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German Shepherd Aggression

6489 Views 41 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  Precious Puppy
Siberian husky Mammal Vertebrate Dog Canidae
Mammal Vertebrate Dog Canidae Dog breed
Dog Mammal Vertebrate Dog breed Canidae

Hello! I am new to the forum and am in desperate need of advice. First, a little background: I have two dogs, a 5 year old Husky and a 2 year old German Shepherd. About a year ago, I moved in with my boyfriend. He has a 5 year old Bull Mastiff. All three of the dogs live together in the same house. All dogs are male. My two are neutered; my boyfriend's is not.

Over time, problems started brewing between the GSD and mastiff. The mastiff would occassionally hump the GSD, which would spark aggression in the GSD. He would growl or snap at the mastiff to get him to stop. The humping has stopped, but the aggression on the part of the GSD has worsened. He has attacked the mastiff many times, leaving puncture wounds on his face and neck. It is an awful, high stress living situation that is not fair to the mastiff. I am fully aware of this.

I have taken the GSD for a one week "boot camp" at the facility near our house that trains police K9s. They trained him with a prong collar. While his obedience improved, the aggression towards the mastiff remains. Last night the GSD attacked the mastiff just because I told the mastiff, "NO" for something he was doing. He left a large hole in his ear. This was the worst attack yet.

I am now exploring the option of using an e-collar to further train and curb the GSD's aggression. I would love some advice on how to use the e-collar to ensure that I do not inadvertently worsen the aggression with the use of the collar.

Please, I do not want this to be a discussion of why not to use e-collars. I also do not want people telling me to rehome my GSD. I want to correct this issue and do everything I can do myself before looking into any other options. I would really appreciate any feedback anyone could give me on using e-collars with aggressive dogs. Thank you so much for your help!
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This has nothing to do with dominance or your leadership and thinking that way will only set you up for an antagonistic relationship wih your dogs.
As others have said, adding an aversive to an already stressful situation will increase your dog's aggression without warning signs (what you will be punishing are the warning signs of the underlying emotional response, you are not changing the dog's emotional response to the situation) and he is very likely to start associating negative things in his environment wih the mastiff. Indeed, he already is. When you verbally corrected the mastiff the other day your dog reacted with re-directed aggression. You raising your voice was aversive to him, so he did what in dog logic makes sense -> use aggression (a distancing signal) to attempt to remove the thing in his environment that he associates with negative experiences. The mastiff.
Inter-male aggression by fixed dogs towards intact dogs is very common. Intact dogs have (relative to neuters) high levels of testosterone - which, among other things, is a hormone dogs produce when emotionally aroused. Your fixed dog is interpreting this superficially heightened level of testosterone as aggression/arousal (not sexual arousal, emotional) and therefore thinks he needs to defend himself.
You are shooting down positive training, but counter-conditioning your shepherd to the mastiff is the only way you're really going to address the root of the problem. You need to change his emotional response. What sort of positive training have you done? As you have already realized, obedience training, positive or aversive, has very little to do with behavior modification (other than apparently making your dog more sensitive to correction). Also, a huge part of training is building a language and trust between the two of you. Sending a dog to "boot camp," no matter how well renowned, does nothing for either part of that dynamic, and also does nothing to address the problem in context. As you have seen, it has had no effect here.

I would separate the dogs so he cannot rehearse this behavior and to give you more control for training purposes. I think looking for a certified behaviorist is a good idea at this point, the behavior seems fairly rehearsed and exasperated. Behaviorism is currently unregulated, but this website will direct you to folks with true behavioral training and certification.
In the mean time, there are a few good books I would recommend.
"Click to Calm" - Emma Parsons
"Fight!" - Jean Donaldson (this is available from a website called 'dogwise' as an e-book download for around 10 bucks)
"Control Unleashed" - Leslie McDevitt
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Obedience training is important in this scenario because it a) gives you the tools you need to ask for alternate behaviors and b) it gets the dog used to looking to you for information (this is also why it is so important for you to be involved in training).
It has very little to do with actually addressing the problem, but it's still necissary for the process. Makes sense?

As to the neuter, now that this behavior has been well rehearsed, neutering is probably not enough to solve the problem. It certainly can't hurt though :)
I wouldn't be using the ecollar to punish aggression; I would use it to correct him when he chooses to ignore my commands (whether it be sit, stay, etc.) in hopes that it would transfer over to the aggression problem, if that makes sense.
That's not quite how it works. Teaching him that there are aversive consequences for disregarding your commands will either make him more wary of you when he's stressed (and once again, it seems like his stress response right now is further aggression towards the mastiff) or simply be completely ineffective because when he gets that worked up his sympathetic nervous system has kicked in (fight or flight) and you are past the realm of learning and into management territory. It's kindof like asking someone to solve math problems while riding a rollercoaster. A dog over threshold like that cannot build a new emotional response, you have to work sub-threshold before you bring up the intensity like that.

Also, ignoring you can actually be a sign of stress. Your dog may simply be trying to communicate to you that they are uncomfortable.
Another book you might find useful is a short read called "On Talking Terms With Dogs" by Turid Rugaas. It's a basic photo illustrated guide and breakdown of dog body language and social signals. This might give you a little more insight into the interaction between your shep and mastiff as well.
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