A blog about dog training and dog breeding…and other sundry matters

Posts tagged ‘german shepherds’

Keeping an active German Shepherd Entertained

Cody and Athena in advanced obedience classes.

German Shepherds are working dogs.  They are active, highly intelligent, fiercely loyal, and enjoy hanging out with their humans.  It is for that reason that they do not do well in kennels away from humans.  They were bred to work closely with humans as herding dogs

Because these dogs are active, they need to live in a household where their minds and bodies will be kept active.  They need exercise such as walking, swimming, jogging (check with your vet before jogging with your dog).  Training will do wonders for keeping your dog mentally active.  Now, you don’t need to train your dog to do Search and Rescue, or to do police work.  Teaching a few simple tricks will suffice.  It will give the dog something to do, allow you to bond with your dog during the training process, and entertain your guests.

An active German Shepherd dog is a happy one.

When Dynamics Shift in a Multi-Dog Household

Athena plays with Gretchen (black and tan puppy) and Tuvok on the long jump

You have three or four dogs in your home, and everyone seems to get along quite well, until one day a minor tiff turns into an all-out dog fight with fur flying and blood everywhere.  That’s what nearly happened in my household very recently.

Until about a month ago, all four of my German Shepherds–three bitches and a dog–played together, although one of the bitches, Gretchen, was separated from the other Shepherds when not playing during the day and night.  She was crated in the house, while the other three dogs stayed on our enclosed verandah.

Then Gretchen went on heat, which surprised me because I expected that she would go on heat at the same time as her dam and aunt.  For convenience, I kept her completely isolated from the other dogs until she came off heat.  One evening I let her out to play with the other three dogs, whom she got along well with in previous encounters.  Athena, the aunt, who used to dote on her, summarily attacked her most viciously.  Fortunately I saw what was about to take place and intervened.

It was then that I realized that life would not be the same in my household among my dogs again.  The puppies have reached sexual maturity and are now competing with the other dogs for food, attention, status, and mates.   In a recently published paper titled Reproductive and sexual behavioral problems in dogs, the researcher, Petra Mertens (2006) points out that although bitches from the same household tend to go in estrus at the same time (which is what I expected at my house), a few higher ranking bitches will enter estrus earlier.  Given Mertens’ research, could Athena construe Gretchen’s early heat as a shift upwards on the social scale for Gretchen?

I am not sure why Gretchen went on heat before the other dogs.  This is her first heat at nine months.  Was it because she had been separated from the other dogs and only allowed to play with them for a few hours each day? My Pomeranian bitch, who is also separated from the big dogs, does not go on heat at the same time as the other females.  Was Gretchen’s heat a result of the Early Neurological Stimulation exercises that I did with her and the other puppies shortly after birth?

I don’t know if I will ever have the answers to these questions, but one thing’s for sure:  if you have puppies in a house with adult dogs, you must pay attention to the group dynamics.  Once those puppy papers burn, around the time of sexual maturity, puppies that were once loved and protected by the adult dogs will become the target of aggression.


Mertens,  P. (2006).  Reproductive and sexual behavioral problems in dogs. Theriogenology, 66, 606-609.  Retrieved from http://www.Sciencedirect.com

Doggie Adolescence and Obedience Training: A Contradiction.

Okay, so I didn’t train Gretchen yesterday.  I had a big project due for a class and really didn’t have time to work with her.  One wouldn’t think she would have forgotten everything in the space of one day, however.

Well, I took her out in the yard after work for some training, and it was most frustrating.  She wouldn’t focus, but spent the whole time with her nose to the ground.  When I called her name in my “working” voice,  she slowly gave me her attention.  When I said “sit” she looked at me as though she had no clue what I was saying.

Then when I asked for a “down” she looked at me as though I had an arm growing out of my forehead.  Luring didn’t work; she just tried to pry the food out of my hand.  I resorted to the old fashioned pull-‘n-push method to get the sit, and another trick that I learned from a friend to get a down from a dog that won’t down.

I rarely use those physical methods because I feel that there are other methods that are effective; and there are some dogs that are touch-sensitive to begin with, and forcing a sit or a down from such a dog could result in a bite (remember, I train Rottweilers and German Shepherds).   Anyway, I broke my own rule because Gretchen knows these cues, and I’m not sure why she chose not to do them.  She’s 10 months old, so it’s possible that the virus called doggie adolescence has invaded her brain and wiped it clean.

One thing I learned today while training:  it’s important to have many approaches, techniques, and tricks in one’s arsenal of training because it gives you a choice of things to try when something doesn’t work.  Yes, I’m a die-hard operant-based clicker trainer, but sometimes luring, and capturing doesn’t work.

One must use common sense when training.  Capturing and luring have their place, and that’s my first choice when training a puppy or a dog that has little or no experience with training.  Once you have a dog with fluent behaviors that are on cue, it becomes tricky.  It’s up to the handler/trainer to figure out why the dog won’t perform a specific behavior.  Sometimes there’s a good reason, but at some point the dog needs to understand that performing a given cue is not an option.

I’m Back

Many apologies for being away for so long, and thank you to my loyal readers who have sent me message through this forum and by email inquiring if I was okay.

I am just fine, but my graduate program has started, and it keeps me busy.  I have a huge project due tomorrow, and because of this and my teaching,  my dogs have not received any training for the past week, and the puppies are fast growing up to be hooligans.

Anyway,  although I haven’t trained Gretchen, my black and tan GS bitch, she did quite well today.  I was able to get a 10 second sit/stay and down/stay from her AND I added distance.  She stayed on the end of a four-foot leash.  Last time I trained her, we were up to six second stays, and no distance.

Her sits and downs are fluent, and I have faded both clicker and treats for that.  I did use the clicker for the 10 second stays, though, but will phase out the clicker in the coming weeks.

We also did a bit of distance-control on leash, just sits and downs, for the first time, and she caught on surprisingly fast. And she did all of this in my backyard amid distractions.  Perhaps I have a future CDX in the making!

I only trained for 10 minutes, because I have to get back to my studies, but it was 10 minutes that I enjoyed thoroughly.  There is nothing I enjoy more than spending time training my dogs.  It is perhaps the only activity that I can do that forces me to live in the moment and focus on my dog.  One has to focus when handling dogs like German Shepherds and Rottweilers.

Teaching the “Stand” using Operant-Based Clicker Training

Gretchen is making great strides now that her training is a bit more consistent.  Her sits and downs are fluent, and she’s much more focused than the last few days.  Today we started, or rather, restarted learning the stand from a sit or down.

We started with the very basics,  and used the touch cue, which is nothing more than having the dog follow my hand.  I do not use a verbal cue to touch because by simply holding my hand out, palms flat and fingers straight, Gretchen knows that she’s to touch my hand with her nose.  She also knows to follow my hand wherever it goes.

So, to train the stand, here’s the approach that I took:

1)  Placed Gretchen in a sit at my left side.

2) Using my right hand with palms facing the dog, I moved my hand straight out from her face, but did not move too far.

3)  As soon as she got up, I clicked and delivered the treat.  The timing of the click is critical at this stage.  Ideally, I want Gretchen to stand up without moving forward.  Only her back end should move out, if she’s getting up from a sit.

For now, however, I keep my criteria very low to ensure her success at this exercise and to cut down on the likelihood that she’ll get frustrated and shut down.  A dog that has shut down, like a human, will not learn, and will dread future learning situations.

Right now, I’m only interested in her getting up.  I don’t mind if she moves around. The click ends the behavior and serves as a “release” signal anyway, so once I’ve clicked,  it doesn’t really matter what she does next.  Once she understands this concept, then I’ll raise the criteria slightly.

The Best Treats to Use for Positive Dog Training

The choice of treats are definitely very important in the world of clicker training.  First and foremost, the treats must be something that the dog really likes.  Secondly, the treats should be small, pea-size or slightly bigger for a large-breed dog and smaller for a small/toy breed.

I have found when training rottweilers and german shepherds that if the treats are too small, the dogs invariably choke on them.  If they are too large, you simply run out of treats before you are really finished training.  I tend to treat generously and often, so that is a big issue for me.

When training toy breeds, like pomeranians, if the treats are too large, the dogs will fill up quickly and you will have to either find an alternative to food as a reward, or quit training for that session.  I have never had this issue with my large dogs, so I can’t swear that it won’t happen to larger breeds.

Treats should be smelly and soft.  If they are smelly, they will be palatable to the dog; if they are soft, the dog will be able to eat the treat quickly and not disrupt the training session.  I store my treats in a zip-lock bag to seal in moisture and stuff it in my treat bag (which is nothing more than an insulated lunch sack for humans which I clip to my belt when I train).  When I’m finished training, depending on the treats, I store the zip-lock bag with any remaining treats in the refrigerator.

Because my dogs tire of eating the same treats over a long period of time, I tend to add variety.  So for several days or even weeks I’ll train using bits of cheese, then I’ll switch to bits of sausage, then pieces of boiled liver.  I have found sausage (hotdog) to be very messy as the links invariably retain lots of moisture, especially if you thaw them then serve.

Unlike many trainers, I do not mix treats within a training session.  It’s just too much work and gets cumbersome to manage during sessions.  Timing is important in clicker training, so you don’t want to be fumbling with getting the treats out of the pouch, especially when training an inexperienced or young dog.

Of late I’ve been using commercial treats for variety, especially for Athena, who is not a food oriented dog.  One of the treats, Scoops made by Seargent, is supposedly made with real cream.  It is a soft treat and breaks into small pieces very easily and are not nearly as messy as sausage.  I just started using Beggin’ Strips, too.  I like these treats because they are the least messy of all.  I can push a few strips in my pockets and not worry about messes.  Although they break up quite easily.  I have found that the dog needs some time to chew the treat during training, and depending on the size of the dog, if the treat is too small, the dog has a hard time chewing it.

Bottom line is, choose food that your dog truly enjoys.  The reward must be of a high value to the dog.  If the food isn’t something that the dog particularly relishes, then the very act of offering a treat becomes an aversive.

It’s Just One Disappointment After Another

By the looks of things, Athena will not be able to compete in the upcoming obedience trial.  She’s now refusing to jump.  At first she was being creative in her refusal, like running under the crossbeam of the high jump, and that was after I’d lowered the height after her nasty tumble on the long jump.

I placed a barrier under the long jump so she wouldn’t go under, and she started going around.  I then worked her on-leash, but she would just run up to the jump and refuse to go over.

She used to be a good jumper, so I’m suspecting one of two things have come into play here:
i) She’s now afraid of jumping because of her recent fall
ii) Her ears could be infected…again…

I’m told that the other dogs push her to the ground and maul her when they are playing in the yard while I’m at work.   If she has an ear infection, this one will make her third infection for the year!

So I’m really disappointed about not entering the trial, although I’ve already paid for the entry.  I guess I’ll cancel the entry and transfer the fee to the conformation show.

My disappointments, I’m afraid, do not stop here.  A few weeks ago I found a lump just above Tuvok’s hip.  It came up almost overnight, and I was alarmed.  Our vet, however, thought it was a haematoma, and said that we should wait two weeks to see if it goes down.

In the meantime, another has appeared on Tuvok’s left shoulder, which I discovered today, and another one has formed on his right shoulder.

The lumps don’t seem to hurt him,  and he doesn’t seem to be in any pain.  Right now he’s lying down beside my chair working the remnants of a rawhide bone.

We’re in the midst of a long Easter holiday, so I will not be able to take him to the vet before Tuesday.  I am really praying that this dog will be okay.  I’ve never seen this before on any of my other dogs, and Tuvok is only 7 months old.

Evaluating Potential SAR German Shepherd Dogs

I’m very proud of my two puppies.  Today both of them passed the first phase of their evaluation test as SAR dogs.  The test took the form of a courage test where the dogs had to walk on unusual and  uneven surfaces that moved under their feet, then had to crawl on their bellies in small spaces, had to seek out treats hidden in boxes under newspapers and bits of cardboard.  They even had a sound sensitivity test, too.

Both puppies were tested individually.  Gretchen went first and did well, with a bit of coaxing.  Tuvok, however, was the real star.  He showed absolutely no fear, especially while walking on the uneven/movable surface and the tester threw a plastic jug against a metal cabinet.  He went over to sniff the jug!  I was relieved that he didn’t pick it up and run off with it.  He loves carrying things in his mouth.

I’m planning on using Tuvok as a SAR dog, while Gretchen will be my agility puppy.

I don’t know how common it is to have two puppies from the same litter pass their evaluations as working dogs, but right now I’m an extremely proud dog breeder, and I feel satisfied that the work I did with this litter, from they were three days old,  is paying off.

Operant Conditioning allows German Shepherds Retain Skills

The three dogs–Gretchen, Tuvok, and Athena–continue to make progress in their training, although I am so inconsistent in my work with them.  That’s the beauty with clicker training:  what you teach sticks!

This is the first week, since I’ve returned to work in January, that I’ve trained three days, and the week’s not yet over.  That’s huge progress.  The most I’ve ever trained is two days in a week.  Last year this time, however, I didn’t train any of my dogs between January and May.  I did a bit of work with Athena during the summer (when it wasn’t too hot), but she still managed to win the Novice trial in November, with High in Trial (99/100 points).

Athena now has a reliable 30-second stand-stay, and is doing the high and long jumps quite well.  The jump heights are under the required height for her class, but that’s okay for now.  She did two lovely recalls for me today, too.

Gretchen has a semi-reliable 30-second sit-stay.  She does this on leash.  She has an awesome down-stay, too.  I have started doing rear-end awareness exercises with her and her brother, Tuvok.  Tonight I had them walk through the rungs of a ladder that was laid out flat on the grass.

Gretchen’s loose-leash walking is weak, and I realize that I really need to focus on that skill now, while she’s five months old and still controllable.  Tuvok’s isn’t much better.  My problem is that I train late at night when going into the yard after dusk guarantees a feast for the vampires, I mean MOSQUITOS.  I train in the house at night and in the yard during the day (problem is I’m never home during the day).

I’ve started getting up early to train at least one dog before work.  Some mornings it just doesn’t happen.  Yet, I press on and hope for the best.

Motorized Puppy FINALLY Takes a Break

I swear Gretchen has a motor attached to some part of her body.  I’ve yet to find that motor, and I’m still looking for the off button. I never thought I’d see the day when Gretchen, aka Turbo Puppy, aka Motor Puppy would settle down in the house.  

When I let her into the house, Gretchen would pace the house looking for something to play with.  It could be quite annoying, not to mention distracting.  Then she would jump on tables or the tops of dog crates and abscond with a prize–usually a book, pen, or someone’s wallet.

On my day off today, I let her in the house with a bone.  She settled down in my office and gnawed her bone then went off to the laundry room for a nap. She slept for about an hour, until I inadvertently woke her up while trying to capture this historic event on camera.

Gretchen wakes up from her napy in the laundry

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