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Hey guys, I'm new to the forum but wanted to get your opinions on whether or not you think having a German Shepherd trained as a service dog would be a good idea and where could I look into getting training? Type of service dog: help out with a wheelchair and PTSD.

I'm curious if having a hyper-defensive/protective dog breed would be a liability to have as a working dog in public.

Thanks!
-Brian
 

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German Shepherds are very intelligent and can do pretty much anything you ask them to.
I don't see how anything bad could happen. Once fully trained, you won't see many of their protective instincts and they will constantly look to the handler for guidance, like any other service dog.
 

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There are huge numbers of GSD service dogs.

If you want to know more, contact Xeph. Her GSD, Strauss, was recently given an award for being a service dog. She may be able to help you.
 

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Indeed, my Mousedog was one of the dogs honored by ADAP in 2011 as one of the most memorable assistance dogs :)

I'm curious if having a hyper-defensive/protective dog breed would be a liability to have as a working dog in public.
I think you have the wrong idea about GSDs. GSDs should have defense, but should not be "hyper defensive". That kind of dog is very much a liability if their thresholds are low.

Strauss is my first SD, and he is handler owner trained. I am currently in the process of training his working replacement, also a German Shepherd Dog. Mahler is very young, just six months old, and has just started serious public access work. And when I mean JUST started, I mean yesterday we went to Walmart for only the second time, and at this point he is no longer being socialized and habituated to the situation. He is learning to ignore all distractions and focus on the task at hand.

When I was looking for my next prospect, I made it very clear to my breeder that I could not have a super defensive dog, and thresholds needed to be high for defense and for prey drive. I want my dog to possess these drives, as I DO want a GSD, not a Golden in a GSD suit, but the thresholds are what allow my dog to work safely in public and not react before thinking.

It seems that I have gotten what I asked for in Mahler. He is a social dog (for a GSD) but is aloof, and already has very little use for strangers. We have worked on him tolerating things like hugging, which he accepts, but does not like, and I have worked on pushing and pulling him across the floor, not only because that will be necessary for his work, but because you never know what's going to occur out in public.

I was outside with him at my mom's home with him in WI (we are back home in PA now) and he got his collar hooked on the decorative part of her back gate. I was across the yard and he screamed. As soon as I got there and I quietly told him "Good dog, stop", he stopped screaming, held still, and allowed me to lift him (all 54 pounds of him) up off the ground to get his collar unhooked (which I promptly removed). He never redirected to bite me, he never growled, he never struggled. That's what you want. That is what I will continue to reward. That is a safe dog.

Strauss has actually saved my life for real, and made a warranted and SERIOUS display of aggression (though a bite was not necessary, and he did not take one). This very same dog was T boned by a 2 year old in the back yard of my mom's house. She ran straight into his ribs and fell down. He kept walking. He never yelped, never growled, never even looked at her. She wasn't a threat, it was an accident. That is a stable dog.

Strauss




Mahler


 

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xeph- i know GSD's are your breed so you probably havent worked with labs/goldens as much, but do you think your GSD's are more "headstrong" than the labs (can't think of the right word).

For example- the two groups that I've worked with and fostered for (guide dogs for the blind and a service dog org. primarily for the disabled in wheelchairs) the GSD's it seems like are being used less just because they dont have that innate "what can i do for you? pick up that sock? go get the sock? OKAY IM GETTING THE SOCK! see, i brought you the sock!!!" that labs have. hopefully that wasn't offensive because i didnt mean for it to be, but I've always thought of shepherds as more independent thinkers (how to herd sheep in a different formation every time versus go get THAT dead duck).

That being said, IMO they do make better guide dogs with the right handler, as the guide dogs are more independent thinkers than the mobility service dogs.

I guess my question is- did you ever consider a lab/do you think your GSD's make a different type of sd than a lab would? I know you aren't in a wheelchair or para/quadriplegic but I'd love to hear your opinion.
 

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you probably havent worked with labs/goldens as much,
I actually taught puppy class for many years at my home club in WI until I moved, and I worked with a TON of Labs and Goldens!

What you're talking about is actually natural drive to retrieve, which a Retriever is obviously going to be more likely to have! So it's actually not a matter of being headstrong, but of the drives being different. Two of my Shepherds (Mirada and Mahler) have natural retrieves, and LOVE to bring me things. Both are constantly bringing me Kongs either to just show me (Look! I have a Kong!) or to ask me to play with them.

Mahler frequently picks up objects around the house (anything from dropped spoons to the cat's missing collar), and if I see him with them and call him, he will bring them to me.

Strauss does NOT have a natural retrieve. He has prey drive, and will chase and pick up objects, but he is constantly mouthing them, and had to be taught to bring them to me, rather than Mirada and Mahler, who have quiet, calm holds, and will bring anything they have to me if I ask. Strauss CAN retrieve, as I have taught him to, but he only picks up objects that I've taught him to pick up. He will not pick up anything other than those objects or things that he knows to be toys.

GSDs are equally biddable as Retrievers, but the drives bred for in them are different, and so that's why you have "stubborn" GSDs (like Strauss) who won't pick up objects, or have a hard time learning. GSDs are VERY "What would you like from me?" but they are much more matter of fact about it.

Labs: PUT ME IN COACH!! I'M READY TO PLAY!
GSDs: Yes sir/ma'am? What can I help you with today?

ETA: And no, never considered Retrievers. They are not at all the breed for me. Far too happy bouncy "I love everybody!" I like GSDs because they DON'T love everybody. People tell me frequently how beautiful my dogs are, and even though people touch Strauss far too much while he's working, they are less inclined because of his breed, which I like.
 

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yeah i realized my example was pretty skill specific... our regional puppy coordinator had a GSD this past foster (instead of the labs/goldens) and she just seemed much more headstrong, and not as soft.... bubba will respond (somewhat) to a leash correction on a martingale, but her foster just didnt have that soft temperment, you could leash correct that dog all day and it didnt faze her at all.

STUBBORN is the word i'm looking for. all in all, i do think that the GSD/handler teams i've seen work VERY well together, once that training period is over. I think hips are a bigger reason than personality as far as organizations moving away from gsd's, but hopefully good breeders like you will keep making progress :)
 

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As a puppy raiser, I have seen GSD's, Labs and Goldens all do equally well in service. I agree that there can be differences in over-all personality types and learning curves between the breeds, but there are also widely varying degrees of softness and stubbornness regardless of the breed. I've seen dogs with crazy energy go from rambunctious and playful to serious, well-mannered and focused the minute they are put to work. And I've seen seemingly stubborn dogs shine in service work, (it's almost like a light-bulb goes off in their head). A well-trained dog who enjoys working, when in service mode, tends to take great pride in their work.

In my experience, choosing a well-bred puppy, (with a genetic pre-disposition towards the qualities you want), from a reputable breeder and utilizing a good/great trainer, is the key. JMO/E
 

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I think hips are a bigger reason than personality as far as organizations moving away from gsd's, but hopefully good breeders like you will keep making progress :)
I've met a couple of SD Labs that had been diagnosed with HD. Which is to say, hips are as much a problem in Labs and Goldens as they are in GSDs. Not to mention that cancer is a huge problem in Goldens; it's practically their middle name. All you can do for hips is xray, OFA, and hope that mother nature doesn't throw a wrench in your plans(which she often does).
 

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you could leash correct that dog all day and it didnt faze her at all.
That's called handler hardness. Strauss is relatively handler hard, which for his work, is a good thing. I have given unintentional (and thus unfair) corrections. I've also accidentally hit him in the face. He either ignores what happened, or looks at me like "Well, that sucked, but whatever".

Mahler is handler sensitive, and gets butthurt if I give him a leash correction. He is going to have to learn that not all corrections are intentional, and that if I hit him, it's an accident. It's part of my disorder.

I once accidentally smacked Mirada in the face while teaching her to heel, and it took me a little while to get her back on track, because she took it as a harsh correction (which it was not).

I highlighted such issues here:
http://twitchandshout.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/what-are-you-talking-about/
 

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I've met a couple of SD Labs that had been diagnosed with HD. Which is to say, hips are as much a problem in Labs and Goldens as they are in GSDs. Not to mention that cancer is a huge problem in Goldens; it's practically their middle name. All you can do for hips is xray, OFA, and hope that mother nature doesn't throw a wrench in your plans(which she often does).
It definitely is, sadly. That being said, my first organization sourced dogs from shelters (thats where toby is from, he was my service dog foster) and some breeder donations, relying on temperament testing to select pups. Even with proper diet, exercise, ect. about 50% of their dogs didn't pass the OFA prelim.

The second organization which has a (mostly) closed breeding program and has been working on their lines for 50+ years, currently has about 5-10% disqualified due to hips.

They've done a remarkable job in their program, and use a lot of lab/golden crosses (what bubba is). I don't want to get into the whole designer breed/bs hybrid vigor discussion, but in their case they have had a lot of success with the crosses having less skin problems. I don't know specifically about their cancer rates but have heard good things overall about the program.

That's called handler hardness. Strauss is relatively handler hard, which for his work, is a good thing. I have given unintentional (and thus unfair) corrections. I've also accidentally hit him in the face. He either ignores what happened, or looks at me like "Well, that sucked, but whatever".

Mahler is handler sensitive, and gets butthurt if I give him a leash correction. He is going to have to learn that not all corrections are intentional, and that if I hit him, it's an accident. It's part of my disorder.
]
Interesting! They are such gorgeous dogs and they do sound more handler focused (than labs), which is a really nice trait. I might be mistaken about the HD rates but I know that our local law enforcement did cite the hips as one reason they're moving more towards Malinois. I don't do schutzhund or anything though so I'm the last person who would have a really good understanding about why they seem to be making that transition.
 

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Interesting! They are such gorgeous dogs and they do sound more handler focused (than labs), which is a really nice trait.
They are. They CAN be independent, but the breed as a whole is remarkably biddable. GSDs do have to think independently at times when they herd, but the type of herding they are meant for (tending) is very different from droving (moving). GSDs are meant to keep the sheep within a boundary all day, but they do not do so without direction.

The human shepherd is with the dog all day, telling the dog which border he wants the dog to run, which sheep to watch, and when to move the sheep from pasture to pen.
 

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(I'm not being snarky, this is an honest question)

Than what breed traits are the cause for GSD's generally not being recommended as first time dogs? Sorry this is getting off topic >.< but is it just because its harder to find a good gsd breeder? Not that labs are the ideal first time dog either, but maybe you understand what i'm getting at.
 

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Than what breed traits are the cause for GSD's generally not being recommended as first time dogs?
I personally think they're fine first time dogs, honestly. Even more so than Labradors. Strauss is my first GSD, and he turned out just fine.

I would say that if somebody wants a dog that's friendly to everybody, they shouldn't get a German Shepherd. And I would say if they're not willing to do the socializing, they shouldn't get a German Shepherd. You can get by socializing a Lab or Golden poorly and have the dog turn out fine. A GSD could end up being super nasty. You can make a lot more mistakes with Retrievers and get a good (if not poorly mannered) dog. You could get an out right dastardly bastard with a GSD.
 

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I would say that if somebody wants a dog that's friendly to everybody, they shouldn't get a German Shepherd. And I would say if they're not willing to do the socializing, they shouldn't get a German Shepherd. You can get by socializing a Lab or Golden poorly and have the dog turn out fine. A GSD could end up being super nasty. You can make a lot more mistakes with Retrievers and get a good (if not poorly mannered) dog. You could get an out right dastardly bastard with a GSD.
^This exactly.

My first dog was a GSD and we got her full sister from the following litter. I didn't know diddly squat about socializing dogs. In my mind(back then), dogs love other dogs for no other reason than because they're the same species and they frolic together. NOPE. We didn't socialize either of the girls in the least and they turned into an absolute nightmare. The older girl killed a smallish dog and tried to kill any dog that wasn't her sister. She left pretty serious bites on anybody that got too close whether they were trying to interact with her or not. Even with all the work I put in, I never felt safe with her around anybody other than myself and my father. To her credit, I played VERY rough with her and not once in her lifetime did she even graze a tooth on my skin.

That being said, I have a hard time recommending almost any breed for first time dog owners. Two of my friends want Frenchies, which is a pretty easy breed, but I still don't think that they know what they're getting into.
 

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I am just going to pipe in here and say- you should not say "you can get by, by poorly socializing a lab or Golden". That is false advice. There are SO many labs and goldens that are aggressive because of bad training. I have a dog that was poorly socialized as a pup(he was my cousins dog, not mine) and he had sever dog aggression. I have met others that are the same way. ALL dog no matter what breed she be socialized. You can "not just get by" with it.
 

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you should not say "you can get by, by poorly socializing a lab or Golden".
It's not untrue, when you're talking in generalities. And poor breeding is just as much a culprit of dogs ending up nasty as poor training. But when you consider what a GSD is bred for and what a Lab/Golden is bred for, it's not untrue.

I'm not saying you shouldn't socialize a Lab or Golden, but I am comparing breeds that are very different from each other. So, you completely missed the point.
 

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I am just going to pipe in here and say- you should not say "you can get by, by poorly socializing a lab or Golden". That is false advice. .
One of the problems that I often have giving advice here is that so much of my experience is with dogs - and handlers - who work together a LOT and obviously spend a lot of quality time with each other. Regardless of the particular breed they are working with or the specific activites they do. So it is hard for me to even think in minimalist terms, much less give any advice along those lines.

My other experiences are with shelter dogs, and that is most often so very much the opposite end of the spectrium insofar as human interaction and "socialization" is concerned.

My feeling - and it is only a feeling - is that there is some amount of teaching or training or "socialization" that you MUST do with ANY dog if you want an animal that can share the lifestyle you want. I don't think you can't expect ANY dog to learn to be a "social" animal on its own. But trying to actually set out to be so minimalist is not a good approach.
 

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Xeph, that picture of you and Mahler always makes me smile!
 

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But trying to actually set out to be so minimalist is not a good approach.
Who ever said that?
 
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