German Shepherd barking/aggression

Posted by Evelyn
Aug 13, 2010
My female German Shepherd is now a year and a half old and I did not receive her until just a few months ago. We have been working on leash training, she can do most basics like sit, lay down, jump up (onto the truck, couch etc.), she even has been trained to 'go to bed' and 'where is your food.' I have one major problem though, she is extremely aggressive toward anyone or animal walking near our fence or when she is on the leash. I have tried many things like standing between dogs coming toward her, putting her next to me and commanding sit which she does then immediately begins to bark, jump up and run to the fence and barks viciously. I read that I should try holding her muzzle and possibly saying 'shhh' but what should I do when she is on the leash and is not keeping her focus of walking when an unleashed animal comes in her space? She does not just warn them, she goes after them and I even was bitten in the process of it (by accident). She is very very protective it seems and is very vocal to other leashed dogs but not aggressive, only to those that are not leashed. In all honesty my first thought is that their owners need to do something about this but I do not want a dog to get hurt (these are small dogs that are left to fun around the neighborhood w/o leashes) because their owners are not leashing them. I should mention we live on a military post, so proper pet manners are a must in order for her to be here which is why this is such a concern to me. I do not want my dog to be labeled vicious but she sure acts that way toward unleashed animals or any that come near her fence. I should also say that when she is not inside her fence and is on the leash, she is very friendly toward other people of all ages, it's just the other animals that 'offend' her for some reason. Does anyone have any advice or tips for averting her attention and teaching her not to be so aggressive especially when the person or animal is 15 foot away from her fence? Thank you.
Posted by kjd
Aug 13, 2010

This type of behavior is very common in dogs. The fence, in particular, provides a safe place to the dog. I have had my dogs snarl visciously at a dog on the other side of the fence (who is doing the same). Bring them out of the fence and they are the best of friends!

What you are seeing on your walks is certainly not acceptable. Please, do not get in between two fighting dogs. As you discovered, you can be bitten by accident.

I've had only one dog-aggressive (dog-fearful) dog and she, unfortunately, died before we were able to convince her they were no threat. There are other people on this forum who can give you excellent advice. I replied quickly simply to ask you to keep yourself safe.

Are there any obedience classes near or on the post? These may be a way of calming your dog around other dogs. Also, if the post has a K9 unit, one of the handlers might be willing to work with you.

Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Aug 13, 2010
Hi Evelyn,

I am afraid your GSD didn't get enough socialization with other dogs before you got her, especially during her puppyhood. If you know her previous owner you might want to find out her history.

As a breed, GSD has very protective instincts to start with, plus lack of socialization can cause aggression like yours.

I have a very similar issue with my Border Collie named Noah. He is extremely friendly to people, including kids, but he used to get very aggressive towards big dogs and he still is when he is leashed and also at the fence.

The aggression (fear aggression, we think) started when he was 1.5-2yrs old after a few months we adopted him from Border Collie Rescue. He has been with us for almost 4 years now and we have been working on the issue since then. I have tried the following and it seems helping:

1. Fostering dogs so that he gets to learn how to deal with stranger dogs (we have 2 other dogs and 2 kittens and he loves his pack members). I am very careful choosing my foster dogs and he has been successful in getting along with most of them.

2. Taking obedience classes once a week. Again, I have been careful choosing his class, to avoid any potentially threatening dogs for him.

3. Taking him to walk by himself to pay undivided attention so that I can desensitize/destract him when encountering other dogs on the walk. I keep telling him to "Leave it" when we pass other dogs and owners, or in front of fences where dogs are barking as we approach. I am watching how he would react to other dogs, in how much distance he starts getting nervous, etc. If he can ignore those dogs, I praise him and give him a treat. He has been getting pretty good and I think he is now 99% under my control.

However, we never meet dogs off-leash on our walk so it is easier than your case. I have no confidence if a big dog approaches Noah when he is leashed. I would tell the owner to keep his/her dog away from Noah. In dog parks, I usually keep him away from the dogs that I see some potentials of a fight with Noah.

Anyway, there is unfortunately no quick fix with this problem and all you can do is to let her get used to other dogs one at a time. I would ask cooperation from those you meet on your walk, explaining your dog's aggression problem.

I wish you the best
Posted by KOPCaroline
Aug 15, 2010
Hey evelyn,

You've got some great advice already, just thought I'd share a couple thoughts on the subject too.

Puppy socialization is very, very important, and as suggested above, I think your dog missed a lot of good socializing when she was younger, and its obviously affecting her now.

The fence barking might be moreso a territorial thing, not necessarily full on aggression, but "someone is walking past MY house, I have to let them know who's boss" kind of thing. My own dog used to bark horrendously at other dogs walking past. My method was to immediately go outside, tell him "enough" or "no", and then quickly take him to his kennel in the back and tie him up for at least 30 minutes or so. He caught on pretty quick that barking at passersby wasn't allowed.

You can work to deter the behaviour at home by not leaving your dog home alone with access to the fence area. You don't want to allow heaps of "patrolling" time. Tie her up in the backyard when you leave, make sure she doesn't spend all her time outside with you home at the front fence.

As far as interdog aggression when you're walking her, it is just going to take practice and patience. Obedience classes can work wonders, even for adult dogs. She really just needs to get used to other people and dogs, and realize they are not threats to you or her. Find friends with dogs who'd be willing to work with you and your girl, and just spend time with her and other dogs, all the while making a conscious effort to be happy and relaxed. Your behaviour around other dogs can help or hinder her progress, so try your best to be a positive influence

You're on a good roll with telling her to sit when you see opportunity for her aggressive behaviour; distraction is a great way to get through these behaviours, so I would keep trying that.

Maybe muzzle her while you're walking her until she calms down, and as said above, warn other dog owners if their off-lead dogs come bounding up to yours.

I hope this helps, I'm sure she'll calm down in time, and with your help!
Posted by kjd
Aug 15, 2010
Hi, Evelyn,

KOPCaroline and MaxHollyNoah have given you some great advice. I'd caution you against tying her up when there is no one to supervise. I've seen too many cases of dogs wrapping the rope/chain completely up and leaving them no way to move. It is far better to leave her in the house. You didn't mention that she was concerned with dogs walking by while she was inside. If that is a problem, just confine her to rooms that don't give her access to the front windows.

My one fence-fighter did it only with the one neighbor, he ignored the dog in back. Since the two dogs went at it as if they'd kill one another, but were best friends away from the fence, I put it on a par with my brother and [I]his [/I]best friend rubbing poison ivy in each other's faces -- boys, whether human or canine, do the weirdest things!

It sounds as if you have a very nice dog, who just needs to understand this one rule. It is a hard rule to understand, but I am sure she'll finally get it.