Teaching a German Shepherd to Respect the Family’s Mother

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 12, 2016

Ford at 1 yr

Ford is a one-year-old German Shepherd that I worked with in May of 2015. Lately Ford has stopped responding to the family’s mother so they asked me to drop by and change that.

Ford barked in an alerting fashion before the door was opened, then gave me a thorough investigation with his nose.

I always start out my sessions by discussing the dog’s day-to-day routine with its guardians. This gives me an opportunity to observe the dog while also evaluating what the dog needs versus what his guardians are providing. In this case, it quickly became clear that Ford was not getting the amount of exercise that he needed.

On average, a dog that is under two years old needs a good 45 minutes of exercise every day at a minimum. Because Ford’s family has a couple of young children, his parents attention has obviously been diverted elsewhere.

I made a couple of suggestions as to alternatives to a traditional walk. I am a big proponent of what I call a dogskiing; having a dog pull you while on a harness while the human is on rollerblades or a skateboard. This gives the a dog the ability to pull as much as it wants and to go for as long as it needs. The bonus for the human is you can usually burn three times the amount of energy as a traditional walking, so the time needed is far less. An added bonus, is it’s one heck of a lot of fun.

Over the course of the session, I witnessed multiple activities or encounters that would be much easier to deal with if the dog was getting the amount of exercise he needs. I always tell my clients, “the dog’s energy is going to come out somehow. Either you can decide where, or they can.”

Another great way to burn excess energy is to take the dog out for a game of fetch. When I mentioned this to Ford’s guardians, they said that the problem was Ford didn’t consistently bring back the ball, and when he did he didn’t drop it.

I spent the next few minutes going over some basics of the fetch as well as how to reward the dog so that he dropped the ball on his own.

One of the mistakes Ford’s guardians had made was trying to take the ball from him before rewarding him. For many dogs this will trigger a guarding response. In Ford’s case, this caused him to snatch the ball away whenever possible or be reluctant to drop it in the first place.

By rewarding the dog and marking the various steps of the fetching exercise with the command word, the families mother was able to get him to fetch and drop the ball within a matter of minutes.

After we finished the fetch, I made a number of suggestions to the family’s mother to help her reassume the leadership position in the dog’s eyes. I had previously recommended that they practice my Petting with a purpose strategy, but she mentioned that she had not been doing that lately.

Petting with a purpose is one of the easiest things a dog guardian can do that has the biggest impact. Once it becomes habit, we do it without even thinking. But each time we do, we reinforce the leader follower dynamic that we want.

I also recommended that she start practicing the leadership exercise I showed her in our original session. It will be more effective if she practices this exercise when the families father is not around as the dog listens to him almost 100% of the time. It takes a little time but has big payoffs when mastered.

Another issue that I noticed both humans struggling with was defining their personal space. When the families father came in through the door, the dog jumped up on him in an excited fashion while the father petted the dog. Whenever you pet a dog, you are reinforcing whatever it is doing at the time. In this situation they were encouraging this excited mental state which makes it more difficult for the dog to listen and obey.

By simply stopping and ignoring the dog when it is in an excited state of mind and then promptly petting it when it settles down, we can communicate to the dog that the only way to get our attention is through good, calm behavior.

I spent a few minutes walking the mother through a simple stay exercise. This is probably one of the most underrated and underappreciated commands that a dog guardian can instill in their dog. Not only is the command extremely beneficial to apply, it helps the dog practice development of self-control.

To really master this exercise, I suggested that the mother practices it for a couple of minutes at a time, 2 to 4 times a day every day for a solid two weeks or until Ford will reliably every time. With some consistent practice, she will be able to get him to stay for longer periods of time and throughout distractions.

Another great way to get a dog to develop some self-control is to ask them to sit or wait before engaging in an activity that they are excited for. A great example of this is letting the dog outside. Anytime that Ford’s guardians opened a door, he dashed through it. I spent the next few minutes showing his guardians how to communicate that the dog needed to wait for permission before passing through an open door.

As we were finishing the door exercise, I noticed that there were some kibble remaining in the dog’s bowl. Another great way to help develop a healthy leader follower dynamic is to ask the dog to wait while food is in its bowl for permission to eat. This gives the human the ability to eat first which puts them in more of a leadership position.

Because the dog had been challenging or not listening to the family’s mother more than the father, I suggested that the mother be the exclusive food provider and to remove any remaining food after the dog walks away the first time.

By limiting the dog’s access to food, the humans develop dominion over this very primally important ritual. Because this activity is repeated multiple times a day every day, it’s a small exercise that can pay big dividends for the dog’s development of respect for the family’s mother.

To address Ford’s bad habit of chewing inappropriate items like shoes or a leather bound Bible, I recommended that the family invest in some appropriate hard chew items such as antlers (that are not split in half), rigid rawhides Nila bones, actual bones and a few water buffalo tusks. additionally providing the dog with good size sticks in the backyard can help provide another alternative to digging or getting into other trouble.

I also suggested that they practice leaving these items on the floor in the living room when they have time to give Ford their complete attention. By consistently disagreeing with the dog when it shows interest in these items, we can help the dog learn that they are to be left alone.

Towards the end of the session I had the family’s father leave the home and wait a few moments outside so that I could show the mother how she could control the doorway when guests arrive.

When dogs live in groups, security is typically handled by the senior ranking dog. Because Ford frequently beat his guardians to the door whenever there was a knock, the dog likely felt that was his job, giving him  the perception that he has more authority than he actually does.

I knew that if I showed the family’s mother how to take control of this activity, Ford will see her as more of an authority figure.

I recommended that the family’s father call or text his wife when he is on his way home or the next few weeks so that they can practice this door answering ritual. It will take a good 6 to 12 repetitions of successfully answering the door this way before the dog starts to defer to the family’s mother whenever there is a knock at the door.

In my estimation at least half of Ford’s unruly behavior is a result of having too much pent-up energy. If the family can arrange for a dog walker or dog skiing or other energy burning activity early in the day, they should see a noticeable improvement in his responsiveness and overall behavior.

By the end of the session the family’s mother felt like she had more tools in her toolbox to address Ford’s unruly behavior. I was encouraged to see the dog starting to show her more respect and attention.

As a petite woman with a nice, positive energy and a more soft-spoken voice, she was disadvantages as far as how dogs perceive authority. It will take consistent corrections with good timing as well as practice at the various techniques and exercises before she will be able to regain the dog’s respect for her as an authority figure. Once that is the case, his days of being obstinate or ignoring her should come to an end.

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