but then gets alert (even holding the down) that's going from level 1 to level 3. Don't let him amp up to level 4 or 5 without a correction/redirection. If after the "hey" he goes back down to a 1 (or 2), THAT'S when you give the treat. (again, in a nice, calm manner)

Hopefully that makes sense? I just speed-typed this all and did zero proof reading. I used this method for desensitizing my keeshond to doors being opened (by anybody), and it made a huge difference.

It may also help to train a "chill out/cool it" behavior away from the stairs, and then use it i that context after Klaus learns to generalize it to many situations. (this type of behavior is AWESOME and useful in so many situations.)
Oh I love the idea of a cool-it command. He's so chill 80% of the time I never thought of training it for other situations (duh). It really is just with the girls, but I'll observe them more closesly too. Maybe they are going faster? Taking the stairs two at a time? Yelling at me on the way up? Lots to learn.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts!!
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