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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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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.
 

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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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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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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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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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Some really good info here. Please keep us updated on her progress once you have her.
 

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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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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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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.
That's true, but this dog had never bitten before. We're still not sure why she did.
 

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Thanks for all the advice y'all. We got her home tonight and all is well considering. The weirdest thing is that she LOVES the car. I sat in the back with her on our two hour trip home, and she didn't bark or act up at all. She even climbed in the front seat with my fiancé and let him handle her and pet her while he was driving. It was the craziest thing. She was like a completely different dog, went to sleep in my lap.

As soon as we pulled her out of the car, she was skittish again and would not potty in the yard. I waited with her on her leash for about thirty minutes. My fiancé went inside and then sat on the porch. She eyed him, but didn't try to bolt. He is able to put a treat in front d her and she eats it. She will also take a treat out of his hand if she is inside her crate, but not if she is outside the crate. She explored the house on her leash. Her leash skills need some work. While we were outside she was tugging me a bit more than I expected. I gave her a stern "no" when she was trying to lead me around, and she sat. When I reached down to scratch her ears, she cowered. Someone has been saying "no" to this dog and then hitting her as a consequence. We are trying to eliminate "no" from our vocabulary for now, but even if I speak it in conversation to my fiancé or our cats, the dog thinks it's towards her. :(

On that note, the introduction with our cats went well. We let them out of their safe room after we got the dog crated, and my male ran over to check her out. She didn't react to him besides watching him. She didn't even get up or bark. He laid down right next to her crate. My female cat is a little more suspicious, but she doesn't mind being in the same room and has been watching the dog from a distance. I know this might be a different story when the dog is not in her crate, but we do not intend to let them be in the house freely together for several weeks.

We've named her Ophelia. Here she is in the front seat with my fiancé.
 

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If done right, she can turn into a perfect dog. I wouldn't push her to do anything, let her do so at her own pace. It's great that she takes treats from your fiancé. She has to learn to trust again.
 

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Someone has been saying "no" to this dog and then hitting her as a consequence. We are trying to eliminate "no" from our vocabulary for now, but even if I speak it in conversation to my fiancé or our cats, the dog thinks it's towards her.

Could you use a different language for 'no', e.g. german (nein)
 

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Make a sticky

This thread has LOTS of GOOD information. Especially since it seems - to me anyway - there are more rescued dogs coming thru with issues like this.

I vote for this being made a sticky. There is info in the thread that is worth reading multiple times.

For the OP - I agree with changing the commands - either different language or words. Observe if she has picked up any hand signals. Those may or may not need to be changed as well.
 

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Discussion Starter #16 (Edited)
That's a great idea, we are practicing "nein" instead of no. I have taken her out on her leash twice this morning for extended periods of time (about forty-five minutes both times), but still no potty. She has seemed excited to explore the yard, so maybe she is too distracted to think about peeing. She is alert to other dogs barking in the neighborhood and cars driving past, but has not tried to chase any of our neighbor dogs or bolt at any unfamiliar noises.

She ate a bowl's worth of kibble out of my hand this morning and has been drinking from her water bowl well. I can say "Ophelia, come" from anywhere in the house and she will be right by my side in a few seconds. She also sits on command as her previous owner said. I have not tried anything more complicated, but it seems that she has been trained adequately well in the past. Right now she is exploring the front half of our house (I have my cats confined to the back side). It looks like she has opened up to being out in the home after my fiance left for work. While he was here this morning, she wanted to be in her crate.

I guess the only thing I'm worried about is that she hasn't peed or pooped yet. She went before we left her previous owner's last night around 8:30, but hasn't been since then. I don't want to make a habit of accidents in the house.

She also just made herself at home on my bed. I haven't considered whether we want the dog in our bed or not, but I don't really want to discourage her from being on the furniture if that's where she feels safe. Do most of you allow your dogs on the furniture? Our cats sleep with us at night, so that might get pretty crowded.
 

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I have nothing to add...just wanted to say thank you for helping this remarkable, sensitive creature. I honestly teared up when reading about her reaction to the word 'no.' It constantly amazes me how my boy is so sensitive...this big, strong, courageous, confident, intact male reads intention and emotion and doesn't need strong corrections. He'll run to his crate if I even get mad at him.

I can't imagine what your girl has been through in her former life, but the name Ophelia means 'help' in Greek....so here's to her bright new future!
 

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Ok, she just had her first successful pee and poop in the backyard of the day and was highly praised for it. She was looking at me like I'm a total idiot for getting so excited over some defecating in the yard. :D

We cuddled on the bed all morning while I was planning a grocery list for the week, and now she has retreated to her crate for a nap. I think we are building a good relationship, but she still ducked and cringed when I moved my hand too fast towards her to put her leash on just now to take her outside.

Her former owner told me last night that she thinks Ophelia's tail has been broken at some point in her life. She frequently tucks it between her legs, but even when it's not tucked, it looks a little crooked to me and she never wags it. I'm starting to wonder if she is even able to wag it, or maybe she is just still shy? We want to get her to the vet pretty soon, but I want her to understand who we are a little better before we take her to yet another unfamiliar and scary place. If she doesn't seem to be in immediate pain, is this tail thing a serious concern right now?
 

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I love those pictures. She is already adjusting very well to your fiancé, so just getting her into a new place seems to have worked out well for her. Keep doing what you are doing. The foster I mentioned earlier did very well in her forever home. They ended up getting a second rescue a few years later because they were so happy with her.
 

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Take her on lots of car rides.

It sounds like you already made the decision on the bed. I think it should work itself out with the cats. They may not want to be on the bed with the dog, and in my experience, dogs generally get too hot in the bed with people in it, so they scadaddle soon after people get in. Usually.

Only when Babs is in heat, then she stays in the bed ALL night Not sure why that is exactly.

Right now don't worry about anything but pottying outside. Training a day after you got a dog out of a questionable situation -- that is too much too fast, yes, even basic commands. And, if you want you can change her name. I use Eh! instead of No!

To get the dog to trust you, you need to give her space, and you have be calm and confident, and move deliberately with respect to how your body language is likely to affect her. I don't mean you are going to have to dance around her forever. I mean for the next few days, don't grab the collar, don't quickly pet the top of her head. Show her the leash, and ask, "Do you want to go outside?" Then bring your hand to her muzzle and reach from the side of the face to her collar and clip. Without using a squeaky, high pitched voice, say happily to her, "We have to put your leash on, if we want to go outside."

Do EVERYTHING matter-of-factly. You want her to gain confidence in you, and if you seem to know what you are doing, are consistent, and are calm, she will relax you and trust you.

I had to change my yelling at Frodo, because Arwen didn't like that. I did not want her to be afraid of me. Frodo could care less. You could hit that boy with a 2x4 and he would just think you wanted to show him a new game. You could yell, whatever. Arwen was different. She didn't like harsh tones or yelling, and ya know what? Neither do I. It is so much more pleasant NOT to yell. You certainly do not need to yell to get a GSD to mind you. Eh-eh, and then tell them, My Garbage can, you know you are not supposed to be in there, with your disapproving tone.

The voice is a spectacular instrument. It is an instrument for all occasions, and can be used for the whole spectrum of communication scenarios. Your dog is learning your tone as your language. This is good stuff. You need to learn what she needs, what makes an effective corrective tone that will not come close to shutting her down. What is an effective happy tone that will not put her over the edge.

Good luck. I think you have made a good start. Now just learn her.
 
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