Dog Breed - The Adolescent German Shepherd Dog

Adolescent is a tough time for humans and dogs alike. Even with good rearing, some adolescent dogs belonging to the German Shepherd breed can try their owners’ patience by becoming rebellious, apparently ‘forgetting’ their training and early education. Do not respond by becoming angry and infuriated. This is the time when your Shepherd needs to have consistent – but – kind – discipline to help him re-establish his own identity and his status with the family.

With a breed as intelligent and complex as the German shepherd, adolescence can be particularly difficult time if the dog did not receive sufficient handling or training when a pup. The most successful way of dealing with problems is to prevent them, so socialize your pup thoroughly to give him the best start in life.

However, if your German shepherd has become a terrible teenager despite your best efforts, or if you took on an adolescent from another home, you will have to do some serious trouble-shooting to prevent ‘a phase’ turning into a lifetime habit.

German Shepherds were bred to guard, so it should come as no surprise to learn that this dog breed can become over-possessive of toys, food or people if this inherent trait left unchecked. If a Shepherd has real respect for his owners (resulting from kindness and from consistent discipline), he would dream of attempting to assert his superiority, and so would not counter claims to his food bowl, his toys, or his bed. However, a dog that is owned by a weak, unconfident handler, may decide to challenge the hierarchy. In such a situation, no-go areas develop where the will not tolerate having his ‘possession’ interfered with.

To prevent this happening, show your dog that you always have the rights to his things. However, if a problem has already become established, you will have to deal with it. If your German shepherd is possessive of a certain toy, you need to divest the object of its special significance.

If, for example, your Shepherd is obsessed with a tennis ball, a behaviorist may advise that you buy 20 and give them all to him in one go. In some circumstances, this may result in the ball losing its appeal. It can be more successful than simply removing the toy. Bowl guarding can be treated in the same way – pouring his dried food all over the kitchen floor weans the dog off the bowl’s significance.

Remember, possessiveness/guarding can lead to serious aggression problems if left unchecked, so consult a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist at the first sign of trouble.

Dogs are pack animals that live by a social hierarchy. Those in the higher rank of the hierarchy have responsibility for providing for the pack (seeking food, finding shelter, imposing discipline, and enforcing mating rights). In return, they have more privileges than the lower status dogs. Of course, the single pack leader has the most power.

Most dogs now live in a domestic environment, but they still interpret social behavior in terms of their wild pack hierarchy. The owner has the same responsibilities as the canine pack leader, and so should be afforded the same respect from his subordinates (i.e. the dog). The owner/leader should be allowed to

•    Go through doors first
•    Be fed first
•    Have access to any area of the house or garden
•    Take any item that belongs to a member of his pack
•    Be responsible for discipline.

Of course, if you want a dog to sleep on his owner’s bed, you should let him. After all, having pet is not something that can be conducted by a rule book; every family is unique and may want different things from their dog. The key issue is that you must always be in control. Your Shepherd must always obey you, and get off the bed or the sofa the moment you ask him to. If he doesn’t, or worse, if he growls, seek professional advice immediately.

The signs of dominant behavior may include

•    Guarding items (bowls, chairs, toys), or areas of the house
•    Attention-seeking (nudging, barking etc)
•    Refusal to accept grooming
•    Holding eye contact for a prolonged period.

A dominant Shepherd will need to have his behavior reshaped. It is your job to reassert your authority, by ensuring that your Shepherd is responsive to commands, and accepts his subservient role in the family ‘pack’. There are a number of simple procedures to observe, such as feeding your dog after the family, and making sure he always goes through the door after you, which will help to define his status.

If you don’t want your dog to go upstairs or to sleep on your bed, then bar him access to it. Shut the bedroom door, or invest in stair-gate. If you’re Shepherd races through a door ahead of you, let him, but do not follow him through the door. He will be quite lost that he is separated from you, and, as soon as you open the door, he will race back to you.

If your dog’s dominance manifests itself in aggression towards you, you must seek the advice of a qualified animal behaviorist.

The German shepherd was bred to guard and to protect, so it is natural for him to bark when someone approaches his territory. A warning bark is all very well, particularly if this is followed up by a warm welcome once you have opened the door and greeted the ‘stranger’.

However, a dog that barks persistently can be seen as a threat, as well as being regarded as a social nuisance. In this case, you will need to start from scratch and re-educate your dog.

Every time your dog barks inappropriately, tell him “Quiet”. Give the command firmly, but do not shout, or you will get the dog overexcited. It is imperative that you are always consistent. For the training to work, you must tell him to be quiet every time he barks – without exception.

Training discs
Once a dog starts barking, it can be difficult to stop him, as he gets more and more excited. The more you shout the more excited and anxious he becomes. Dropping training discs (small metal circles shaped like mini-cymbals) or a bunch of keys can work to startle the dog out of his repetitive cycle of barking. The moment he stops, you can than praise him for being quiet, and keep him distracted with a quick game. All rewards must end the moment your dog starts barking again.

One way of silencing your dog is to turn the dog’s attention to something else. Tell him to “sit”, to fetch your slippers, etc. to distract him. He cannot bark while he is concentrating on obedience exercises.

Remember that it is natural for a dog to bark. Dogs bark to communicate, so you should not seek to stop him from ever ‘speaking’ again. If your dog’s barking is more than simply telling you of someone’s approach, or of warning the person away, you should investigate the cause behind it. Perhaps he is in pain, or is feeling insecure. If you are at all concerned, you should seek the services of a vet and/or professional trainer.

Shepherd’s breeds have a well-developed instinct to chase. Modern-day living in pet homes often fails to satisfy the dog’s powerful impulses, and, in the event of having no wooly things to chase, the dog may find alternative victims to herd – joggers, cyclists, skateboarders…if it moves, a frustrated Coolie or Shepherd will hard it.

This is a very complex problem that will need sensitive handling, so you should contract your vet or a professional dog trainer/behaviorist in the first instance. If it is not dealt with, your German shepherd may start chasing motorcycles or cars, and many dogs have died in these circumstances. Manage the problem while you are seeking professional advice, by keeping your dog on an extending lead when out walking.

A well-reared, well-socialized German shepherd puppy should grow up into a happy, well-behaved adult, without the slightest hint of aggression in him. However, German Shepherds are very sensitive dogs with long memories, and if your dog has been frightened by something, he could develop a phobia. For example, if your puppy has been set upon by a black poodle, but of all black dogs – or, worse still, all dogs he meets.

Again, it is a question of going back to basics. Many trainers have ‘stooge’ dogs – dogs so well-behaved and well-socialized that they can be trusted never to react aggressively to other dogs. Contact of this kind will help to build your German shepherd’s trust in his fellow canines, and can form a firm foundation for future contact with other dogs. Other dogs can then gradually be introduced under supervised control. A dog never curse itself of aggression; it’s a problem that can only get worse, so you should seek professional advice immediately, particularly if the dog’s aggression is directed towards people. Never fight fire with fire, or you can aggravate the problem. Always act calmly when dealing with your dog.

Generally, adult German Shepherds are great dogs to walk, rarely letting their owners out of their sight. Instead of galloping off and not being seen for the rest of the walk, many German Shepherds stick fairly closely to their owners. Adolescence, however, is a time when dogs of all breeds can act a little out of character, becoming more rebellious as a result of hormones coursing through their veins.

Recall is one of the first areas to suffer, as the dog is more interested in following his nose (and other walkers and dogs) than being with his owner. And, like a child testing what he can get away with, your German shepherd may become disobedient and unruly, testing his relationship with you.

It is essential that you do not tolerate any undesirable behavior. If your Shepherd does not come back when he is called, you must make yourself more interesting so that he wants your company. Do not be embarrassed, even if you are in a busy park.

Work hard to instill a good recall response from your German shepherd while he is still a pup. You will have solid foundations with which to work.

•    Find what really motives your German shepherd – be in a particular toy or type of treat (liver or cheese are often favorites). Keep the reward in your pocket when we go out for a walk.
•    Keep your German shepherd on an extending lead and call him back to you at intervals throughout your walk together. Make yourself sound exciting, show the reward to him, and give it to him the moment he returns to you. Send him off to play as soon as he has had his treat.
•    If he has taken a long time to come back, never show your displeasure or frustration when he does finally return. Shouting at your dog will make him believe you are angry that he came back (not that he wouldn’t come back), and will make him think twice about doing so in the future.

Some behavioral problems can have a hormonal cause. Perhaps your male is too boisterous, is scent-marking, or is overly interested in opposite sex. If your vet believes hormones are having a detrimental effect on your dog, he may advise you to have the dog neutered.

As well as having a positive effect on your dog’s behavior, neutering also has several health benefits, and may be worth considering if you do not intend to show your dog or breed from him/her. In bitches, removing the womb removes the chance of developing a pyometra (where the womb becomes infected with pus); this condition can be fatal if it is not caught in time. A reduced chance of mammary tumors is another considerable benefit from spaying. You will also be saved the inconvenience of dealing with seasons, and all the complications of keeping other dogs away during this time. In males, the likelihood of prostate disorders are reduced following neutering.

Weight increase and coat changes are often cited as the disadvantages of neutering. However, keeping an eye on your dog’s weight and adjusting the diet accordingly should prevent any unwanted increase. Coat changes are of little significance to those keeping their dogs as pets; those involved in the show world are less likely to neuter in the first place.

The age at which a dog or bitch is neutered varies according to the vet’s individual preferences. Some vets neuter as early as 18 weeks; some advises waiting until the dog has matured sexually or until the bitch has had her first season. Talk to your own vet about your particular circumstances to see what he or she advises.