The first thing I had to understand was that dogs like to have direction. Being social is imprinted in their genetics. Our role as the human is to understand how to build a relationship of trust and communication by guiding the way. A dog needs to learn what behaviour is acceptable and what is not. Whilst in every household the rules will vary, essentially we all wish for the same good behaviour. (To not jump up, to not snatch food, to not bite, to not excessively bark etc.) I had to realise that I was not being ‘mean’ by giving my dog commands and having expectations.
When I adopted Nero, it was obvious that although coming across to passers by as confident within himself (with his deep barks and fierce lunges) that he was actually the contrary . It was vital that I began to build the bond of trust as quickly as possible, especially as he was such a powerful breed with known aggressive behaviour. The whole ‘dominance theory’ ideology does not mean using force or fear tactics to train your dog. A misconception in the dog training world is that ruling by fear is the same as ruling by dominance. It isn’t. Training by fear is physical and mental intimidation – something that angers and disgusts me. Ruling by dominance is practicing leadership skills that your dog understands and reinforcing those skills by setting boundaries and limitations that your dog abides by. It all comes down to being the boss. A good boss is respectable, trustworthy, calm and confident.
Walking your way.
Your dog taking you for a walk is not exactly the most pleasant of experiences. Have you ever noticed a passer-by walking effortlessly with a slack leash and their dog happily trotting next to them and wondered how on earth they managed it? I found myself becoming ‘the girl who stared at dogs ‘when I initially began training Nero. No matter where I was – in the car, tram, bus, on my bike, at work – if I saw a dog walk past I would silently study everything and decide whom I thought was the leader out of the human or dog. When on leash, a dog should be trotting next to or behind you but never in front of you. It certainly should never be pulling you down the road as it tears towards the next interesting smell.
Just as you would teach children manners you can teach your dog etiquette. By enforcing simple things such as walking through doorways before your dog, making them wait for food and attaching the leash only when they are calm will work wonders. I implement these rules every single day. Being the leader is a full time responsibility. You can not expect your dog to be consistent if you are not. Now when I take Nero to the city for the day, It’s a great feeling when people compliment me on how well he listens to me and how calm and comfortable he is with his surroundings.
Jumping up at you and your guests is a common sign of over-excitement. A dog should greet gently or wait patiently when people are entering or leaving the house. If jumping up is not addressed, it can lead to further behaviour issues. Plus it’s annoying if you’ve got a new pair of ridiculously expensive tights that become a scratch post or a dog with muddy paws happily customising your favourite pair of jeans. To begin with, Nero jumped up when we would arrive home. Now he quietly sniffs and greets you with a swishing tail (and usually a groin head butt – it’s how Nero says hello.) Have your dog sit and wait in a designated area ( I use Nero’s bed as his go-to) when guests arrive. You can teach this by claiming your space as explained in my previous post then use basic commands to show your dog what you want them to do. It’s as easy as that.
Try not to greet your dog or shower them with affection when you come through the door or leave to go out. This will only emphasise that urge to jump up (as you are rewarding that behaviour) and may even trigger anxiety and separation problems. The best thing you can do is actually ignore your furry friend until they are in a calm, relaxed state. If they continue to jump up at you, just turn away to ‘block’them. Once they are relaxed then give as much affection as you wish. That is positive reinforcement for good behaviour and your dog will quickly catch on to this.
A calm leader is a respected leader.
Energy is everything in dog world! Mastering and projecting calm energy is something I struggled with to begin with. After reading many books and visiting local behaviourists who practice this ideology, I began to understand how much my mood affected Nero’s. Pushing your emotions aside,especially when you are dealing with a reactive dog is easier said than done. Nero had fear serious fear aggression issues and holding on to a barking, lunging GSD soon became humiliating. As humans, we learn to expect an outcome from our previous experiences. If your dog bit another dog, chances are you are still recovering from that event and are already pre-empting it happening again. Your dog senses everything. From a slight tightening on the leash to a tremor in your voice and weak body language. Remain calm and practice projecting that energy as much as possible.
House rules and following through.
In our house we have a very strict code that Nero lives by every single day. If you want a pet to be proud of make sure you stick to whatever house rules you agree on implementing. Everyone who lives in your house should be on the same page and practice the same procedure so the dog knows exactly what is expected.
For example, Nero is not allowed in the kitchen when we are preparing food. I don’t want to entice him by allowing him near easy to reach snacks. Also the kitchen is a dangerous place with sharp knives and hot dishes. He eats after his walk and after the humans. This is routine and makes it easy for me to schedule feeding times. He isn’t allowed to climb on any furniture – although he still wipes his chops on the sofa when we aren’t looking. Nero isn’t allowed upstairs. This is mainly due to the stereo-typical steep Dutch staircases and the common problem of hip dysplasia in German Shepherds. Every household is different, so you should make rules that apply to your personal situation. Remember that these rules are to make life easier for both you and your dog. They will help create a structured balance that allows you to live the way you want with the dog you have.