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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi everyone.

Looking for some advice.
We have an 18 month old GSD, intact male, living with us since he was 8 weeks old. He has always been very docile with everyone in the family and spends most of his days with my wife and 9 yr old son, and loves playing and going on walks with them. They have been involved with training since the beginning and both feed him frequently to strengthen the bond.
However, recently we had two episodes in which he started growling at my son for no apparent reason. Both of these happened while the dog was laying down but awake and perfectly aware someone was approaching (not a case he has been startled). The most recent one happened just now while I was petting the dog and my son approached at walking speed and the dog was aware of his presence since he got in the room. When my son got closer the dog locked his stare on him and started growling. No food or toys in immediate vicinity. Not very loud and no barking, but a clear growl.
I can’t imagine what has changed and I’m getting apprehensive with this situation.
Any ideas on what I can do to stop this behaviour, or what might be triggering the dog?

Any help very much appreciated.

Dog Dog breed Carnivore Fawn German shepherd dog
 

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Sounds like he's resource guarding you.You absolutely can't allow it. I'm about to sign off now so I'm sure others will chime in shortly. If you put "resource guarding" in the search box you can read more about it if you'd like.
 

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In case of resource guarding: as soon as you see the stare, get up, ignore and leave with your son. He is not regarding your son as his leader so this is what they often do to each other. The dog needs to learn that your son is your possession. If he approaches you and your son, step in between the two, facing the dog with your back. That's how they protect resources from each other.
On another note, could there have been an issue between the two that you are not aware of? I would ask your son in a non-confrontational way if the dog could have misunderstood your son's behavior (using tact)
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thank you very much. Just talked with my son and he doesn't remember anything. I'm fairly positive he would tell me he he knew. When they play together it can get a bit rough with tug and some chasing and all that, but nothing that I would imagine to be perceived as threat by the dog. We came out of a large park just after (not dog park) where we were running around a bit and throwing a few balls and they were the best of friends.
I'm more thinking in line with resource guarding, and will definitely try your suggestions. Would collar corrections help at all if I see him staring or start growling, or do I risk making it worse?
 

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Does he understand look or ignore? Give a command he knows that would require him to break the focus and then correct for not following the command. You don't want to create a negative association with your son.

We taught ours ignore, which means quit focusing and look away.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Quick question, how exactly did you respond to each episode?
First episode happened with my wife, so I can't give details. On this second time, I was kneeling by the dog petting him, and as soon as the growling started my son stopped, dog got a very firm no, and I held to his collar with my hand, just in case he would lunge. Then I asked my son to continue walking and pass by us without petting him. Everybody stayed in the room. After some minutes I took him to his crate.
Anything I should have done differently?
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Does he understand look or ignore? Give a command he knows that would require him to break the focus and then correct for not following the command. You don't want to create a negative association with your son.

We taught ours ignore, which means quit focusing and look away.
He gets leave it, but for objects. "watch me" could work.

Would intensifying the training with my son help at all, with me correcting if he doesn't follow the command?
 

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First episode happened with my wife, so I can't give details. On this second time, I was kneeling by the dog petting him, and as soon as the growling started my son stopped, dog got a very firm no, and I held to his collar with my hand, just in case he would lunge. Then I asked my son to continue walking and pass by us without petting him. Everybody stayed in the room. After some minutes I took him to his crate.
Anything I should have done differently?
The "No" should have been followed up with a very stern correction. You have to increase your obedience training with this dog and have zero tolerance for inappropriate aggression. You are fortunate that your son did not get bit. Growling leads to biting and your dog won a second battle in his mind. Holding the dog by the collar is a technique that we use to increase aggression, not extinguish it. In addition to upping your obedience, you need to be much stricter with this dog. You should look into NILF or "Nothing in life is free." Your dog has to earn every privilege, even praise and treats. Your dog is an adolescent and is is starting to mature, with this maturity comes increased aggression if not managed properly. I will add that some may advise you to neuter the dog, IMHO neutering will not fix this or do anything to manage this dog. Neutering will not change your dog's behavior and temperament is often worse after neutering.

I would get with a good trainer that understands aggressive dogs and is not afraid to work with a potentially aggressive dog. If this was my dog he would be wearing a prong collar and not the choke chain he has on in the picture. I would work on sit / stay, down / stay under distractions. If he knows the knows the stay command correct him very sternly for breaking it. Probably, on a magnitude of 4-5 times harder than you think you should. I would make him sit and wait for his meals. Put the food bowl down and stand straight up. He has to sit and watch you or your son until he is released to eat. I would work up to a couple of minutes starting from a couple of seconds. Everything with this dog must be black and white, there are no grey areas. The dog gets petted / praised when he performs a command correctly, he gets treats when he performs a command correctly. He should never be petted or praised for doing nothing or being cute. This may sound harsh, but trust me he has gotten way to affection for nothing and now he feels he deserves it. In a few months if the growling has stopped and he hasn't bitten anyone you can let up a little.

It seems to me he doesn't respect your son and is not concerned about you being upset with him. This is very doable but will take some time and serious training. Left alone this will get much worse. He is a beautiful dog, he just needs a family of strong consistent leaders.
 

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The dog achieved success when he remained by your side while your son walked on by.He accomplished exactly what he wanted. Getting up and moving away would leave him with nothing to guard,which is better. A firm No! and sending the dog to his place is good too.
That's not a criticism! You did great by showing displeasure and making sure your son was safe.NILF as Slamdunc mentioned is a very good suggestion to implement.
 

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He gets leave it, but for objects. "watch me" could work.

Would intensifying the training with my son help at all, with me correcting if he doesn't follow the command?
Your son can do a lot of training with out having to give any corrections. You and your son could teach the dog "impulse control" or "capping." Your son could withhold rewards until the dog is correct. A 9 year old will not be able to correct an 18 month of dog like this. You correcting the dog for son could make things worse unless you are an experienced handler. You need to absolute control over the dog and your obedience should include praise and reward when correct and stern consequences (corrections) for disobedience. As I said in the earlier post, everything must be black and white. If you tell the dog to sit for example (and he has been trained what "sit" means), he gets 2 seconds to sit. Or down or come, whatever the command is. If he hasn't started to sit within 2 seconds he is disobeying and receives a correction and is made to sit. Do not give the dog any longer than 2 seconds, my dogs get 1.5 seconds. DO NOT REPEAT the command, simply make him do it. Do not say Sit, Sit, Sit, I told you to sit and on the 6th command he finally does it. That is not dog training and not how dogs should respond to commands they are trained to do.

As far as the look goes, I would give a very stern "NO, KNOCK IT OFF" at the first sign of the look before the dog even growled. I would then make the dog sit and down several times and reward those correct behaviors. The look is the trigger and the growl will come next. Again, I would correct very strongly for the growl. A good correction is one the dog remembers today, tomorrow, next week and 2 months from now. He should want to think twice before every growling at a member of your family again. Owning a dog like this can be a great thing, but it takes a very strong owner to make the situation better. A weak handler will make this situation way worse.
 

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The "No" should have been followed up with a very stern correction. You have to increase your obedience training with this dog and have zero tolerance for inappropriate aggression. You are fortunate that your son did not get bit. Growling leads to biting and your dog won a second battle in his mind. Holding the dog by the collar is a technique that we use to increase aggression, not extinguish it. In addition to upping your obedience, you need to be much stricter with this dog. You should look into NILF or "Nothing in life is free." Your dog has to earn every privilege, even praise and treats. Your dog is an adolescent and is is starting to mature, with this maturity comes increased aggression if not managed properly. I will add that some may advise you to neuter the dog, IMHO neutering will not fix this or do anything to manage this dog. Neutering will not change your dog's behavior and temperament is often worse after neutering.

I would get with a good trainer that understands aggressive dogs and is not afraid to work with a potentially aggressive dog. If this was my dog he would be wearing a prong collar and not the choke chain he has on in the picture. I would work on sit / stay, down / stay under distractions. If he knows the knows the stay command correct him very sternly for breaking it. Probably, on a magnitude of 4-5 times harder than you think you should. I would make him sit and wait for his meals. Put the food bowl down and stand straight up. He has to sit and watch you or your son until he is released to eat. I would work up to a couple of minutes starting from a couple of seconds. Everything with this dog must be black and white, there are no grey areas. The dog gets petted / praised when he performs a command correctly, he gets treats when he performs a command correctly. He should never be petted or praised for doing nothing or being cute. This may sound harsh, but trust me he has gotten way to affection for nothing and now he feels he deserves it. In a few months if the growling has stopped and he hasn't bitten anyone you can let up a little.

It seems to me he doesn't respect your son and is not concerned about you being upset with him. This is very doable but will take some time and serious training. Left alone this will get much worse. He is a beautiful dog, he just needs a family of strong consistent leaders.
This was great 👍🏼
 

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far as the look goes, I would give a very stern "NO, KNOCK IT OFF" at the first sign of the look before the dog even growled. I would then make the dog sit and down several times and reward those correct behaviors. The look is the trigger and the growl will come next. Again, I would correct very strongly for the growl. A good correction is one the dog remembers today, tomorrow, next week and 2 months from now. He should want to think twice before every growling at a member of your family again. Owning a dog like this can be a great thing, but it takes a very strong owner to make the situation better. A weak handler will make this situation way worse.
You correct some strong dogs for growl and it will trigger fight. Not saying that is the case with this dog.
 

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You correct some strong dogs for growl and it will trigger fight. Not saying that is the case with this dog.
Then up the correction.
Depends on the reason, but growling at a family member is a non-starter.

I had a male Rottie that would come up the leash. He could be corrected when he knew that it was fair. Not everyone would want to try it. They're not fur babies.
 

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While I don’t believe in putting strict rules in place like Slam described here, I do think this situation sounds like a dog that’s needs to be shown the error of his ways. A hard stare that I knew was going to lead to an attack, I would come off the top rope to let him know is unacceptable. I wouldn’t allow any unsupervised interactions. I would be ready to respond at all times while they were together until I knew it was under control. I also will say the dog might be better off in a different home.
 

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Then up the correction.
Depends on the reason, but growling at a family member is a non-starter.

I had a male Rottie that would come up the leash. He could be corrected when he knew that it was fair. Not everyone would want to try it. They're not fur babies.
The thing is if you put yourself in a position to fight the dog, you need to make sure you are in position to win that fight.
 

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Then up the correction.
Depends on the reason, but growling at a family member is a non-starter.

I had a male Rottie that would come up the leash. He could be corrected when he knew that it was fair. Not everyone would want to try it. They're not fur babies.
If you pick a fight just be prepared to win is all. Be smart and set yourself up for success.

Although, there are some dogs who won't submit to such corrections and you'll have to be more creative in order to not live a life of constant conflict.
 

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While I don’t believe in putting strict rules in place like Slam described here, I do think this situation sounds like a dog that’s needs to be shown the error of his ways. A hard stare that I knew was going to lead to an attack, I would come off the top rope to let him know is unacceptable. I wouldn’t allow any unsupervised interactions. I would be ready to respond at all times while they were together until I knew it was under control. I also will say the dog might be better off in a different home.
Agreed. You growl/stare down/snap at my child, or any child, in my world and you are going to get a "come to Jesus" correction that leaves NO doubt in your little doggie brain that it is absolutely your last day on earth if it happens again.
This is one of those things that is the lesser of two evils. This is not a time for owners to be sensitive or forgiving. Dogs that bite kids end up dead or worse, and kids that get bit, well that's just bad. So one well timed, memorable correction and everyone is the better for it.
 

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The dog growled but didn't lunge or bite. So with the help of a good trainer, forget the positive only, treating training it cold work. But you have to take this seriously. At least he warned. I would not punish the warning or he may resort to bite right away. I assume the dog has gotten away when he was still so cute and lovable. Their brains are wired to climb the ladder,.
 
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