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Hi everyone! I have a nearly two year old (two in August) GSD who was a rescue from a local GSD rescue organization last June. For the most part, she's been a really good dog, and a welcome addition to our home.

When we went through the adoption process, our only stipulation was that we get a dog that was good with cats (we have three). We were told that she had been boarded with cats at her foster home, and that she was basically indifferent to their presence. When we got her home, she immediately went after the cats, and we communicated that to the rescue organization. Their response was essentially puzzlement, and they reiterated that she hadn't chased any cats while in their care. My wife and I chalked up her behavior to being in a new house, situation, etc. and put a dog gate at the bottom of our stairs (cats live upstairs, the dog gets downstairs). Fast forward to nearly a year later, and things have not improved, and possibly even gotten worse, and not just for the cats.

While she is still separated from the cats, we bring one of our more "malleable" cats downstairs a few times a week and try to keep her distracted while he's around so that she doesn't fixate on him. While this generally works ok in the moment, as soon as the cat moves, her attention immediately swings back to him, and she starts whining and carrying on. We can really only tolerate this for a few minutes at a time (again, we don't want her to fixate) before we take the cat back upstairs. After doing this for nearly a year now, things have not really improved.

Most concerning, Jessie is now getting into the habit of going after small dogs at the dog park. We don't have a big back yard, as we live in a townhouse near San Francisco (we're working on buying a house with a yard, but prices are a little crazy around here, so we're just waiting for the right property at this point). We view the dog park as necessary for her socialization and general well being, so it's a big problem if she's going after small dogs. She's not biting them, but she's not picking up on the signals that the small dogs are giving off (namely, LEAVE ME ALONE!), and their owners are getting (rightfully) angry with us. We usually leash her up and leave the park when she starts being a jerk, as we don't want to give her the idea that it's ok to act in that manner.

She's also been pulling and barking at other dogs when on leash, but she turns into a sweatheart if we let her get near the dog she sees. Again, if she starts act that way, we give her a sharp NO! and continue walking so as not to reinforce bad behavior by giving in to her demands.

I should also point out that Jessie is very smart, and trains very well as long as there are no distractions around. She knows (go to your) place (and crate), sit, stay, stand, shake, speak, spin, etc. Her recall needs work off-leash, but she knows "come," she just isn't fully recallable when distracted. And she's a happy dog that gets along well with other dogs near her size (it's just the very small dogs that are a problem), and has never, ever, shown any aggression towards children or adults.

So, that leads me here. Other dog park owners have accused us of having an aggressive dog, and we've been sworn at by quite a few small dog owners. No dog or person has been bit, and no one has been hurt, but it looks pretty bad when a small dog owner picks up their dog, and Jessie starts jumping at it. We understand their frustration, and we are frustrated too.

Our questions: Is this "normal" behavior? Is she just being a puppy still, or is this pretty much what her personality is going to be for the rest of her life? Is Jessie being aggressive, or is she just curious and wanting to "chase." Does anyone have any advice in terms of what we can or should be doing from a training standpoint? Can we even train this behavior out of her?

Thanks in advance for any advice, and I apologize for the wall of text.
 

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All dogs are different, some are good in dog parks, others not so much, and GSDs in general don't make good dog-park dogs - they do tend to want to control everything, and their strong prey drive does put smaller dogs at risk. She doesn't "need" the dog park for her exercise and well-being - many, many, MANY GSDs do just fine living in a small home/yard, and getting all their exercise with their owners. She doesn't need other dogs, she needs you!

Also it is time for her to get a prong collar and get corrections for even so much as looking at the cats - some dogs will never be good with cats, and you may have to learn to live with that - but if all the positive exposure hasn't worked after all this time, then you need to do something completely different.
 

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I agree with castlemaid, good advice given... I would add, that while her behavior to little dogs may not be aggressive, her size alone can do damage. Moreover, if she is not reading dog language well (just like some people who can't seem to fully grasp communication skills, some dogs are like this) she could get herself into trouble.

Honestly, she sounds like a smart, energetic young girl (she isn't 2 yet and some don't fully mature until 3 - and that an mean emotional and mental maturity, ie self control) who needs to be challenged and given an outlet for her angst.. Running in a dog park is good (good in running, not in socialization or other issues) outlet for physical only, but that means mental and emotional are left out.

If there is a way to try agility, herding, nose work (tons of fun), IPO, etc.. This will challenge mind, body and emotions and channel natural drives (prey, play etc) into a more constructive fashion... AND gi e you a great bonding experience with your girl.

It is hard when you feel frustrated with your dog to really bond. I know time can seem short and unavailable, but you might be surprised how quickly one of these outlets might become a new addiction, lol..

Otherwise, go hiking with her and play fetch that encourages recall etc... Hope some of these ideas help..
 

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Hi! I live in Santa Cruz County and the housing situation is just as bad, even the million dollar plus homes here don't have a yard. So I know its very important that your dog have good manners as your only choice for exercise it to go outside of your home.

Although our dog did not have the prey drive like your dog, she overreact to certain dogs and people. Lots of obedience training helped (group classes) and as Hineni7 mentioned, the agility offered in our classes was a fun outlet for our dog's energy. My daughter also paid for 2 hour long private lessons to work on behavior in our environment - not the training field. We had semi-private lessons for "down". It sounds like you would benefit from semi-private lessons working with distractions.

It you don't mind the drive to San Jose, there is a wonderful woman there who organizes all sorts of events for GSDs. German Shepherds of the Bay Area at meetup.com.
She has events posted for training, puppy play, hikes - leashed and off leash, dock diving, fairs, etc. We enrolled in a special class, "recall with distractions". The trainer she uses has goats on his property and we used them as the distraction, there were about 9 of us with 3 trainers so the personal attention we got was great. It was very helpful. For us, just going to a few large meetups where we could all hike and move forward helped tremendously with our dog's socialization. It was turning point for us. And although I am not always comfortable with Molly playing with all breeds, she definitely can relax and enjoy herself at the meetups. Here's some photos of a leashed meetup:
http://www.germanshepherds.com/forum/pictures-pictures-pictures/623898-pack-walk-around-santa-clara.html

I hope the cat thing gets settled down soon. I don't think your dog is aggressive, just needs her energy focused. We've been scorned at dog parks. Before we even go in, many other dog owners are giving out bad energy towards us, dogs can pick up on that. So don't listen to them, but is not the best place to play. The only time our dog does well at a dog park is when there are no fences, like Fort Funston s/o SF.
 

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obviously it comes down to knowing your dog and properly reading a situation - things we can't do over the Internet. most dogs will chase a cat if it runs or react if it hisses or bats them... some cats don't do these things and dogs can become indifferent with certain cats and be stimulated by others. something else to think about - sometimes the more you try to work on things, like the cat intro, especially for as long as you have with no results - it's possible that you've inadvertently now made the cat more interesting. think of it as keeping a favorite toy out of site then bringing it around occasionally but holding it out of reach or restricting access in some other way (obedience, etc), it increases the desire for the object.

I've never done any special work or introductions with my dogs and cats and 3 out of 4 of my GSD have gotten along with my cat. the 1 who didn't I believe would have if she lived with me full time but ironically she was the only one who was in foster care before being adopted and said to be cat friendly. the others I had no cat specific history on them. I do the sniff test thru a door or baby gate the first day, remind the cat of her safe place and sooner or later the newness wears off (for the dog), the bravery increases (for the cat) and everyone is good.

my youngest has a rough and tough love hate relationship with the cat but I observed it enough to feel comfortable with his intent and no longer take any precautions with them. I do NOT however consider him cat safe with any other cats.

a muzzle could be an option, after you've conditioned her to it. that will tell you if she's really just a rough play kind of girl or if she'd attempt to harm your cat. most people wouldn't feel comfortable with the way I allow Keystone to play with my cat but she can also be the instigator so I let them deal with it.

koruk9 dog training is a husband/wife team in SF. they come to mind because they live in an apartment or townhouse in SF with 3 gsd and I believe 2 cats... they do personal and group lessons at lands end. just thinking they could be a good resource for you.
 

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Wow, thanks for the great responses everyone! Very helpful indeed.

I should add a few things to my original post for clarity.

1) My wife (Amanda) works from home, so Jessie gets lots of time and personal attention from her. Amanda tries to find things for Jessie to do throughout the day, but Amanda's job is fairly demanding, so she can't give all of her attention to the dog. Amanda is constantly concerned that Jessie is bored, and needs something to do. I've been reading through a very helpful thread in this forum about "jobs" that have been given to GSDs by their owners, and I'm going to forward that on to my wife; lots of helpful tips in there.

2) Amanda and Jessie have taken a nose work class, and Jessie did very well with the actual work itself. When not doing the actual "work" of the class, the dogs are crated while the other dogs perform. Jessie did not do so well in the crate (despite being crate trained at home) as she was constantly barking at the other dogs. This is a constant theme with Jessie: she is far more interested in other dogs than anything else, be it food, toys, etc. When we are at the dog park, she will chase toys, but if other dogs are chasing the toy as well (fairly common) she really just wants to play with the other dogs. When other dogs don't play with her, that equals play bows and barking, or sometimes just barking. That being said, Amanda and Jessie will either be taking more nose work or obedience classes soon.

3) We do lots of walks and hikes with Jessie. On an average day, she probably gets a minimum of two to three miles of walking in (we live in Mill Valley, CA which has TONS of great walking/hiking paths, basically right out our door). On weekends she gets more attention from both of us, as neither of us usually have to work. Sunday is "family" day, when we take her on a longer, more rigorous hikes.

4) We do have a prong collar which looks like a regular old cloth collar (some people don't like prong collars, and despite it being none of their business, some people around here just *have* to let you know about it). It's called a Lola collar (I can't post links yet with a low post count, but a quick Google search will bring them up... recommended!), which was recommended by our rescue. While on the subject, I have questions about this. We recently switched to a harness and stopped using the prong collar. We were concerned that perhaps we were sending the wrong message by her pinching as she pulled to see other dogs (other dogs = excitement = pain). Is this adding to her frustration as she pulls? I wouldn't say the pulling is any better or worse between the two. We also have a gentle leader which worked really well, but when we got home after walking, Jessie just seemed depressed about the whole thing (lol!). Almost as if we had sucked the fun out of going for walks. Perhaps we should revisit the gentle leader until the pulling is under control?

5) The Mill Valley dog park is *huge* (at least a few acres), so it's great to see Jessie out there running at full stride. There are "board members" that oversee the operations of the park, and we have communicated that we would love for them to split it in half: one half for big dogs, and the other for small dogs (or Come One, Come All). This would solve 99% of the problems I see there, but the board members have shown zero interest in this plan for unknown reasons. I would happily donate a money to help build a fence.
@Gretchen — San Jose is pretty far (Mill Valley is just north of the GG Bridge for those who don't know), but I think we could absolutely make that work on a weekend. Jessie is very important to us, so we are going to do everything we can for her. I'll look into it and see if we can get down there soon.
@Castlemaid — Will do with the prong collar and cats. Looking back, we really do let her focus too much on the cat, so that will no longer be allowed. She was also parking herself at the bottom of the stairs hoping to see a cat. Our more adventurous cat will sometimes just sit at the top of the stairs and stare at the dog, which of course gets her riled up. As of last night, Jessie is no longer allowed to sit at the bottom of the stairs.

Again, thank you everyone for the great responses. We have a lot to work on, but you've given me hope! I'll keep you posted as to her progress.
 

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You've had her long enough now, have you tried correcting her for bothering the cats? It may be something you'd be more comfortable getting some help with, but for inappropriate possible dangerous chasing, I put them in a down and if they move they get corrected. You can see it called a place command, and it has to be done consistently enough with you probably right next to her to get the idea out of her head.

In some of the other things, it sounds like in some ways you're just looking to restrain her which will load up the frustration and make her that much more determined to get to other dogs even if its just for play.The harness will probably just encourage even more of that. You have to teach her what you want. Teach her to walk on a loose leash away from the other dogs which I'd look at as another reason to stay away from the dog park. It just creates confusion for a lot of dogs. Its ok to run with those dogs, but not these dogs, that kind of thing.
 

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Castlemaid brought up something that is done at my house...that is correcting the dog for even looking at the cat. Now if we are walking along and he turns his head toward the cat to see what is walking towards him, I do not correct for that because it is only fair (IMO) to let him see what is approaching him. However, if he does not turn his attention back to me immediately after he sees what it is, I mark the behavior with "no" and he gets a very firm correction. Any other attempts at looking at or focusing on the cat is corrected. For him, staring leads to whining then to shaking and then to lunging. I put a stop to all of that a long time ago by not allowing any progression at all.
My GSD was 18 months old when I adopted him and he was supposed to be good with cats. He is most definitely not. I firmly believe he would kill one if he gets the chance. I use management and corrections to keep my cats safe.
 

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Good advice! One thing, we throw a sheet over the crate (or put on a crate cover) when we have dogs that bark at events or classes. I've seen more than one dog at nosework classes covered up like a canary!
 

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A covert prong collar - yes I believe you would have to have one in Mill Valley area. That's funny.
You might want to join the meetup group just to check their calendar. A couple times a year they go to the Marin headlands and a few places n/o San Jose so a little bit closer.
 

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Quick update: we just got back from our usual Sunday (long-ish) hike, and we went back to the prong collar. I looked up a few loose-leash training videos on YouTube for some ideas, and tried some of those techniques. Success! We did nearly five miles, and every time she tried to pull ahead of my knee she got a sharp NOPE! and I turned and started walking in the other direction. She picked up quickly that she was not to walk ahead of me under any circumstances. This translated really well into her demeanor overall, as when we passed other dogs, she was much less reactive. She did pull a little when she would initially see a dog, and when she did she got a correction. No barking, and no lunging though, even as we passed through the downtown area full of dogs in cafes (that's a thing around here). Big, big difference over what we've been experiencing over that past few weeks.

Thanks for the advice everyone! It's already helped a ton.
 

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My male GSD will also be 2 in August. And after reading your thread I'm wondering if your dog has reached an age where something has triggered her prey drive.

I'm wondering that because until recently, Finn had a lack of interest in chasing things like squirrels or cats.
All of a sudden, he's interested in chasing squirrels and I'm thinkin he might chase a cat now too. And possibly a small dog.
My best guess is that something has triggered his prey drive.

In regard to the prong collar, Finn was fitted for his prong when we started basic obedience class.
There were several other GSDs in the class and they were all wearing prong collars.
He doesn't wear it in the house, car or in our yard but when we are in public, he wears his prong.

Through training he has developed good social skills but in the event he decides to chase a squirrel, cat or small dog, I know I can stop him with a quick pop of the leash. And he will stop.

A formal obedience class with a good trainer would be great for you, your wife and your dog. You will learn to control your dog on leash and you will learn how to make appropriate and effective corrections using the leash.

Goo luck.
 

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Quick update: we just got back from our usual Sunday (long-ish) hike, and we went back to the prong collar. I looked up a few loose-leash training videos on YouTube for some ideas, and tried some of those techniques. Success! We did nearly five miles, and every time she tried to pull ahead of my knee she got a sharp NOPE! and I turned and started walking in the other direction. She picked up quickly that she was not to walk ahead of me under any circumstances. This translated really well into her demeanor overall, as when we passed other dogs, she was much less reactive. She did pull a little when she would initially see a dog, and when she did she got a correction. No barking, and no lunging though, even as we passed through the downtown area full of dogs in cafes (that's a thing around here). Big, big difference over what we've been experiencing over that past few weeks.

Thanks for the advice everyone! It's already helped a ton.
That's great news!!
 
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