A Dog Reactive German Shepherd Learns to Relax and Meet a New Dog

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 28, 2015


Sasha is five-year-old German Shepherd who lives right on the water in Huntington Beach. Her owners contacted me for help with her increasing dog aggression after she was attacked by a Pitbill last October.

Sasha’s owners and I sat down on their back deck to discuss what they wanted to accomplish during the session. As we sat down, Sasha jumped up onto an oversized ottoman in front of us. I chuckled a little when her owners explained that was “her” seat. This ottoman was nearly as big as the couch we were sitting on and was directly in front us. Sasha had laid down, but while she was in a sitting position, her head was considerably higher than anyone else’s. This was an amazingly prime position amongst the group.

Because dogs associate their rank or place in the group with the height that which they sit, allowing Sasha to sit in such a prime position can give her a false indication of being in a leadership position. When you have a dog that has become reactive, one of my preferred rehabilitation methods is to help the dog see its owners in a leadership position. This is a gradual process, but over time the dog learns to defer to their leadership and resign themselves that their owners will control the situation meaning that they don’t have to.

A great way to start to change this leader follower dynamic is to add rules, boundaries and structure to the dog’s life. these restraints help the dog practice self control and they rowers practice leading, rewording and correcting the dogs.

After suggesting some rules, boundaries and structure, I went over a few exercises to help eliminate some unwanted behaviors. One of this was over barking at the door when guests arrived. I stepped outside to play the part of a guest knocking at the door and ran into the neighbor from next door returning from a walk with her dog.

I had wanted to see how reactive Sasha was so I asked if the neighbor would help us out by walking on the public lawn next to the side of Sasha’s owner’s back porch. After we finished practicing the guest knocking exercise, we went back on the the back porch of the house and sat down. At first Sasha didn’t recognize that the dog was there, but as soon as she did, she started to get excited, unleashing a barrage of barks.

She rushed over to the fence to get closer to the neighbor’s dog while continuing to bark. While the action was swift, the bark had more of an alarming tone than aggression or territoriality. It sounded to me more frustrated.

I stood up, made a sound to disagree then walked over to where Sasha was standing, passing the dog then turning so that my back was to the fence. I marched directly at Sasha who immediately backed away. Once she was about ten feet away, I stopped and paused for a moment. Sasha stayed in place so I took a few deliberate steps back towards the fence. When I got to the gate, Sasha had stayed in place and her energy level had gone down. She wasn’t completely calm, but she was far calmer.

I opened the gate ready to correct Sasha if she attempted to rush it, but she stayed in place. I could see her nose flaring and she raised her head slightly trying to get a sniff of the dog who had settled down himself. I hadn’t expected to do so, but Sasha wasn’t giving me any uncomfortable body language so I decided to bring the neighbor don inside. To make sure things went well I placed Sasha on a leash before letting he neighbor and dog in.

After some supervised and leash restrained interaction, it was clear that Sash’a reaction was one of frustration of inability to sniff and really meet this strange dog. I had the neighbor let her dog off the leash while keeping Sasha next to me. The other dog started out by sniffing at Sasha as I had her sitting next to me. When Sasha realized this and turned to sniff the other dog, it scurried under the ottoman.

Over the next few minutes the dogs ebbed and flowed closer and away while maintaining a calm energy level. Once I was completely convinced that Sasha wasn’t stressed, dominant or aggressive, I dropped her leash. She moved over near the neighbor’s dog but gave her a respectful amount of space. Over the next 10 minutes the conga grew more comfortable with one another until they were hanging out right next to each other without incident.

Sasha Meets Neighbor

This was the closest the dogs had ever been together and never this calm Sasha’s owners told me. By taking our time, providing the right structure and guidance we were able to help Sasha learn to greet and get to know a dog, in the dog way again. While this is a big step and shows what Sasha can accomplish, it is not the end of her dog issues. Her owners need to practice and master the basics inside their home before they are ready to take the next step and start introducing Sasha to new dogs in a controlled ands structured way.

By the end of the session, Sasha was far calmer, she was responsive to her owners commands and corrections and ready for a nap. We threw a lot at her today and she showed us what she can become. Now its up to her owners to continue the progress we made in the session so these changes become life long improvements.

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This post was written by: David Codr