First-time GSD owners getting dog from bad situation - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 39 (permalink) Old 06-13-2016, 11:22 AM Thread Starter
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Unhappy First-time GSD owners getting dog from bad situation

My fiance and I have been browsing German Shepherds for a few months now, and have really fallen in love with the breed after doing our research and meeting different dogs. My fiance was raised with dogs in his home, and I lived with a shepherd (my housemate's dog) for about a year. We quickly decided that a puppy is not for us since I will be the dog's primary caregiver and have never raised a small dog and taught it all the things it needs to know for life. We felt that we would perhaps like to rescue a dog, even a mix, because all of our animals have been rescue animals. We came across a family who is trying to get rid of their four year old German Shepherd due to a divorce, and when we met the dog, I completely fell in love with her. She is house trained, knows basic commands, leash trained, and comes from what appears to be a strong line of working police dogs (she is AKC registered). Her temperament was sweet, and she was very laid-back and gentle, which are some qualities I was looking for in an older dog. She has also been raised with cats and leaves them completely alone, which is a bonus for us because we have two.

However, the owner divulged to us that this dog was abused by her ex-husband and is terrified of men. She allowed me to handle her with ease, but she cowered from my fiance and tucked her tail even if he just looked at her. She did not growl, bare her teeth, or try to bite him, she just backed away and got behind her current owner. It breaks my heart to see such a beautiful animal reduced to this condition, and we are adopting her with the understanding that it could take months or years for her to trust my fiance, and that she is not, and might never, be the kind of dog we can take in public. She is just too fearful.

I am home all day, and confident in my ability to work with this animal and help her adjust. I have rescued ill-socialized cats all my life, and I also teach 7th graders, so I have a lot of patience and read little creatures pretty well. I have researched getting my dog to trust me and view me as her leader. However, I don't think we were quite prepared before meeting this dog for an individual with such a fearful disposition, and I would like some guidance. How would you, as an experienced owner, approach this dog? What are some things I need to work on right away? Is it better not to crowd her at first?

I have read that you can get a dog to trust someone by having that person become her primary caregiver, as in my fiance feeding her and walking her, but I am worried that it would traumatize her as she is just THAT scared of men. I also want this dog primarily bonded to me because I want a companion while my fiance is working long hours on the night shift. I definitely DON'T want a situation where she is hiding and cowering all the time and would like to help her adjust to her new home. We have a big backyard, a crate with bedding, a dog bed, quality food, plenty of toys. Due to his work and me being off for the summer, I have about ten hours a day alone with her to just be one-on-one. I know it will be challenging, but we are very committed to THIS dog, don't want her to go to shelter, and I think my work situation makes me an ideal person to work with her right now since I'm home all the time.

Any advice or resources are very much appreciated.
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post #2 of 39 (permalink) Old 06-13-2016, 11:55 AM
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THANK YOU for trying to help get this poor dog out of this awful situation. She sounds like she's a lovely dog who deserved so much better than she got. I'm very grateful to adopters like you--you're a good egg for being committed to making it work for this dog.

I've seen MANY abused GSDs with sound base temperaments bounce back, shake off their past, and become deeply devoted, loving, loyal and grateful. The key is that she's not lashing out--she's just backing away when afraid. You can work with that kind of avoidance. It has to be done on her timeline though -- some of them take a while, some come back quickly. It's going to be up to her to decide how fast she can go.

My suggestion is first is to change her name when she's yours. Never have your husband utter the name she associates with her abuser. That name will be banned in your home forever.

Second, you'll be the primary handler since you're home all the time, but let your husband be the source of "good stuff." Buy some very high value (soft meaty) treats that will only be given by him -- ideally, her favorite treats in the whole wide world! He will keep some in his pocket. If he walks by her crate or bed, he will drop one, without looking at her or saying anything. He's going to basically be a random treat dispenser. If she comes to him looking for one, she'll get one, just for coming to him. If she curiously sniffs him, she'll get one. He'll do lots of baby talk and "good girl" with her too--if he has a deep voice, have him work to keep it down with her and focus on being calm, quiet, and gentle (no hollaring at the TV during a ball game with her nearby--luckily, the SEC football season hasn't started yet!).

Basically, the goal is for her to see him as something wonderful and nice. We've used this method in rescue to rehabilitate a lot of dogs with fear of men. It takes time but it does work -- especially when the men are patient and gentle.

Third, this is a dog I would train exclusively positively for the foreseeable future. In fact, clicker training is often exactly the right thing for these dogs because it's new to them -- they have no bad associations with it, so they come into it fresh.

The problem is she's been mishandled with abusive corrections. So for now, corrections will just go away. When the usual people come out and scream about positive training not working, realize most of them haven't rehabilitated an abused dog -- they've handled hard, tough dogs. A soft, abused dog is a whole other thing. The reward-based training builds trust, and trust is Job One with a dog like this.

Once she trusts, all things are possible, but you have to build that trust brick by brick like a fortress for the future. She may eventually be able to transition to other kinds of training, but start by keeping it positive. This advice comes to me from an excellent balanced trainer--these are the only dogs he doesn't allow to be put in prong collars, and when the rest of the class starts correcting, he works differently with these dogs. He gets that these dogs need to be trained differently to build their confidence and trust.

You'll be amazed at what it can accomplish: there was a moment with one of my dogs in the training class, about 3 weeks in, when the lightbulb when off and he realized he knew the right thing to do, and he knew how to make good stuff keep happening. His cringing posture changed and his stance squared up at that moment. His head came up and his inner-GSD came out in his eyes. I saw confidence for the first time. His world had become predictable because of the OB training. It was a beautiful, magical moment to witness. That happened through treat-based training with a food-motivated dog.

Lastly, give some thought to a two-week shutdown and crate-training. In your home, she would benefit from having a crate as her safe space. When she retreats there, she gets left alone.

I also recommend doing a search here on the forum for "two week shutdown." There have been tons of posts and debates about it, but I've seen it work wonders on dogs coming out of really bad situations like this. It gives the dog a calm way to reset their brains to a new environment.

Last edited by Magwart; 06-13-2016 at 12:02 PM.
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post #3 of 39 (permalink) Old 06-13-2016, 12:21 PM
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Agree 100%^^^^^^^


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post #4 of 39 (permalink) Old 06-13-2016, 01:11 PM
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I love Magwarts post.

Just wanted to add a few things. Dogs coming out of situations like this sometimes display some odd behaviors after an initial adjustment. If they are divorced and he was abusing the dog, there is a really good chance that he was abusing her in some way as well. If this is the case expect to see some over the top reactions to simple things. Arguments, things dropped by accident, a door slamming from a breeze, etc.
These simple things can often trigger anything from violent outbursts to escapes. Be alert for things like chewing on herself or obsessive licking. These are behaviors often seen in stresses dogs.
I have seen dogs from bad domestic situations that will go through windows or screens to run, dogs that will literally chew holes in themselves or dogs that go into some kind of a trance and just sit and shake.
I am NOT trying to deter you, at all. I just want you to be aware of the things you may not realize. I hope you take this girl and give her a great home.
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post #5 of 39 (permalink) Old 06-13-2016, 01:24 PM
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My new guy is not a gsd, but he is a rescue.
By north american standards, he likely was abused (street dog), he has a scar across his neck 4" long, he's missing a canine +2 or 3 more teeth, so he's been through something or other.
He was terrified of being in our kitchen for the first few weeks, raised hands, treats (yes, treat training freaked him) out, and bunches of other things. Five months later, he's really settling down, acting like a normal dog, learning to play with us, etc... in other words, big changes. @Magwart made a good outline of what to do.
I also think your husband has to be really wanting this dog too, so that he won't be accidentally add pressure, and expect some really weird behaviour in the 1st few months for the settling in period (goes with 2 week shutdown thing).
For a dog with baggage, the 1st few months usually comes with really big changes (for the better), and it's good to expect the weirdness in advance and know it will (mostly likely) pass with good management.

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post #6 of 39 (permalink) Old 06-13-2016, 03:49 PM
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I would bring her home and let her settle in.

I would not approach her to pet her, hug her, play with her at all. I would let her come to me.

And I would suggest that your fiancé does this for even longer. Nothing wrong with him dropping a nice tid bit, but I would wait for her to make a move toward him before any contact whatsoever, and then I would go slow with that -- she comes up and sniffs his hand, and walks away. Good. drop a nice treat for her, and walk away so she can come and get it.

After that pattern is understood and she starts coming up more often to get a goody, then without looking at her at all leave it in the open palm and let her take it. That is enough interaction. Pretty soon she starts looking for him, and for the most part, he leaves her be. At some point, he starts calling her to him to get a goodie. Happy voice, if she comes she gets a goodie. You can make a ritual of it: "Do you want a piece of cheese? walk to fridge, open it up, crinkle the package, "Do you like cheese?" then give her a piece, good girl.

It will take far less time for her to become comfortable with your fiancé if she is the one coming to him, instead of him going to her, and trying to win her over.
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post #7 of 39 (permalink) Old 06-13-2016, 06:14 PM
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Sorry this sounds silly, but if your fiance needs to sneeze, the loud, explosive kind, not to around the dog. The sudden, violent noise, with her current fear of men, will upset her.
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post #8 of 39 (permalink) Old 06-13-2016, 06:58 PM
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Some really good info here. Please keep us updated on her progress once you have her.

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post #9 of 39 (permalink) Old 06-13-2016, 11:20 PM
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We had a female foster from a similar situation. She bonded to the adults in our house after a while, but never got attached to the children. She tried to bite a male friend who didn't want to give her space. My children decided they wanted friends over more than they wanted the dog, so we didn't keep her. We had to foster her for a long time until they could find a home that could handle her, so I worked with her a lot but we didn't make much progres on socialization. Her leash work was terrible, so I got her leash trained. The rescue finally found a couple who were not having children, who had limited company and who were willing to work with her. As long as they kept her isolated from strange men until she got used to them, used treats and rewards for good behavior and didn't push her, she was alright.
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post #10 of 39 (permalink) Old 06-13-2016, 11:39 PM
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One thing you have to understand. A fearful dog is not necessarily going to be a biter. It sounds like she would rather hide than aggress. You still may have to manage her when strangers are present, carefully especially at first, but she may really settle down once she trusts you.

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