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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My dog, Snowy, is a white GSD that recently turned a year old. He showed his protective streak today. My ex came by (I had invited him and he was welcome) and my dog barked and growled at him. I told Snowy to sit, which he did, but he continued to growl a bit. When my ex came in, he jumped up and growled and barked again. At that point, I told Snowy, "It's OK, he's fine", and Snowy backed off. As he saw that I was welcoming my ex into the house, he quickly calmed down and was friendly the rest of the visit.

I think this is a good response - he is warning any potential stranger, but once I tell him it's fine, he backs off and as he watches the interaction, he reverts to his normal, friendly and calm self.
 

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Eska von den Roten Vorbergen
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He did a much better job than one GSD I heard about!

After her marriage breakup, a woman was worried about her ex, who had shown violent tendencies towards her, and also claimed he was entitled to a lot of the household furnishings. So she paid big bucks and bought a Schutzhund 3 titled GSD.

She came home one night to find her ex had broken into the house, and taken a lot of things...INCLUDING THE DOG!! 馃ぃ
 

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He did a much better job than one GSD I heard about!

After her marriage breakup, a woman was worried about her ex, who had shown violent tendencies towards her, and also claimed he was entitled to a lot of the household furnishings. So she paid big bucks and bought a Schutzhund 3 titled GSD.

She came home one night to find her ex had broken into the house, and taken a lot of things...INCLUDING THE DOG!! 馃ぃ
Did she get her dog back?
 

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Is this the same dog that also growled at your mother and was punished for growling?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
He did a much better job than one GSD I heard about!

After her marriage breakup, a woman was worried about her ex, who had shown violent tendencies towards her, and also claimed he was entitled to a lot of the household furnishings. So she paid big bucks and bought a Schutzhund 3 titled GSD.

She came home one night to find her ex had broken into the house, and taken a lot of things...INCLUDING THE DOG!! 馃ぃ
Oh, that is AWFUL! Poor woman! LOL
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Is this the same dog that also growled at your mother and was punished for growling?
Yes, it is the same dog. However, I didn't punish him for growling, I corrected him by telling him "No!" and putting him in a sit for a little while. Then I had my mother start working with him. Every few days I have her give him commands and reward him for obeying her.
 

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Well, given that he has both growled at your mother (friend) and your ex (welcome but disliked?), it seems like you have a dog that is starting to growl at humans, perhaps struggling to discern friend from foe. I don't think I'd be just chalking it up to showing an appropriate protective streak, in the context of ALSO growling at your mother. Sometimes growling at humans is a lack of confidence. Sometimes it's not trusting leadership and feeling like they need to handle things for the owner. Rarely, it's a bad-ass dog that's being a territorial butthead. There are a TON of possibilities, and it often takes someone with a lot of experience to unwind it -- but getting to the root early is in the dog's interest.

There are plenty of stories here of dogs that started out growling occasionally at people who then eventually bit someone. And plenty of others who never did because of training and management.

I think I'd encourage you not to see the episode with the ex in isolation (or anthropomorphize it), but rather as something that ought to be put it in the context of also growling inappropriately at your mother. These are likely manifestations of the same issue. Manage the dog carefully. The line between "protectiveness" and fear aggression isn't always obvious to pet owners, and this stuff tends to surface with little blips that are the tip of a very deep iceberg. I'm not saying yours is fear aggressive (I have no idea), but I've known a few fear aggressive dogs who started out engaging in inappropriate growling at humans.
 

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Well, you purchased a breed of dog that has it in them to guard against human and animal predators. In doing this, you take on the responsibility that if your dog bites someone without provocation you are liable. If the bite is bad (GSD bites can be very bad), you face losing home-owner's insurance, considerable personal liability, and the court may order your dog to be euthanized.

Some of us are willing to take this risk. Some are not. Some do not realize the risk until they are faced with a bite. A dog with a bite history is not welcome in shelters or in rescues. Usually, they end up being put down because people cannot take the liability on.

So, what to do?

Some of us have this breed because we feel safer having German Shepherds in and around our homes. We somehow have to ensure that innocent people are not chewed on, while preserving the ability of our dogs to perform this protection if it becomes necessary. Some train their dogs through schutzhund -- obedience, tracking, and bitework. Some train their dogs in bitework. These folks have to train their dogs to bite and to not bite, to release from biting, to amp up and to come down, and while they are probably least likely to bite at the wrong time, having such training may make the actual liability greater. Others over-socialize their dogs in an attempt to give the dog ample opportunity to understand who is not a threat, and hope that the dog will live up to its genes if the situation warrants it. Some of them will. Others will not. In fact, unless a potential victim is targeted specifically for whom she is, the deterrent of the large, toothy dog with the big noisy bark will generally be enough. Of course if the potential victim is chosen because of who she is, the fact that she has a dog or dogs with potential will be known and accounted for. One can shoot or poison dogs.

A yearling dog with no protection training is more likely to be growling and/or barking out of fear and possibly lack of proper leadership. That may be hard to hear. But a dog of that age ought to be confident in its owner's ability to protect them, and unless a situation erupts that is truly threatening, the dog should not take it upon himself to try to rid its domain of an unwanted person. Your dog did not hurt anyone, that is good. But I would consider this incident an eye-opening incident. The dog needs better leadership, better management, and more training. The consequences of not doing so are significant. Your dog may pay with its life -- worst case scenario. But adolescent dogs tend to make really poor decisions when given the freedom. It is up to us to protect them from what they may do.
 

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jmo but I want my dog to bark and alert to strangers or delivery people. That would include an ex that the dog doesn't know. I don't want a dog to growl at anyone unless there's a clear and present danger.
I totally agree -- sentry barking when a stranger is at the door when someone is outside is totally normal breed behavior. That's not what this dog is described as doing.

Continuing to
growl at a guest, even after being put in a sit-stay by the owner, is a whole other thing to me, especially when the same dog has also growled at a family member and is the midst of counter-conditioning by that family member. I wouldn't be pleased about this behavior at all.
 

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Some dogs are more vocal than others. Without seeing the interaction, it's hard to say what's going on. Curbing the growling behavior is just a band aid for a potential underlying fear issue.

A safe way to handle things whether this is excitement or fear is to use obedience. Go to a crate or place or room. It gives the dog a place to calm down or have space.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Well, given that he has both growled at your mother (friend) and your ex (welcome but disliked?), it seems like you have a dog that is starting to growl at humans, perhaps struggling to discern friend from foe. I don't think I'd be just chalking it up to showing an appropriate protective streak, in the context of ALSO growling at your mother. Sometimes growling at humans is a lack of confidence. Sometimes it's not trusting leadership and feeling like they need to handle things for the owner. Rarely, it's a bad-ass dog that's being a territorial butthead. There are a TON of possibilities, and it often takes someone with a lot of experience to unwind it -- but getting to the root early is in the dog's interest.

There are plenty of stories here of dogs that started out growling occasionally at people who then eventually bit someone. And plenty of others who never did because of training and management.

I think I'd encourage you not to see the episode with the ex in isolation (or anthropomorphize it), but rather as something that ought to be put it in the context of also growling inappropriately at your mother. These are likely manifestations of the same issue. Manage the dog carefully. The line between "protectiveness" and fear aggression isn't always obvious to pet owners, and this stuff tends to surface with little blips that are the tip of a very deep iceberg. I'm not saying yours is fear aggressive (I have no idea), but I've known a few fear aggressive dogs who started out engaging in inappropriate growling at humans.
You are making a good point, and I actually appreciate you and the others on this site warning about this.

One issue is that this is a Covid puppy that I rescued at 6 months. With other dogs I have had, I normally introduce them to lots of people and situations. Thanks to Covid, I have not had a lot of people over to the house and so the dog is not accustomed to it.

My interpretation was that - hey, he barked and growled but when I told him to sit, he did so, and within about 30 seconds after it was clear that my ex was welcome, he was friendly and calm. Also, he may have been picking up on my body language - my ex makes me tense up and my dog probably sensed that.

What I may start to do when an unknown person comes over is to put him on leash. I would normally be having people over a lot more to acclimate my dog to visitors, but with Covid it's going to be hard.

I definitely do not want this issue to escalate.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Some dogs are more vocal than others. Without seeing the interaction, it's hard to say what's going on. Curbing the growling behavior is just a band aid for a potential underlying fear issue.

A safe way to handle things whether this is excitement or fear is to use obedience. Go to a crate or place or room. It gives the dog a place to calm down or have space.
He is still pretty young, so I think we can get this dealt with. If not for Covid, I would have been having friends come over on a regular basis to accustom him to how we greet visitors.

What I am thinking is that I may start to put him on a leash when I answer the door to make sure I've got a way to control him if I need to and ask a few trusted friends to come over just to hang in the entry way for a few minutes to chat (whatever they feel safe doing). I'll keep an eye on my dog and see if I can nip things in the bud.

After reading the responses to my post, I do recall that there have been a few other visitors over the last month - a couple of people that my dog is familiar with because they have come over several times since he was a puppy and then a few strangers. My ex is the only one my dog growled at.

So - two interpretations. Either his behavior is changing as he gets older or he sensed my tension with my ex. EIther way I still need to keep him under control, so it looks like I'm going to need to work with him on this.

Putting him in a crate may be necessary but I am hoping not. But it's better to do that than risk having him put down.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Also, to give a more complete picture - I take my dog on hikes every morning in leash free parks. When we encounter other people or dogs, he does not growl. He will stop and alertly watch them approach. Then he often will greet and play with the other dogs. He ignores people but will tolerate them petting him. He has never shown any sort of aggression.

However, if we pass a lone man walking, he will stick close to me. But he's not barking, growling or showing any aggression, just sticking close to me. If we pass women or groups, he may or may not be close to me but he is always close by when we pass a lone male hiker.

I have also taken him with me to an outdoor seating area at a restaurant a couple of times and he was pretty well behaved. The first time it took a while for me to get him to stay in a down, he was just so distracted, the second time he mostly stayed down. He watched the people passing by, but showed no aggression.

He was only barking at my mother in the evening when she left the room and I assumed it was protective because he likes to keep an eye on everyone in the family. With my last GSD, she was the same way - she liked to keep an eye on everyone. But he has stopped barking at mom ever since I started getting her involved in working with him. She is interacting much more with him and it's really quite lovely as they have become affectionate.

So the only times he seems aggressive - he barks whenever someone comes to the front door. Which I actually like as a single woman and I'm fine with him doing. And he growled the ONE time when my ex came into the house. That was the only time he growled at a visitor. And once it was obvious that my ex had been welcomed by me, he calmed down and became friendly.

Also, the dog seems "biddable". He often anticipates commands and seems eager to please except when he is distracted. Since he's still not mature, though, he does get distracted...

I do think I'll start putting a leash on him when a stranger he has not met comes to the house... just to be safe. And I will keep a closer eye on him because obviously I do not want his behavior to escalate. I could crate the dog but I'd rather give him a chance to figure things out. But I do take seriously everyone's warnings... this is a situation I need to keep an eye on so I will.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
So here is a follow up... I asked a couple of friends who my dog has never met to come over today.

And... there was no issue. My dog barked when the door bell rang, which I want him to do and praise him for. When I opened the door, I had him on a leash and in a sit. I watched him closely, but when I greeted my friends, he did not growl, lunge, or show any other signs of aggression.

When I welcomed them into the house, he alertly watched them but did not react. They had brought a treat to give him, and I had them give it to him. He was quite excited to take it and lay down near by to eat it, while we visited for a bit.

So... I am thinking his growling behavior at my ex was probably due to him picking up on my body language and the fact that I did not want my ex in the house.

I have scheduled a couple of other encounters over the next week where a friend or two that he has never met will come over and I will be keeping him on leash and watching him during these visits as well.

I think this is the most important thing with these dogs - when a potential problem comes up, get on top of it.

Thanks to everyone for the feedback.
 

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It's very possible, the dogs are in tune to us, that they can pick up our animosity or even our anxiety in the proximity of someone.
 
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