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Greetings from Colorado!

We have an 11 month old male named Jackson. Since he was 12 weeks old, I had been adamant on socializing him. Examples include taking him to the vet (just to stop in), to Home Improvement stores to walk around, dog parks, pet stores, having his ears cleaned and nails trimmed at a groomer, other people’s homes, having people over to our home, and taking him to the neighborhood brewery where he was exposed to lots of people of all ages and sizes 3-4x a week on average.

Another tidbit that might be important to add, he is/was “puppy-mouthy” for much longer than I had anticipated, despite doing as much as the recommended redirection and training as possible. He is still “mouthy” when we play with him, he’s gentle about it at this point (at least with his immediate humans), but mouthy none the less and we continue to work on this behavior.

At 7 months old he started exhibiting some new response when people would come to our house. People he has met several times prior and is familiar with. He would nip at their fingers when he ‘greeted’ them, and we honestly couldn’t tell if that was him being mouthy or if it was more-so a “warning”. As soon as he got his “greeting” out of the way, he was off doing his own thing, your typical friendly pup the remainder of their visit.

Due to this continued response and his increasing size and strength, we began separating him when people came over. He’s totally fine with them when separated (baby gate or kennel), but again we didn’t want to take the risk of injury even if he was just being playful & mouthy.

Keeping in mind we were still taking him out on “field trips” multiple times a week, around 9 months old the sweet, social, and friendly Jackson everyone has watched grow up, started nipping at people who reached to pet him while in public. This is when it became pretty obvious he was not being mouthy as a result of being playful...

Months ago I could say, “Say hi”, bringing his attention to a person holding their hand out to pet him, he would sniff them and then love all over them. Now, I don’t trust him. He has made multiple attempts to snap at people, regardless if he knows them or not. He minds his own business until someone holds their hand out to let him sniff or reaches to pet him if he accepted said sniff.

I can’t bring him out in public anymore without stressing the entire time or people being afraid of him now... I don’t trust him not to snap at someone, anyone but his “immediate humans”.

There have been no “traumatic events” or dramatic changes in schedule/lifestyle whatsoever. We are looking into consulting with a behaviorist and in the meantime, he’s wearing his “party hat” aka muzzle when we leave the house.

Just sad that all our hard work and dedication to making him “not scary” has apparently gone down the drain, making him on house arrest. I’m just wondering what the heck happened? What made him do this complete 180?!
 

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It's perfectly normal for a Gsd to only want to interact with his family and be aloof with strangers. It's in the breed standard.He doesn't need or want the attention.I would encourage calm aloofness and respect his need for personal space:)
 

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He is maturing and with that comes the behaviors the breed was meant to have. They are supposed to have some amount of human aggression. They are not intended to be extremely social or friendly. Even my very social four year old is more aloof now with strangers.

We buy into the popular myth that socialization overcomes genetic, but that is not true. Yes, you can expose him to many people and he would likely be more accepting than he might have been. It doesn’t change his breeding or genetics. He’s clearly not comfortable being approached by strangers, so stop doing that. I would change the way you allow people to interact with him. There is no reason why anyone needs to reach a hand toward him to sniff. German Shepherds can smell things hundreds of yards away. My dog ran 200’ to smell a tiny drop of small animal poop in my yard. So they don’t need a hand in their face to smell someone. A hand in his face now seems threatening to him and isn’t necessary or important. He may never be friendly or cuddly to strangers and that is alright. It’s actually not his problem, it’s yours. If you think of his genetics and what the breed is expected to do, you will be less stressed and anxious.
 

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^Well said!
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
He is maturing and with that comes the behaviors the breed was meant to have. They are supposed to have some amount of human aggression. They are not intended to be extremely social or friendly. Even my very social four year old is more aloof now with strangers.

We buy into the popular myth that socialization overcomes genetic, but that is not true. Yes, you can expose him to many people and he would likely be more accepting than he might have been. It doesn’t change his breeding or genetics. He’s clearly not comfortable being approached by strangers, so stop doing that. I would change the way you allow people to interact with him. There is no reason why anyone needs to reach a hand toward him to sniff. German Shepherds can smell things hundreds of yards away. My dog ran 200’ to smell a tiny drop of small animal poop in my yard. So they don’t need a hand in their face to smell someone. A hand in his face now seems threatening to him and isn’t necessary or important. He may never be friendly or cuddly to strangers and that is alright. It’s actually not his problem, it’s yours. If you think of his genetics and what the breed is expected to do, you will be less stressed and anxious.
I certainly see where you’re coming from, you make some great points! We have certainly adjusted how we handle social interactions as we’ve observed his reactions change. I guess for me, it’s more stressful in adjusting to suddenly taking all these precautions for seemingly normal activities. We won’t ever be able to have a pet sitter if we need to, have his nails trimmed or him groomed, take him to our family’s home for the holidays, go camping with other people, take him to the vet without a muzzle, etc. We along with two other adult dogs are suddenly having to adjust the life we’re accustomed to without reasonable limitations to mold what fits best with Jackson’s behavior at the moment.

I don’t believe introducing him to someone is as oblivious as I previously described with “hand in face”. It’s more so a casual “hey, this person is here, in your/our bubble, and would like to say hi if you want” type encounter but it’s never forced. Hard to explain I guess.

I’m just struggling with finding or identifying a common ground between normal/expected GSD traits vs establishing leadership in teaching when it is and isn’t appropriate to display this behavior, that could end up being potentially dangerous for someone.
 

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You can go to a groomer, the vet or use a pet sitter if you take time to get him used to each person involved. My 4 year old had bad vet handling as a young puppy and became vet phobic. If a vet or tech touched him he started wriggling and dancing and would not let them touch his back. I worked on desensitizing him for a long time. At home I hugged him and touched his back and then rewarded. We visited the vet office weekly or more for 6 months when they weren’t busy for treats and attention. I weighed him each time so he got used to the scale. Now, he allows vetting and they can touch him anywhere. If he needs a muzzle, there are worse things than that. I switched to a real fear free vet.
 

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No insights, but I'm interested as Jupiter is 11 months old. He has never been that interested in people, but has always tolerated them and sometimes gone over to lick them. However, yesterday, I brought him to school to pick up my daughter and noticed some fearful behavior towards some of the more aggressive kids (the ones doing the textbook wrong things like running up yelling with their hands up). This was pretty stressful and I wonder if he is starting to change, too.
 

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DH and I took the kids to a huge park this evening. We also brought Seiran (6 months) and Floki (7 month Belgian Mal) with us as well. It has a perimeter fence around the park as a dog walk. That way parents can walk the dogs and have full view of their kids the whole time. It’s a really nice setup. I was holding Floki’s leash and on my motorized chair, and DH was walking Seiran. A ton of people approached and wanted to pet the puppies. Had I been alone, I would have said no, but DH is super outgoing and wants all the people to love on the people as much as he does. Sigh.

We are done at the park, and as we are leaving, DH remarked on how well behaved and outgoing the dogs were. I told him not to get used to it, and explained why. He couldn’t understand why a super social puppy would turn into a not so people friendly adolescences. He’s not a dog person, but bless him, he’s learning. So I explained it to him in non dog terms, and it finally seemed to sink in. This is what I told him:

Think of it like this. As a small child, you would normally hide behind your parents leg if someone you didn’t know came up and started talking to your parents. You’d peek around their legs curiously, but wouldn’t be confident enough to come around and say hi. After a few years, you realize people talking to your parents is perfectly safe because your parents taught you that an adult talking to an adult was fine and normal. So you gained more confidence and started saying hi. The following year, you were even more confident because you started school and learned social skills outside your normal parental supervision. You learn how to make your way through some things that might seem a little scary, but quickly learned that school and friends and recess were fun, and you blossomed. Fast forward to high school. This is when you start to realize some people are crappy. Just crappy people. You learn not everyone is out with your best interests at heart, and you find your grove with your own people, and kinda rag on other groups. Insecurity comes back, and flight or fight becomes an everyday occurrence. THIS is the equivalent of a dog from 8 weeks to 8-12 months. Your once super social child is now a leery teenager, and has learned not all people that approach are good people with good intentions. The difference between a teenager and a dog is verbal language skills. Your dog can’t say “hey, get out of my bubble, I don’t know you, and you’re invading my space.” So they give body language that you’re likely missing before that snap or growl or lunge. They give you the warning, and when you don’t have them covered and keep people out of their bubble, they lose confidence in you, and take it into their own paws to get the bubble takers to go away. But just like a teenager, you manage your dog. You need to teach them what is okay behavior and teach yourself to read your dog to see if he is comfortable in the situations you are putting him in.

Luckily for both species, teenage years don’t last forever. And if you learn to properly communicate with your dog via reading body language, and prevent people from pushing their way rudely into your teenage dogs bubble, he’s gonna learn that you can and will protect him, and be fine ignoring those people rather than snapping and growling. Then they turn into adults and learn a whole need set of life lessons, and aren’t so self aware. The angsty teenager because a (hopefully) well adjusted adult that doesn’t freak out over every little thing.

Hopefully that helps someone, it helped DH.

But the basics are simple. Your dog is telling you he isn’t comfortable in these situations anymore, and when you respect that, and keep people away, they relax and learn people can walk by and you won’t allow them to enter their bubble, and if someone tries, you’ll put a stop to it. This is how you get a well rounded adult GSD that can be in social situations without engaging in social behavior. GSD’s are not social dogs, so you’re essentially trying to put a square peg into a round hole at this stage, and if you try to force it, you’re going to end up with a reactive adult dog that is ten times worse managing than they were as adolescents.
 

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All of this is normal at his age.

Clearly, your dog doesn't want to be pet by strangers at this time. He's coming around to his genetic role of wanting to protect his people, his territory, and himself, so he's not so happy about strangers in his face anymore. Plus, your anxiety keeps traveling right down the leash and is going to make him anxious about people.

I think your goal should be a neutral reaction around strangers while they're minding their own business. If people want to pet him, say "No, he's in training" because now he is. He's being trained every moment you're out in public. Your job is to fend off strangers from getting close or in his face. Show him you understand and respect his need for increased personal space and will take the lead in dealing with the human part of the world.

A really good trainer that is familiar with GSDs or similar dogs (herding or guarding breeds) will be able to help you out. I'd definitely contact one and have them do an evaluation. You may find you only need a couple of sessions to show you how to teach the dog to do the right thing and when to correct him for doing the wrong thing.
 

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Do you have any contact with the owners of your pup's siblings? How is he with other dogs?

I think this behavior is totally within the spectrum of "normal" GSD, from how I understand it. However, I think this behavior falls outside the spectrum of what *most dog owners expect from a dog they own.

There are training and management solutions to the camping and family gathering concerns.

There are training and management solutions to the vet and groomer.

There are very good training solutions to his behavior towards people in public. But management may also be necessary.

My point is, a GSD who is perfectly normal may fall outside of what you migth expect of your typical family pet. So that is where learning how to both train and manage the dog become critically important. To keeping both the dog and the general public safe.

My best suggestion is to find a good trainer to work with and go from there. But some (many?) GSD are just not going to be dogs who can hang out at family reunions. And that is OK as far as breed standard goes, but maybe not OK for "average pet".
 

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My dog can be "scary" too...he is a rescue and he came that way.

We had a couple of incidents where a neighbor stuck their hand in front of his nose and wiggled his fingers, and he growled/snapped. Another incident where a client tried to scritch him behind the ears, and he growled. However if people leave him alone and don't invade his space, he is a perfectly safe dog and probably goes out and about (unmuzzled) more than most dogs. We walk through crowded strip malls, suburban neighborhoods and can eat at outdoor cafes.

So what I have learned, is how to manage the People. When I'm out and about, I usually avoid eye contact with people so then they don't have an opportunity to say, "Can we pet him?" If people do ask, I will say, "Sorry, he's just not good with strangers." I avoid places like playgrounds with lots of little kids, since often they come running excitedly towards us. If I see somebody I do want to talk to (friend, neighbor), I first ask them to just ignore Rumo and then we chat. He will stand quietly by my leg or just lay down if the chat goes on too long. He really is no trouble and people walk by within a foot of his nose, he will not react. In general he presents as a calm well-behaved dog - provided strangers don't try to mess with him. It took me a while, but I accepted this as the way life has to be with him. He will never be a social party dog, and if for example we are hosting a sleepover, he is boarded, crated or gated. ( I actually prefer boarding because some of the girls just can not leave a dog alone and will keep reaching their hands eagerly into the crate or over the gate. )

I agree that it isn't what I was expecting from an average "Pet." Our former dog was not like this at all and loved human attention, and in fact my main battle with her was to keep her from jumping up and licking your face. (Since nobody wants to be jumped on by a Great Dane who can actually reach your face!).

Before vet visits, I usually give my dog some trazodone and while sitting in the little exam room, I slip on his muzzle. He is the type that will just "submit" when muzzled - although we may hear a low growl or two of protest coming out while the vet is handling him.
 

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Well I have to say, I feel I have certainly been put in my place - in a good way!

I really appreciate all the time everyone took to reply with such thoughtful responses - THANK YOU!

I was thinking about it last night and you’re all right... Jax comes from some pretty impressive blood lines.. there is not a single genetic drop of anything but pure GSD in him. It makes a lot of sense that he is literally bred to be who he is.

He’s a very sweet dog, too. He’s playful, doesn’t fight with other dogs, loves ball, is super goofy and adorably clumsy for his big ol’ body weighing in at 102lbs. That being said, I had hoped others could enjoy his personality but again, you are all right!

I shared the gist of your responses with my husband and we came up with a plan that I’m feeling good about! We’re going to get him a vest with “do not pet” and “in training” patches on it, to hopefully deter assumptions that he is “scary” by communicating non-verbally that he needs space. We will also utilize the muzzle when we need to and we will be hiring a behaviorist to do some 1x1 training with to help us learn how to establish leadership with him, giving both him confidence in us, and us in him.

Thanks again ?
 
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Can you post his pedigree? Some dogs are just more aggressive than others and aggression always has an element of fear, so it is how you channel that aggression that matters.
 

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Well I have to say, I feel I have certainly been put in my place - in a good way!

I really appreciate all the time everyone took to reply with such thoughtful responses - THANK YOU!

I was thinking about it last night and you’re all right... Jax comes from some pretty impressive blood lines.. there is not a single genetic drop of anything but pure GSD in him. It makes a lot of sense that he is literally bred to be who he is.

He’s a very sweet dog, too. He’s playful, doesn’t fight with other dogs, loves ball, is super goofy and adorably clumsy for his big ol’ body weighing in at 102lbs. That being said, I had hoped others could enjoy his personality but again, you are all right!

I shared the gist of your responses with my husband and we came up with a plan that I’m feeling good about! We’re going to get him a vest with “do not pet” and “in training” patches on it, to hopefully deter assumptions that he is “scary” by communicating non-verbally that he needs space. We will also utilize the muzzle when we need to and we will be hiring a behaviorist to do some 1x1 training with to help us learn how to establish leadership with him, giving both him confidence in us, and us in him.

Thanks again ?
I know EXACTLY what you are saying and what you were and are trying to do. I am so sorry it hasn't worked out at the moment. GSD's are the best dogs on earth in every way. You simply were trying to have your GSD not be "scary" to strangers. It's not fun and it's embarrassing at times. At the same time, we know all to well, they aren't going to be Golden Retrievers. I don't disagree with what everyone has said, but I do think what you have been doing is the best way to make them a bit more social than their genetics tell them to be. I have a 16 week old. He is my second GSD and I am **** bent on fixing the things I messed up with the first one.

I started with finding the right breeder and I spent countless hours with the mom and dad. Although they both are intimidating, they both liked or tolerated people other than their owners. The sire specifically would be on his back looking for a scratch within minutes of going over there. I want this. If my breeder is right, he swears by a pup meeting 20 different people a day after he is brought home in the first month. I've tried my best to accommodate this. It's not forced. It's a walk at night in a social environment. My guy draws a ton of "can I pat your dog?" attention and I let people do it. Sounds like you have as well, but I guess every GSD is different and they have a mind of their own.
 

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Zola is 9 months old and was always so sweet and cute with strangers. I also did the whole "going places she's aloud at" regularly, people know her at my hardware store etc.. and then a few weeks ago she started being careful sometimes .. especially on hikes where we don't encounter many people, her scruff slightly rises, she seems unsure of someone in the distance, her tail isn't wagging like it used to, she'll sometimes stop walking and take a "protective stance"; and twice recently she growled at people that asked if they could pet her (the first one came running across the street and had a "kid like vibe" and she doesn't like kids so I thought it was just that, but the second person was calm and friendly).

It was very interesting to read your story, and it's nice to know I am not alone. I also hike, camp, hang out with a lot of different people, and this scares me. I've stopped patio hang outs, beach hang outs ... she also guards me and any set territory we have, from other dogs (although she loves them in any other situation) ... working on all of it with a private trainer. My best friend adopted a mini aussie two months after me, the cutest teddybear dog, so easy, loves everything and everyone and she tells me "you're not doing the right thing with Zola, mine doesn't do those things!" ... it drives me crazy ;) GSDs are often a challenge. I knew it when I got her, I'm ready to put in the work; I love my girl to pieces and will do everything I can to make her the best dog. I know you will too! Good luck.
 

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My GSD puppy LOVED people. I couldn't take her anywhere without her acting like a golden retriever. It actually got super annoying! And then the GSD aloofness kicked in and she won't acknowledge strangers at all unless I encourage her to say hi. She will actively ignore everyone without aggression or any comment. It took a bit for that to kick in so maybe that will happen for you as well! It might just be a teenage phase.

But honestly, I don't want strangers touching me in public so I totally understand why a dog wouldn't want that either! I find it insanely rude that people think it's ok to touch a dog without asking. Would you touch someone's baby?! ARGH. It's so rude of people to just presume they can pet your dog!

The other day I left my dog tied up outside a cafe for 2 minutes to run in and grab my pre-order and of course someone walks RIGHT up to my dog... They put out their hand for her to sniff and she acted as if they were invisible and just kept her eyes on me (huge glass walls in the cafe). They REACHED out to pet her and she just moves away slightly so they can't touch her. The woman made a shocked face and walked away. People nearby laughed. I think it was a good life lesson for her to learn :D
 

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I do find that some pups go through stages where they start out super friendly- then get a bit reactive, maybe some would call it aggressive when they are teenagers. If you can handle that properly, they mature readily into aloof adults. The degree of the teenage stage weirdness depends on the dog - the end outcome depends strongly on how the owner trains and deals with it.
 

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....We’re going to get him a vest with “do not pet” and “in training” patches on it, to hopefully deter assumptions that he is “scary” by communicating non-verbally that he needs space.......

I finally had to get a harness with those patches for Josie (11 months tomorrow) a few weeks ago after an incident during our daily neighborhood walk.



There was a group of 3 older men across the street who started asking me questions about her sunglasses (RexSpecs) why she's wearing them how old she is etc. Josie stood quietly by my side looking at them the whole time this was going on.

We made our way into a loop and then one of the old men from the group (with a HUGE walking stick, literally a stick not a trekking/hiking pole) was walking towards us (on the same sidewalk) and started reaching out to touch Josie's head. Before I could do anything Josie reacted and barked at him. He was clearly taken aback, I corrected Josie and asked her to sit. She let out a couple of small barks and then she stayed quiet. He then asked me why she barked and told me 'that's why i carry this big stick'. Yikes.
I explained to him that she is still a pup and in training.


So pretty much around that time I ordered a new harness with DO NOT PET and IN TRAINING patches. She's been wearing it around town and on the trails. 2 consecutive weekends i've had people asking to take pictures of her while standing within 5 feet from us (i get nervous when they get close to her face and doing the baby talk) while asking me questions about the patches and her goggles.

No one has tried to pet her yet since the patches but be prepared to answer a lot of questions like 'what's he in training for? is he a working dog? etc.
:grin2:
 

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I finally had to get a harness with those patches for Josie (11 months tomorrow) a few weeks ago after an incident during our daily neighborhood walk.



There was a group of 3 older men across the street who started asking me questions about her sunglasses (RexSpecs) why she's wearing them how old she is etc. Josie stood quietly by my side looking at them the whole time this was going on.

We made our way into a loop and then one of the old men from the group (with a HUGE walking stick, literally a stick not a trekking/hiking pole) was walking towards us (on the same sidewalk) and started reaching out to touch Josie's head. Before I could do anything Josie reacted and barked at him. He was clearly taken aback, I corrected Josie and asked her to sit. She let out a couple of small barks and then she stayed quiet. He then asked me why she barked and told me 'that's why i carry this big stick'. Yikes.
I explained to him that she is still a pup and in training.


So pretty much around that time I ordered a new harness with DO NOT PET and IN TRAINING patches. She's been wearing it around town and on the trails. 2 consecutive weekends i've had people asking to take pictures of her while standing within 5 feet from us (i get nervous when they get close to her face and doing the baby talk) while asking me questions about the patches and her goggles.

No one has tried to pet her yet since the patches but be prepared to answer a lot of questions like 'what's he in training for? is he a working dog? etc.
:grin2:


Just curious, why the sunglasses ? Thanks
 

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My first GSD was a very people friendly dog. Loved meeting new people. Loved the attention. (Other dogs are another story.) In my mind, I made up a reason for this...that for the 1st 8 weeks of his life, he was raised by a Golden Retriever. (Apparently the mother wasn't a very good mother.) So in my mind, in the case of nature vs nurture, nurture won...he took on the Golden's characteristics. In fact for the rest of his life, he gravitated towards other Golden's and had Golden "gfs." It was weird.

The current dog...he's just like yours. Last year as a puppy, he was very mouthy and bitey...I've mentioned this before, I went through many boxes of bandages. So that made me not want to socialize him with other people in fear that he would draw blood and then there's a law suit and the dog would be put down, etc. So now at 1.5 years old, he aggressively barks at every dog in the neighborhood, lunges, etc. He's very wary of strangers wanting to pet him and meet him. But with "his people" he is very loving. I was worried that I didn't raise/socialize him right. But after reading everyone's posts above, I realize now it's just his nature. So while I don't feel great about it, I do feel satisfied that I don't have a problem dog. Sure, he and I can still use some work. But I feel better that he is "normal" and not an anomaly.
 
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