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Discussion Starter #1
Hi guys,

I've been trying to read as much as I can online and books and everywhere I can
think of to find a solution to my issue with no success. I am actually getting more confused. Probably a direct question to my issue might give a better insight, or my best bet will be to call in a specialist.

Me and my girlfriend recently got a German Shepard. She is 1+ years old. She belonged to my girfriend's aunt who was confined to a wheel chair since she was around 7 weeks old. Then the dog had to be taken to a foster home (with a second aunt) who had 3 other male dogs and boys around the house. Now, we are not sure if she was abused or not by anyone in the family but the dog is completely afraid of tall males.

We have been trying to desensitize her (reading up online, asking other friend dog owners for techniques) so I initially started getting her used to me while I was sitting down, then little by little I would stand up and walk around the house ignoring her. We were doing really good.. At some point we got her to get treats from my hand and even allow me to pet her while I was standing up. She was showing great potential. One thing we always noticed is that the dog would not play with me if my girlfriend was not anywhere near or visible.

But suddenly everything started taking a turn really quickly. In the last couple of days she suddenly started getting really aggressive towards me for no reason, almost bite me three times in one day. I try to walk into a room where she and my girlfriend are and she starts barking at me really angrily, at some point she did put herself into a position ready to jump at me. I know I am not helping the situation but I am starting to get scared of her. Especially when she is upstairs and I am walking up towards her.

Help! Any ideas? Should we follow Don Sullivan's technique of having my girlfriend start correcting her aggressively? Should I start forcing my self as the alpha in the group even though I am not sure if she is still barking at me with fear or she might feel confident enough to treat me as a follower. Is there any other thing I might be missing.

Any help will be greatly appreciated.
 

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I hate that Alpha BS. It makes people more afraid and reactive. It sounds like the dog is guarding your girlfriend. If the GF starts aggressively correcting the dog, chances are it may backfire (your presence = getting in trouble) Best thing to do, is if the dog starts getting stiff and guardy - the girlfriend gets up and leaves the room, giving the dog nothing to "guard". You might also find a positive reinforcement based trainer (NOT in the Don Sullivan vein) and start doing some clicker training with her yourself,. If she won't take high value (not milk bones or kibble) treats from your hand, toss them to her. One of the lovely things about clicker training is you don't have to invade the dog's space. If you try the old "I am Alpha" thing, you are very likely to make matters worse and get yourself bit. Do NOT punish a dog for growling - growling and other lower levels of expressing discomfort is an important communication. Take that away and you may end up with a dog who bites without giving lower level warning, because those don't work.
 

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I thoroughly agree with Pawzk9. If you push the alpha business, you or your girlfriend are going to get hurt. I think, given your description, that the dog is resource guarding your girlfriend. RG is a very common issue in dogs. There's a book called "mine!" that is great.

Now, I would say that you should find a positive behaviorist, try iaabc.org, to help you. That's a big dog with existing issues and you need professional help.

In the meantime, do not confront the dog. Ever. At all. The dog gets like that, back off. Take really high value treats like hot dog pieces or bits of cheese or cooked chicken and start tossing them at the dog. Your goal is to teach the dog that she doesn't lose your girlfriend, she keeps the girlfriend and gets yummy treats- yay! people getting near the girlfriend is awesome! With my dog and bones, it took 3 days, but he didn't have the other issues your dog does.

Good luck.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Great info.. I will keep it in mind. I will start looking at the clicker training thing. I do notice you guys mention giving or keeping treats around. The other issue is that this dog is not treat oriented. I guess our best bet is to get a specialist to come out. Thank you.
 

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Great info.. I will keep it in mind. I will start looking at the clicker training thing. I do notice you guys mention giving or keeping treats around. The other issue is that this dog is not treat oriented. I guess our best bet is to get a specialist to come out. Thank you.
Definitely get a specialist out to help you, just make sure they're positive oriented, not just using the word "positive".

As for treats, not all dogs are treat oriented. Some are more oriented by a particular toy or game. If that is true of your dog, just replace "treat" with "gives frisbee" or "throws tennis ball" and clicker training will work just as well for you. "treat" in clicker training really means "reward" and a reward is whatever your dog finds rewarding. It doesn't really matter what it is.

That being said, there are two other issues. 1. Maybe you haven't found the right treat. If you haven't tried hot dogs, cheese, chicken, etc., try them and see. Also work with the dog when she's hungry as opposed to right after a meal. 2. If the dog is over threshold, no reward will work. Imagine being so frightened that all you can do is scream and kick. If I offered you your favorite thing, would you care? No, you're way too emotional to care about that. You have to work with dogs under threshold to get anything done.
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
I forgot to mention this also... Pawzk9 suggests clicker training for me with her, but like I said before, Bella wont respond to me if my GF is not around. In fact, if I am home alone
with her, she will just walk into the cage and stay there. We think she also has separation anxiety... (Truth is, this dog seems to have tons of issues but we really want to help her
have a stable home now )

BTW... If I were to give her treats while barking, wouldn't that be reinforcing the barking?
 

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Hi All... I will keep posting my experience on trying to desensitize her.

Yesterday we were trying a different approach. I would walk out through one door of the house and walk in through another. My GF would be sitting in the living room holding her long leash without putting tension on it. The first couple of times, when I was walking in she would start barking immediately and I would throw treats at her and keep throwing treats closer and closer to me and also tried to get her to take treats from my hand. After a couple of tries she stopped barking when she saw me so I gave her treats just like I was doing before. Today we are going try something else because I think we are in some way enforcing her to bark at me whenever she sees me so that I can give her a treat. So today's way will consist on walking into the house, but if she barks at me I will just ignore her and keep casually talking to GF. Once she gets quiet then I'll give her treats. I know this will take a couple of attempts but she does show improvement.

Also, yesterday I went and got a clicker so every time I give her a treat I am clicking it trying to "charge" it.

The other thing we did yesterday was to sit down on the floor with GF next to me and we would both pet her. You can see she is afraid of me because whenever GF pets her, she is wagging her tale, when I pet her she is stiff and still... but.... Me sitting down in front of her without getting in her face, just letting her smell me and stuff I think gave her some confidence (I was afraid sitting there trying to control myself because who knows if she is just going to take hit). After sitting there she did something she has not done for me since the three weeks we have her, she laid on the floor for me and started stretching in front of me to pet her belly!! I think that is a huge improvement! All this time I am using the clicker to charge it and give her treats. One thing though.. Once I stood up again she seemed to get scared of me again, not as badly as before but she sorta keeps her distance.

Well I will keep posting here for future reference or if anyone has any ideas on what to try next... :)
 

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My AKK does the same thing with some guys... he's fine if they're sitting down, and he will go up to them to be patted, but when they stand up and are suddenly towering over him, he finds it scary and will bark at them. It sounds like you're on the right track, although you should probably hold off on the patting until she's more comfortable around you; you don't want her to be tense and uncomfortable as you pat her. And for charging the clicker, just sit and do that for a few minutes at a time... click and treat, click and treat, click and treat, until she knows that click means a treat is coming.
 

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Who does the feeding and walking and in all that stuff? It's probably your GF since the dog barks at you and seems fearful of you. But, if you could find a way to take over some of those caretaking jobs like feeding and walking, it will help the dog associate you with valuable, good things, like her meals.

Keep up the good work! :)
 

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Discussion Starter #11
What we have been doing is that in the morning my GF takes the dog out for a run and feeds her. Then in the afternoon, because she gets back from work earlier than I do, she feeds her but waits for me to all go on for a walk. I usually have the leash on the afternoon walk. Maybe I will tell her to let me feed her in the afternoon in addition to the walk.
 

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My sister rescued a female GSD, she is about 4 years old...has scars on her snout from muzzle, and the story is their were other dogs in the house...she was the only one they gave up, so who knows what the story was:( She like your dog bonded with my sister first, my brother in law would come home at night and she would go crazy barking..it took some time for her to accept him...good news they are now a happy family. There are still issues with fear aggression towards other dogs, and people (especially men) and so they have hired a professional to help them. Good luck, hopefully it will just take some time for her to realize she can trust you.
 

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I would recommend this book. Read it 10 times. I've worked with fearful dogs a lot and they can be very frustrating and time consuming, trust me I know. Keep at it and over time you will see results. It won't be overnight or even within a few days. It can be months or longer. You will have good days and you will have bad days. You will love your dog and you will hate your dog. Never push anything your dog seems uncomfortable with. Learn to read his body language and know his limits. Little steps at a time. My favorite dogs have all had fear issues and turn out to be the best most loyal companions. I'd 100% recommend pure positive reinforcement. Lots of treats (cheese, hot dogs, chicken). When you are around your dog it should rain yummy things. It takes a lot of commitment and a lot of treats but I've learned a true sense of patience and love that I wouldn't have learned from any other situation.

Oh ya and almost all shy dogs are more afraid of men than women, even if men have been nothing but kind to them their entire lives. Don't feel bad :)
 

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Do read up on the Breed and see all the wonderful traits you have to work with. These traits may be in the wrong place right now, but you can work towards and achieve getting the best those traits offer no matter where you are currently starting from.. alway focus of the great dog and don't get wound up on and stuck in the worst. I say this because they all turn out just fine no matter where you start from, It's a GSD it's who they are, awesome dogs. When I bring really off balanced GSD's into my home to work with. My first order of business is the environment. These dogs don't know me from adam, I don't take it personally and I don't make it an issue they owe me anything it's not about me. Main thing is give them an environment that they can feel safe in, doesn't matter what they may have been through somewhere else, My environment is not that place and though the dog will still be anticipating his previous environment with the type of reactions they give you, Always remember it's a (previously learned) anticipating reaction and not about you. Set up a daily schedule that evolves around your environment, do give them a time of just rest, a place that no one bothers them, no one ask anything of them. Some of these dogs come from situations where there was no rest, no being at ease. Always being on high alert to defend themselves. Rest and quiet goes along way for them. Keep it simple of showing them the ropes of how to live with you, walk times, potty times , meal times, grooming times. I personally don't over tax them the first 30 days I don't ask anything of them, I just stick to how we live in this house which is easy to follow. And they learn who I am at the same time, am the same person every day. It's just a settle in period for them to regain their sense of self security I agree totally if a dog communicates to you that they don't like something, that it's uncomfortable to them, then respect it.. Step back and think to yourself. do I really really need what I want right now right now, and if you don't , then stop.. if you do, think of a different way to get what you need in how you approach it. I find dogs become more tolerant when they know you hear what they say and respect it, they willing to give more the next time because they know they have a voice and you hear them. Main thing is when an animal feels safe you get to see who they really are, who they were all along underneath all the lunges, raised hair and teeth they arrived with 30 days ago. Sometimes it's the small simple things you can do that helps them the most.
take care
 

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the other thing I wanted to mention,, you don't have to try so hard for the dog to like you. You should never be on the begging end.. Just be yourself, be consistant of who you are as the teacher of skills, a care giver and provider of all great things and the dog will follow in respect and affection. If you feel wormy to them for trying too hard they will treat you that way. :) Be confident to be yourself
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Hi Guys,

Thank you for the great info and advise. We are going now into the third week with her and we have seen tons of improvement. Some days it feels it goes backwards but then the next day it amazes us. We have been figuring out what exactly triggers her, so we have been modifying some how the way we do things so that she doesn't get exposed to those triggers. She now greets me with a wagging tail and plays with me a lot more, even though she still depends pretty much on GF. She is funny... Every morning she will try to wake up GF first and if she doesn't succeed she will come to my side of the bed so that I wake GF up.
I think one of the biggest things we need to work right now is her main trigger. Somehow when GF is falling asleep in the living room and I stay working in the kitchen, she will go into this "guarding" mode so once I try to go to sleep she doesn't let me get close to GF to wake her up to go to bed.
We have found that the best way to deal with it is try to no let her stay between me and GF when GF is falling asleep. That way she cant guard her. Its been taking a little time but I think she is starting to understand it. If she does start to guard her, then GF has to tell her to move away from her, or move behind her, sit and stay, so I can approach GF and then we call her so that she knows I'm ok.
I think to break her from preventing me to get to GF we need to get her more dependent on me and make a better bond. In the morning GF will run with her and feed her and in the afternoon I am the one feeding her and walking her (with GF with me but I hold the leash), this has definitely helped but whenever GF is not around she would just go back into the crate and stay there the whole afternoon until GF comes back, if I try to call her to come out she wont. So we are going to try having GF go away for a longer time and I will stay in the house so that if she needs to go potty or play or anything she would have to interact with me. Any thoughts?
Once again thanks guys for the help! :)
 

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It sounds like you're doing everything right! It's cool that you figured out the main trigger and how to avoid it. I'm glad it's working. Regarding your last question, when you're home alone with the dog, try just ignoring her. Maybe sit and read a book or watch TV or whatever in the room she's in... maybe toss a few treats near her crate to see if she'll come out and get them, but don't pressure her. I think you'll see more progress there soon, too.
 
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