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Hi all,
I have been a lurker on this website for a while, but finally decided to make an account to bring up a question. I have a one (will be 2 years old in March) male, neutered German Shepherd from working lines. To say he was way more intense than I expected is an understatement, ha. But we’ve made it work and honestly, he is the BEST dog I’ve ever had. He definitely tries me sometimes, but I’m head over heels for how smart, quick and challenging he is.
We’ve been to two different trainers, and while the issue has improved remarkably I wanted to post on here before I consider another trainer. One issue for me when he was younger was consistency and he definitely bullied me because I was used to my female German Shepherd who was from much weaker lines and just a total love bug. My male is great with people (reserved, but that was expected and I like that) - but he is a challenge with other dogs. I foster dogs for a rescue, so he grew up exposed to puppies and other adult dogs (m&f) and is fine when properly introduced. He loves playing, and isn’t territorial ONCE he knows the dog is supposed to be here.

He had a really severe issue with dog reactivity that suddenly hit him around 7-8 months. Again, fine when introduced but all of a sudden walking him was a nightmare. The worst part is it wasn’t every dog - I took him to a dock diving class, and he completely ignored every one and didn’t care. I took him on a walk and he lunged at every dog he saw, barking and growling. Immediately we went to a trainer. (ADD: he had taken a basic and intermediate obedience class at this point with about 10 other dogs in his class - no issue). For the most part, he can walk past another dog on his usual walks without barking any more. Some pulling, but we are continuing to work on that. And again, it’s random. I’ve tried to see what the trigger is, but sometimes he just doesn’t care about dogs. Other times, as soon as he sees them? It’s on.
Today I took him with me to a local dog friendly book store. We went to the door and there was another dog in there. I felt pretty confident because he has been doing so good (we walk/hike every day and yesterday passed a dog with no real issues). He immediately locked on to the dog (saw it through the glass doors) and stared growling/low barking. I corrected, but didn’t take him into the store because book stores are quiet and he is a 90lb GSD. Obviously he isn’t ready to go in, so as much as I hate leaving a good training opportunity I just put him back in the car and didn’t try to walk him in past the other dog.
As far as corrections, he is NOT treat or praise motivated. A little toy motivated, but not enough to where he will take his attention off something like a new dog. He is very working brained and likes to work, and will do commands while other dogs are around, but he stares them down the whole time. He knows the leave it command, but it goes out the window when he fixates. We have used collar corrections and a small air blower to get him off the dog (it’s not loud, just makes a little whoosh sound to get him to focus on me, then I reward for a good leave it).
I guess my question is what else can I do? Initially we did it by sections and walked past the new dog when he was ready, and that’s been great, but also I had to be careful not to just completely remove him from the situation if he was barky/growling because I didn’t want him to think he could get out of it by behaving like that. He is really insecure I feel in new places, hence why I think his reactivity is worse when he’s in a new plave. But I can’t just not take him any where new for fear he may be reactive that day if a dog is there. He’s a big part of my life and loves going places with me. But being as big as he is, I know it’s intimidating to other people when I take him to public places and he reacts. So tonight I realized I need to go back a few steps and work our way back up. But what else can I do? I’ve tried praise/positive reinforcement, treats, toys, and collar corrections (that’s been the only thing to really help that our second trainer recommended) and the air blower. I just want him to be able to see a real dog and be like, okay that’s a dog and I’m going to ignore it.
Advice? I’m on mobile and multi tasking so I may have left out some things, so please feel free to ask for clarification. Thanks!
 

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Most reactivity / aggression is caused by fear. You likely won't be able to remedy it in the long run by using fear-based training methods such as corrections and compressed air, all that does is amplify his fear and make the proverbial hole deeper. As they say two wrongs don't make a right. So, rather than suppress the dog's EMOTIONAL RESPONSE to the offending stimulus, you need to CHANGE it.

First, I would work on developing his food drive. You may not be able to turn him into a total cookie monster but you can certainly improve it to the point where it is useful. Try things like restricting his food intake before training sessions, and experimenting to determine which food treats really REALLY excite him. Some examples might be cooked chicken seasoned with a bit of garlic, stinky cheese, and tuna fudge.

Once you have a nominal amount of food drive at your disposal, then you can begin counter-conditioning exercises such as the "look at that" game as depicted in this tutorial. Don't expect things to happen overnight -- it is a long, progressive and somewhat arduous process.


You may also find this to be enlightening.

 

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Short answer is, stop your leash corrections and your blowing air. You say treats and toys don't work, but likely they don't work when your dog is already fixated, reacting or "over threshold". The thing about the kind of training petpeeve recommends (which I recommend too) is you need to start at a distance where your dog is calm enough to train. I know it feels like you are making more progress when a 'trainer' tells you to just correct reactions. But it is common for people to run into road blocks like what you are seeing, and at worse it can make a dog aggressive. The other thing to try is high value food (cheese, real meat, etc) - this doesn't mean go at it at the same distance with different food. It's just one thing that can make your training easier if you find what your dog loves. Dogs all have preferences so it truly is worth it to try anything you safely can. If your dog is somewhat toy motivated, that trait can be developed but it is a lot more technical than finding a good food reward. Because at the end of the day, your dog IS food motivated like every other dog on this planet - or else he'd be dead. It's HOW you use your rewards (food, toys, praise, otherwise) that makes or break your training.

Find a CPDT-KA training (ccpdt.org) with experience working with reactivity. Or find someone trained to do BAT (Grisha Stewart). You need a good desensitization and counter conditioning protocol.
 

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Thanks for the replies!

I have tried high value treats (rotisserie chicken, cheese wrapped in turkey, and then soft treats from pet store just to name a few). But I can go back to the drawing board to try to think of other fun treats that may get his attention. I actually do work him before he eats because I had hoped he would be more motivated to get food, but it hasn't made a difference so far.
I would prefer not having to do the leash corrections - but I admit it's the only thing that has resulted in any improvements. I guess that's been lazy on my part because I just trusted the results my trainer was giving me, but now I realize that it's biting both me and my dog in the butt. I did check out the website you listed Canyx - and there are actually several of those trainers within an hour/hour and a half. I will. be contacting them.
 

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Reactivity is often caused (at the root source) by a person who lets the dog hang out at the end of the leash at a young age and allows people and dogs to just come up and be in contact with that puppy. The puppy is a little kid and the world can be a big and scary place for a little kid. They never unlearn the lesson that the person at the other end of the leash is not going protect them or advocate for them.. so they take matters into their own hands (paws) and act big and tough to drive the scary world back and away.

Once the behavior is ingrained you have a problem and then you must be SUPER vigilant and SEE the issue BEFORE the dog starts to react. And you must ASSUME the dog will ALWAYS react and be a step ahead. Then give the dog a JOB to do and enforce doing the job. You must learn threshold distances and how to back the heck off and leave if the threat becomes over threshold.

I had a female that started this reactivity crap at about the same age yours did. I was told that I needed to "deal with that." I asked how to and this was what I was told.

The rule was she had to do a "job" around other dogs and focus on me. Sit was the job I used most and focus on me. I cannot correct her for her feelings but I can surely correct her for losing focus and not sitting. So I did that and I stood between her and the "threat" (in this case another dog). It did not take long.. and she got it.. I would take care of "it" and not her.

This dog went on the be highly successful in IPO dog sport earning her IPO 3 and winning an FH tracking championship (beating two world team dogs). She was no longer reactive but I was smart enough to have her back always all the time and she knew it.

I think that there is something else you need to know about this breed. Not all of them make good pets that can go anywhere and be with you in tight proximity with other dogs without a LOT of training and making a true partnership where the dog must focus on you when you ask for a behavior. The dog must TRUST you to have their back and you need to convey that you have their back. Even then, they are good if they are working but not good at just hanging around.

In the end, if you want a dog to behave like a Golden Retriever, don't get a German shepherd. They want a job, but a good working GSD is not always desirous of dog friends. In fact, no other dogs is often their preference.
 

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Reactivity is often caused (at the root source) by a person who lets the dog hang out at the end of the leash at a young age and allows people and dogs to just come up and be in contact with that puppy. The puppy is a little kid and the world can be a big and scary place for a little kid. They never unlearn the lesson that the person at the other end of the leash is not going protect them or advocate for them.. so they take matters into their own hands (paws) and act big and tough to drive the scary world back and away.

Once the behavior is ingrained you have a problem and then you must be SUPER vigilant and SEE the issue BEFORE the dog starts to react. And you must ASSUME the dog will ALWAYS react and be a step ahead. Then give the dog a JOB to do and enforce doing the job. You must learn threshold distances and how to back the heck off and leave if the threat becomes over threshold.

I had a female that started this reactivity crap at about the same age yours did. I was told that I needed to "deal with that." I asked how to and this was what I was told.

The rule was she had to do a "job" around other dogs and focus on me. Sit was the job I used most and focus on me. I cannot correct her for her feelings but I can surely correct her for losing focus and not sitting. So I did that and I stood between her and the "threat" (in this case another dog). It did not take long.. and she got it.. I would take care of "it" and not her.

This dog went on the be highly successful in IPO dog sport earning her IPO 3 and winning an FH tracking championship (beating two world team dogs). She was no longer reactive but I was smart enough to have her back always all the time and she knew it.

I think that there is something else you need to know about this breed. Not all of them make good pets that can go anywhere and be with you in tight proximity with other dogs without a LOT of training and making a true partnership where the dog must focus on you when you ask for a behavior. The dog must TRUST you to have their back and you need to convey that you have their back. Even then, they are good if they are working but not good at just hanging around.

In the end, if you want a dog to behave like a Golden Retriever, don't get a German shepherd. They want a job, but a good working GSD is not always desirous of dog friends. In fact, no other dogs is often their preference.
Thank you! I definitely like the characteristics of GSDs, and I’m totally fine with him not being BFFs with other dogs. That doesn’t bother me. I just want to be able to take him places and when he sees a dog, not to react. To make sure I’m understanding you correctly, you had your dog sit (or just do a command in general) AS the new dog walked by/past? Did your girl ever whine and get really agitated and if so, how did you correct that? I want to teach him to just be calm when another dog passes or he sees one, instead of fixating. He will do commands when I give them, but typically his eye gaze is on the other dog the whole time and he becomes very whiny.
 

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If he is eye gazing at something else he is not focused. You need to be very clear about focus AWAY from distractions. I most assuredly HAVE corrected a dog for breaking focus. But do that other places first and make it rock solid. giving focus needs to be rewarded heavily. I suggest a VERY high value food to start (food teaches in a different drive than toys do). I have used roast beef and cheese.. cooked chicken.. frozen pieces of hot dog.. frozen pieces of Fresh Pet dog food.. whatever the dog goes crazy for. Food teaches. Toys build speed and drive. I know you said your dog is not food motivated. That can make things difficult.

For every correction you need to reward three times GREATER than the correction. Never forget that. Make the behavior you want valuable to the dog. People are quick to correct and slow to give a reward party. Another thing I use a LOT is Dog gets what he wants when I get what I want. I want the dog to heel. He wants the Jolly Ball on the ground over there. When he heels focused on me (what I want) then I say YES and release him to the Jolly ball (he gets what he wants). I guess all the psychology people call this Premack Principal. It is really just sensible training.

Whining is drive leaking. Do not reward if the dog is making noise. You get what you want (eye contact, sitting, silence) you mark it and reward heavily. If the dog is whining and wants to react to the other dog you are very close to over threshold for reactivity. The dog is sitting and focused but whining? Tell the dog to heel (and we are talking focused head up looking at you heeling that you must train) and walk further away.

The biggest issue is going to be getting focus first and when you want it and then having a good enough reward to keep the focus because it is in the dog's best interest to keep that focus.

You cannot correct what the dog does not know. He needs all these other things rock solid in a variety of situations and places before you can ever correct him for blowing you off and not doing something and then the correction level needs to be meaningful. If you must correct a dog more than twice for anything you are doing it wrong (the dog either does not understand what you want OR your correction was not meaningful because it was times wrong and delivered wrong). Most people correct and the dog has NO IDEA why.
 

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I'm glad that there are some certified trainers in your area! I recommend asking them how often they work with reactivity. I am a CPDT-KA and I will be the first to say that a certification does not make a trainer - but often it shows a person has invested more than the bare minimum (which is not saying a lot in an unregulated industry) before calling themselves a dog trainer. One of my friends had a very negative experience with her reactive dog and a CPDT. Not damaging to the dog, but just not helpful. So it's a starting point... but ask questions and be objective about recording your progress. This can take weeks, or months, but you should see the distance shrink every week or two if you are training, say, 15-20 minutes a day for 5 days a week. I highly recommend keeping a log of some kind, documenting how many dogs your dog sees and ranking his reaction. It is very easy to have one bad day and think "this isn't working." Remember, behavior is a science. You should be able to track progress.

The other thing to expect from a good trainer is training that evolves with your progress. Working with a dog 100' away is different than working parallel, or working around multiple dogs, or handling head-on approaches. It's not like your methods, if they are good, will change drastically from lesson 1 and lesson 3, but there are small but important differences. There is no singular 1 hour session that will 'fix' the problem.

Best of luck!
 
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