Some Puppy Obedience and Leash Training Help a Under Socialized German Shepherd

By: David Codr

Published Date: November 21, 2016


Copenhagen is a six-month-old German Shepherd who lives in Bellevue, Nebraska. I was called in for a dog behavior training session a month ago to address his playing too rough and occasionally attacking his much smaller room mate, a 15 year old Westie. These issues were a result of a complication that occurred after being neutered and his guardian not being able to exercise or socialize him.

A week before the session, Cope was chewing on a chair in the back yard and got his mouth stuck. When his guardian managed to free him, he was all worked up and probably scarred. He got physical with his guardian in the process. He did bite her without breaking skin, but the whole ordeal has resulted in some uneasiness. Copenhagen was in dire need of some puppy obedience training.

When I arrived for the session, Copenhagen was in his kennel as he had just gotten into a fight with Yoda, his Westie room mate. Cope was repeatedly putting his paw on Yoda’s back and when Yoda tried to connect him, the Shepherd took things too far so his guardian put him into the kennel to cool down.

This encounter is a microcosm of the primary issue; due to his post surgery complication, Cope lost out on valuable socialization experience. During the recovery period, the guardian was not able to walk Cope (The injury impacted his neck preventing use of a collar) or get him around other dogs. What were minor problems before are now getting close to dangerous as Cope has grown so much; physically controlling him is becoming more challenging.

I sat down with his guardian and Yoda to discuss where things were so I could determine how I could best help everyone.

I started out by showing the guardian how to incorporate a little structure into mundane daily tasks like letting the dog out the door or playing fetch. I also recommended that she stop free feeding the dog as eating is such a primally important activity in dog social circles. Asking Cope to sit and wait for permission to eat, with food in his bowl, is another example.

I also wanted to go over things for the guardian to watch out for when Cope is playing with Yoda. Just like humans, dogs can sometimes get over excited or worked up to such an extent that they take things too far. I spent a couple of minutes highlighting things that she should not allow Cope to do with Yoda.

Knowing what to watch for will go a long ways towards helping the guardian know when she needs to intercede and stop Cope and Yoda’s play flighting before it turns into the real thing.

Its a good bet that his fights with Yoda were more a result of Cope wanting the little, elderly dog to play with him more intensely than possible. Being a puppy, he simply wouldn’t take no for an answer.

About this time, Cope started getting a little vocal in the kennel. His guardian asked if she should let him out but I asked her to let me do it instead. I wanted to show her how to incorporate a pause into this activity too.

It seems really simple, but asking the dog to briefly wait before being given permission to engage in repetitive tasks like being released from the kennel can go a long ways towards helping Cope learn to develop self control.

After a couple of minutes, Cope started to get excited and animated again. I knew that I needed to help him release all this pent up energy before I would really be able to help him so I threw on some roller blades and took Cope out for what I like to call Dog skiing. 20 minutes later, Cope and I returned to his home with us both a little winded.

I gave him a couple of minutes to recover and catch his breath before I started working with him again. Because German Shepherds are known for their intensity, I wanted to introduce something that the guardian can use to tap into this power; the Focus exercise.

Cope wasn’t super interested at first. Some of this is likely his age and how easily distracted he was. But with a little patience and coaxing, I was able to get him to start following along. After a couple of minutes, we shifted gears and I had his guardian leading the exercise with Cope.

Im hoping that as he continues to practice, Cope will get dialed in to the Focus exercise. If he continues to be easily distracted, the guardian may need to look for alternate treats or a different kind of reward. Some dogs prefer to chase or bite a ball, others would prefer a game of tug. Finding the right reward for your dog is key to any training as the guardian or dog trainer must identify what it is that motivates a dog in order to help them.

If the guardian can teach Cope to master the Focus exercise, it will be a powerful tool that she can use to redirect his attention. If she sees signs of distress or that Cope is going he wrong way and she can stop and practice a little Focus, she will be able to guide him away from trouble before it starts.

The key is to master the exercise inside first so that the dog is consistently reliably reactive to it. Only then will the guardian be able to use it in situations where Cope is stimulated or distracted.

Now that Cope was sufficiently exercised and his human was comfortable with the Focus exercise, we headed outside for a little leash training. I knew I needed to give the guardian some options to exercise Cope. Additionally, walking a dog in a controlled way can go a long way towards helping the dog develop respect for her as an authority figure.

I pulled out a Martingale collar and showed the guardian how to apply the special twist of the leash to give her more control. I also went over some leash training tips to help her better communicate and lead Cope when on walks.

Cope responded really well to the new collar and technique so we headed out for a real walk so that the guardian could put the leash training into a real world application. Teaching a dog to walk with a loose leash is one of the most beneficial skills a dog can learn.

The guardian let out a couple of “wow’s” on the walk, marveling at how much of an improvement she was seeing in her dog. I always love hearing these sort of comments from clients when they see what their dog is capable of. She went on to tell me that this was the first time she walked Cope where she was confident in the control she had. We must be supremely confident with our dogs in order for them to feel confident in our leadership.

While the Martingale collar helped quite a bit, so did the work we did in the house before we even started any leash training. Even as we were getting ready to leave for the walk, each time Cope started to get excited, we slowed down or stopped until he returned to a calm state. That combined with the focus exercise and pausing at other times he started to get excited all contributed to his nice balanced energy for the walk.

While this walk was a success, we did not run into any dogs on the street and this was still a concern for me. Being such a big and powerful dog, Cope’s guardian will be in for a real challenge if he decided he wants to go after a dog they encounter.

Since Cope had gone after his own guardian in their back yard when worked up with the chair incident, I had a real concern that he may engage in some redirected aggression if he is unable to get to a dog he is reacting to.

I pondered this problem as we walked back to his home. When Cope popped a squat on the floor to catch his breath, I chatted with his guardian about dog socialization options.

The neighbors who border Cope’s back yard all have yippy dogs behind a fence and this had most certainly been a contributing factor. Because he wasn’t able to see or interact with them, Cope had started to grow frustrated and was now acting out in what sounded like an aggression to his guardian.

Socializing a young puppy is one of the most important developmental elements needed for a puppy to grow up into a confident and well adjusted adult dog. Going for so long without any interaction with similar sized dogs had negatively affected Cope in multiple ways.

I was about to suggest that we set up some dog play dates with my dogs when Cope’s guardian mentioned that he was able to hang out with some dogs without incident at a great local dog daycare facility in Omaha; Dogtopia.

I strongly recommended that the guardian enroll Cope into daily day care at Dogtopia during he week for the next month or two. This will accomplish multiple things; get Cope some much needed socialization experience, but it will also give him the ability to play at an intensity level appropriate for a dog his size.

Because Dogtopia supervises their dogs closely and conducts assessment tests before admitting any new dog, this will be the perfect environment to drain Cope’s excess energy and re-acclimate him to socializing and playing with other dogs.

By the end of the session, Copenhagen was starting to get used to waiting for his guardian’s permission before going in and out of doors, was starting to figure out the focus exercise and behaving mush better on walks due to the leash training.

I asked Copenhagen’s guardian to practice the Focus exercise a few times a day (10-15 treats each time) until he really has it down pat. At that point the guardian can start slowing down the second step (threat delivery stage) until she can maintain his focus for a good 20 seconds. This will likely take a couple of weeks of practice, but the guardian should notice improvements nearly every day.

If the guardian can find and practice the pauses in a multitude of ways during daily activities combined with regular walks and daily dog day care for the next 6-8 weeks, Im optimistic that Cope will develop more control and respect for his guardian. Mastering these skills should put a stop to his physical interactions and help his guardian feel more confident with her interactions with Cope.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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