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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My husband and I have a 4 year old White German Shepherd who has slowly become more aggressive over the past couple years. We took him to a dog behaviorist almost two years ago. He acted fine for the behaviorist, but as soon as we were home he would bark and try to bite strangers all over again. I think he's very territorial. We have moved him several times since we've adopted him as a puppy and I wonder if that has messed with him. We don't live anywhere near other behaviorists that would be willing to come to where I live & help me train my dog. I believe my shepherd feels he is the alpha in the household & has to protect me at all times; he doesn't see my husband as the alpha at all. His behavior is manageable in the house, but once we go outside and he sees strangers we never know what he is going to do. Sometimes he calms down and others he won't stop barking. Originally it was just men he would bark at, now it's everyone. I need tips or any advice possible. My husband and I are at our wits end we love our dog & don't want to see anything bad happen to him.
 

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This has nothing to do with someone being alpha or someone not being alpha. If you want to read more: http://www.dogforum.com/training-behavior-stickies/dominance-dogs-4076/ and in case you're using corrections: http://www.dogforum.com/training-behavior-stickies/suppression-modification-shutdown-fallout-4776/

I would strongly recommend you contact a qualified behavior consultant. You might find one closer or more willing to work with you than you think. Try these links here, starting top to bottom for professionals: http://www.dogforum.com/training-be...ainer-behavior-consultant-behaviorist-113946/

In the meantime, no more taking him on outings--he's probably more stressed by them than you realize--until you have pro eyes/hands on the situation. It's also a huge liability and a risk to your dog and others. Good luck.
 

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You'll find that speaking of 'alpha dogs' on this forum isn't really useful, it's a myth that dogs are trying to dominate people and take over the world. You'll find info on that in the stickies. You'll also find in the rules that we advocate strongly for a very specific type of behaviourist, one that uses counter conditioning and positive reinforcement alone (no corrections!) to not confuse the dog and to make progress.

Aggression in dogs is most often caused by fear-fear of someone harming them, fear of someone breaking in, or new situations and not understanding what is expected. Since this problem is getting worse and not better, I'm going to guess you are 'correcting' him when he is being aggressive. Not only does this correction-based method remove his warning signals (growling is a good warning that a dog will bite! he may be too scared to growl and warn now!), but it will escalate the problem-as you've said, it used to be only men, but now is generalized to EVERYONE is scary.

What you want to do is something called counter-conditioning-where you condition the dog to LIKE people again, and not feel threatened. In this way, he's able to stop barking and alerting you to the danger that lies ahead-unfamiliar human beings. It sounds really counter intuitive-why should you reward your dog for barking? But you can't reinforce fear with treats. You CAN reinforce fear by making things scarier, and using pain. Shepherds in general are VERY sensitive dogs and it's common for them to have genes that make them more sensitive and fearful when they are truly afraid.

Territorial aggression is different, and I don't think you actually have that as the main problem. The main problem is that your dog was not socialized to unfamiliar humans, and is reacting poorly, or out of fear...this is called human reactivity. There's a whole sticky post on the topic, and a thread where we update our progress and exchange support (it's a common problem!). I think taking a look there is a good start, as well as the thread on finding a behaviourist that is appropriate. :) Some behaviorists will aid over the phone/email if they can and use video and the like to work on issues as much as possible.

You may also consider a muzzle for your walks, to prevent any damage from occurring while you work on this issue. No big crowds.
 

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Sorry for the double post. Just wanted to say @crock managed to share about half the links I was referring you to :) Sorry I was being lazy, but also good timing crock! Lol.
 

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He is probably cutting you a break because you are not threatening him. You really don't want to mess around with dominance crap in a dog like a shepherd that is bred for courage and human aggression, if necessary. I know that a lot of "behaviour consultants" might tell you otherwise... but they are not the ones with a D.V.M. in Animal Behavior. And likely... they aren't the ones who have to make peace with a 120 lb dog! Heaven forbid you try to alpha roll a dog like this; you can easily with up with ~100 stitches in the face.

It happens a lot that people make it their mission to assert dominance over their dog by carrying out basically what is horrible doggy etiquette: staring the dog down, shouting at them in an intimidating voice, swiping stuff from them without asking and physically confronting them. The result is a very edgy and defensive dog. If/when the dog realizes that they are physically capable of taking you down... it escalates to outright dangerous.

The bright side is... these are very bright, attentive dogs that learn obscenely fast. If I had to bet, probably part of the reason you're experiencing such problems in the first place is because he is taking the behaviour of all the humans around him very seriously and using it straightaway to determine the courses of action he'll take in the future. As a result, he might have been smart enough to figure out that though the 'behaviourist' managed to cow him, that not everyone can project such an intimidating, threatening presence to fully control his behaviour. And just as well, with patience and the expertise of a qualified behaviourist you should be able to undo his anxieties and insecurities surrounding strangers.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Kenneling?

Thanks I looked at the list of trainers and at least found a couple that are going 2 be an hour away from where my husband and I are moving soon. There really are very few trainers in Iowa! The reason I said that alpha stuff is because our last trainer said that was the problem. He did not have us stare our dog down, but he did say to make him stop we should make a loud noise & startle him - which thinking about it probably just made him worse because he was already scared and anxious, yelling or clapping my hands loudly isn't going to help.

What are your thoughts about putting my dog in his kennel when he has acted badly? that is one thing our trainer had us do is say 'too bad' & put Cy in his kennel. This doesn't seem to do much as we have been trying it for over a year. Should we just stop doing that?
 

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If something isn't working (crating him) then stop. The trainer you used before was wrong and made your problem worse. Unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer and even a behaviorist. It's an unregulated profession and the proliferation of unqualified trainers has increased tremendously in the last ten years. Read the link about how to find a trainer.

Some behaviorists will do phone consultations. It's not ideal but if you can't find one who will come to you, then you might try to find someone who will meet you halfway or will work with you via phone. You may have to video the behaviors you're seeing. If you meet up or have a phone consultation, both you and your husband need to be active participants.

This is a great site and you might take a look at it to get some insight and advice with your dog. Good luck.

Care for Reactive Dogs
 

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Thanks I looked at the list of trainers and at least found a couple that are going 2 be an hour away from where my husband and I are moving soon. There really are very few trainers in Iowa! The reason I said that alpha stuff is because our last trainer said that was the problem. He did not have us stare our dog down, but he did say to make him stop we should make a loud noise & startle him - which thinking about it probably just made him worse because he was already scared and anxious, yelling or clapping my hands loudly isn't going to help.

What are your thoughts about putting my dog in his kennel when he has acted badly? that is one thing our trainer had us do is say 'too bad' & put Cy in his kennel. This doesn't seem to do much as we have been trying it for over a year. Should we just stop doing that?
While I do like negative punishment in certain situations (i.e. taking a dog home for blowing off a recall at the park), they are only effective when your dog has some sort of control over his actions. What you have here is a dog that thinks he has to defend his family from scary strangers with his life, so chances are he's too wound up to try and change his behaviour on his own initiative.

Further, if he associates his kennel with safety and comfort... he probably doesn't half mind going there because he just needs to be away from what's scaring him.


The key here is to understand that your dog really can't consciously control his reaction toward strangers. When he sees them he just goes into 'fight or flight' panic mode. As dogs are not the best runners around (compared to creatures who share their environment like deer and their predators, large cats and wolves), you can imagine that from a survival standpoint their best defence is the offence: that is why their gut reaction is often to make a ton of noise, puff up, and start snapping. Even if they don't think themselves capable of fighting their opponent, they might at least scare or injure it.

Basically what a veterinary behaviourist would do is brainwash your dog. Since we can't change their reaction to fear, we have to change what they are afraid of. This type of training is known commonly as counter-conditioning or behavioural alteration training (BAT). It works on the premise that if we can associate those scary things with positive stuff like food, praise and comfort, that we can change our dog's attitude toward that, and their behaviour will follow. Often distance is the variable in this type of training. A behaviourist might, say, take your dog out to a field and start him off with a stranger standing 200 feet away from them. Using the dog's body language as a meter, they judge the dog's attitude and basically reinforce any desirable behaviour (such as not barking or lunging) with treats. When the dog can happily and calmly be around strangers at 200 feet, they might bump that down to 150 feet, 100 feet, 10 feet and so on.

You can more info on these sorts off approaches at the official BAT website: Official Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) site: humane help for aggression, frustration, and fear in dogs, horses, and other animals.

Also, www.fearfuldogs.com is another really popular resource around this forum for those dealing with problems like fear aggression and reactivity.
 

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While I do like negative punishment in certain situations (i.e. taking a dog home for blowing off a recall at the park), they are only effective when your dog has some sort of control over his actions. What you have here is a dog that thinks he has to defend his family from scary strangers with his life, so chances are he's too wound up to try and change his behaviour on his own initiative.

Further, if he associates his kennel with safety and comfort... he probably doesn't half mind going there because he just needs to be away from what's scaring him.


The key here is to understand that your dog really can't consciously control his reaction toward strangers. When he sees them he just goes into 'fight or flight' panic mode. As dogs are not the best runners around (compared to creatures who share their environment like deer and their predators, large cats and wolves), you can imagine that from a survival standpoint their best defence is the offence: that is why their gut reaction is often to make a ton of noise, puff up, and start snapping. Even if they don't think themselves capable of fighting their opponent, they might at least scare or injure it.

Basically what a veterinary behaviourist would do is brainwash your dog. Since we can't change their reaction to fear, we have to change what they are afraid of. This type of training is known commonly as counter-conditioning or behavioural alteration training (BAT). It works on the premise that if we can associate those scary things with positive stuff like food, praise and comfort, that we can change our dog's attitude toward that, and their behaviour will follow. Often distance is the variable in this type of training. A behaviourist might, say, take your dog out to a field and start him off with a stranger standing 200 feet away from them. Using the dog's body language as a meter, they judge the dog's attitude and basically reinforce any desirable behaviour (such as not barking or lunging) with treats. When the dog can happily and calmly be around strangers at 200 feet, they might bump that down to 150 feet, 100 feet, 10 feet and so on.

You can more info on these sorts off approaches at the official BAT website: Official Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) site: humane help for aggression, frustration, and fear in dogs, horses, and other animals.

Also, www.fearfuldogs.com is another really popular resource around this forum for those dealing with problems like fear aggression and reactivity.
I think this is a slightly confusing. At least it confused me a bit. lol We can change a dog's emotion from fearful to not fearful. A behaviorist should show an owner how to counter condition. It's not really brainwashing though I know that's just a semantics issue. It's all about creating a conditioned emotional response. Very Pavlovian and very effective once it's fully understood. It's not as easy as it sounds and help from a qualified professional is very helpful when getting started.


Here's a helpful guide to some of the terminology tossed around that can get confusing.

ClickerSolutions Training Articles -- A Beginner's Guide to Operant Conditioning
 

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You'll find that speaking of 'alpha dogs' on this forum isn't really useful, it's a myth that dogs are trying to dominate people and take over the world. You'll find info on that in the stickies. You'll also find in the rules that we advocate strongly for a very specific type of behaviourist, one that uses counter conditioning and positive reinforcement alone (no corrections!) to not confuse the dog and to make progress.

Aggression in dogs is most often caused by fear-fear of someone harming them, fear of someone breaking in, or new situations and not understanding what is expected. Since this problem is getting worse and not better, I'm going to guess you are 'correcting' him when he is being aggressive. Not only does this correction-based method remove his warning signals (growling is a good warning that a dog will bite! he may be too scared to growl and warn now!), but it will escalate the problem-as you've said, it used to be only men, but now is generalized to EVERYONE is scary.

What you want to do is something called counter-conditioning-where you condition the dog to LIKE people again, and not feel threatened. In this way, he's able to stop barking and alerting you to the danger that lies ahead-unfamiliar human beings. It sounds really counter intuitive-why should you reward your dog for barking? But you can't reinforce fear with treats. You CAN reinforce fear by making things scarier, and using pain. Shepherds in general are VERY sensitive dogs and it's common for them to have genes that make them more sensitive and fearful when they are truly afraid.

Territorial aggression is different, and I don't think you actually have that as the main problem. The main problem is that your dog was not socialized to unfamiliar humans, and is reacting poorly, or out of fear...this is called human reactivity. There's a whole sticky post on the topic, and a thread where we update our progress and exchange support (it's a common problem!). I think taking a look there is a good start, as well as the thread on finding a behaviourist that is appropriate. :) Some behaviorists will aid over the phone/email if they can and use video and the like to work on issues as much as possible.

You may also consider a muzzle for your walks, to prevent any damage from occurring while you work on this issue. No big crowds.

Thank you for this. I wish I had found this place years ago.
 

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Thanks I looked at the list of trainers and at least found a couple that are going 2 be an hour away from where my husband and I are moving soon. There really are very few trainers in Iowa!
Awesome! You'll find having one on one help from an actually qualified/certified/educated behavior consultant will really help with the progress. In the meantime, Grabby gave you a great link, and here is one more http://www.dogforum.com/training-be...y-leash-aggression-barrier-frustration-12538/


The reason I said that alpha stuff is because our last trainer said that was the problem. He did not have us stare our dog down, but he did say to make him stop we should make a loud noise & startle him - which thinking about it probably just made him worse because he was already scared and anxious, yelling or clapping my hands loudly isn't going to help.
Yep, you got it. :)

What are your thoughts about putting my dog in his kennel when he has acted badly? that is one thing our trainer had us do is say 'too bad' & put Cy in his kennel. This doesn't seem to do much as we have been trying it for over a year. Should we just stop doing that?
I wouldn't bother with crating. a) like Grabby said, if it hasn't worked, no point in continuing. b) What is "badly?" Ya know? If the dog is reacting, he's above threshold and way too stressed out to take in any life lessons. c) Plus, any form of punishment (even what seems mild to us like putting him in a crate or taking away freedom) isn't going to help improve associations with whatever he is reacting to. d) The crate should be a good, safe place to go--not a dungeon. e) both positive (which we don't recommend) and negative (which may be appropriate sometimes) punishment need to happen pretty much immediately for it to make sense to animals--consider how much time elapses between a "bad" behavior and putting them in a crate.

For clarification of what we mean by positive/negative punishment/reinforcement: http://www.dogforum.com/training-behavior-stickies/4-quadrants-operant-conditioning-23702/

While I do like negative punishment in certain situations (i.e. taking a dog home for blowing off a recall at the park),
Not to side track, but so the OP doesn't get confused, this is actually an ineffective use of negative punishment. Back to e) above, consider the time (and actions) that will elapse between the recall cue, the blow off, either going to get the dog or waiting for him to come back, and then leaving the park. Dog's not gonna "get it."

Additionally, whether the dog finally comes back or you've gone to get him, you want that contact to be positive. If the former, you don't want your approach to start to mean you're leaving the park, ie something bad, unless you want a dog who is going to dodge you even longer. If the latter, he should be rewarded for coming back because he did recall, albeit slowly. If it wasn't fast enough, set him up for success in a different context and train for speed.

A better example of using negative punishment with positive reinforcement is if your dog is being jumpy at you (excitedly). If he's jumping, you look or turn away and ignore (removal of what he wants to decrease the behavior). As soon as you hear "four on the floor," you give him back your attention (addition of what he wants to increase the behavior).
 

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One thing that nobody seems to have said yet (forgive me if I missed it) is that your dog needs to be allowed ZERO access to strangers until this is under control. Biting someone could end up getting your dog euthanized. So for now, he is leashed or crated or put behind a closed (and locked) door before the front door opens. Or side doors, for that matter. If people are coming over to visit, he's crated or locked in another room.

I would also strongly advise getting him a basket muzzle for walks and such. If properly introduced, muzzles do not stress out dogs, and it will keep people safe from him as well as keep him safe from being labeled a dangerous dog.
 

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One thing that nobody seems to have said yet (forgive me if I missed it) is that your dog needs to be allowed ZERO access to strangers until this is under control. Biting someone could end up getting your dog euthanized. So for now, he is leashed or crated or put behind a closed (and locked) door before the front door opens. Or side doors, for that matter. If people are coming over to visit, he's crated or locked in another room.

I would also strongly advise getting him a basket muzzle for walks and such. If properly introduced, muzzles do not stress out dogs, and it will keep people safe from him as well as keep him safe from being labeled a dangerous dog.

I'm pretty sure crock said that in her first post as far as not giving him access to strangers. It's good to reinforce the point though because it is a big liability.
 

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Yep I did, @SavageDestiny but not in the detail that you did since I was hoping a pro would be out soon. Good that you covered it again, esp the basket muzzle if the owners plan on trying some of the work now before they move closer to a trainer.

OP, I will try to post some videos showing how do get your dog to happily wear a muzzle in case you do need to take him out.
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Condition your dog to the muzzle first.

Also, while the muzzle will prevent biting, it won't prevent fear or aggression. So you still need the sessions with the behaviorist, the muzzle is just a stopgap measure to prevent disaster before you can get help.
 
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