Sam is developing territorial aggression, but I think I am the problem not him.

Posted by jacqui
Nov 1, 2007
Our problems with Sam our German Shephard is a big one, the background of which I feel is important to share with you in order for you to understand and visualise the complete picture and location etc., however, this could so easily turn into a book, therefore I will not waste your time with long paragraphs, instead I will atempt to brief you initially in list form.
1. My husband and I moved from Britain to Hungary in 2005.
2. We brought with us our 2 dogs one 17yrs and one 12 yrs.
3. The 17yr old border collie died after 6 months of being in Hungary.
4. Our 12 yr old girl (heinz 57) got very lonely in our 10 acre farmland so.
5. May 2006 we rescued a 12 week old GS pup.
6. We do not speak fluent Hungarian so could not employ professional help with training and carried out basic training ourselves, but our experience of GS behaviour was non existent, and we quickly realised that we needed help.
7. We contacted via the internet a professional GS trainer/breeder in the UK who told us that we should not even think about trying to train Sam until he was at least a year old.
8. So, we sat back and enjoyed watching him grow, but also became aware that he was growing away from us.
9. Sam sleeps in a large kennel on our open veranda and patrols about 1 and a half acres at night.
The real story starts from here................
Sam has killed many of our chickens by waiting for them to get out of their pen, then he stalks them and goes in for the kill. We always take them away from him and bury them, so he dosent get to keep his kill. During the night, he will kill mice and line them up on the lawn for us, he will do the same with a cat not clever enough not to enter his territory. He does not rip them or try to eat them, only kill and walk away. (I am sure this means something significant, perhaps someone can tell me) This however is not our biggest problem with Sam. We live in a very rural position on a National Park, we may possibly have 3 cars a week pass our property, lots of tractors, horse and carts etc, but not cars. At the first sign of an approaching vehicle, horse and cart etc, Sam races to the gate/fence and barks, he bites the tops of the wooden fences and screams. The postman comes on motorbike and Sam goes crazy to get at him. In fact one day he did catch hold of his coat collar, but found that he couldnt bark with it in his mouth, so he let go. The postman laughs and says dont worry, all farm dogs are the same (but we are not prepared to continue in this way, and need help please.
One final thing. We have now adopted the rule that both of us always carry a choker and lead in our pocket. The other day, around dusk, someone called to the house, Sam got to the gates before us a and started screaming and biting the tops of the gates, tearing great lumps of wood off until his gums were bleeding. I managed to catch him and put a lead on him while my husband attended to the caller. Sam calmed down and sat by my side on the driveway for a couple of minutes, then he seemed to say "well I have tried it your way mum and this person has not gone away, now we will do it my way". he leapt up on me nipping at my shoulder, back and leg and started screaming and twisting around hoping I would let go of the lead, which of course I didnt do.
When the caller went, and Sam had calmed down a bit, I let him off his lead and he did what he always does when this happens, he bolted for his kennel and no amount of coaxing would make him come out. We went indoors and left him for about 20 minutes then I opened the door and called him, he came inside tail wagging, usual slobery kisses and acted as if nothing had happened.
We know he is a very intelligent dog and there is a lot we have to do to help him become the social dog we need him to be in this environment, so can you please point us in the right direction.

Incidentally, since this last episode, we have made a few changes, for instance, we urge him into the house a lot more now so that he can get used to socialising with us in our environment and not always in his. He still wont sleep in the house at night, but we have restricted his partol area to about a half acre to try to take a bit of responsibility away from him. We have spoken to our vet about this problem and he just laughs and says that all the dogs in the village hate the postman so dont worry about it. This is something more than just hating the postman though dont you think? perhaps you can give me some pointers before I am not only grey, but bald too.
Thanks jacqui
Posted by Steph-ampWyatt
Feb 9, 2008
Hi Jacqui,
I too have a Problem Germen Shephard named Wyatt, but his issues pale compared to your Sams. I can't believe no one replyed to you with some advice, I hope they did, but if not try e-mailing them or try to post again. The alpha technique's have helped me, have you tried them? I hope things have improved for you
Good luck
Posted by Blue
Feb 13, 2008
I would suggest restricting his freedom and doing intensive obedience training with Sam. What you need is for him to respond to you from wherever you are on your property, in this way you can call him off from his "guard mode" the way police men call their GSs off of attacking an offender.

By restricting his freedom, I mean do scheduled walks with him, where you are in control and if you can, avoid leash free activity. Even if this means he is in the house a lot. Walking with your dog is an excellent way to establish your role as alpha as well as creating a "pack mentality" with your pet.

Right now Sam feels he has the right to do whatever he pleases plus because he is in an alpha role the territory is his and he must defend it.

To try and right his wrong behaviour I would start alpha training immediately - his nipping at you and jumping up on you and guests is a clear sign of who is alpha.

As they say here often enough, alpha training is very important. Here are some important points on alpha training-
1) If you come across your dog while he is sleeping or lying on the floor then you can reinforce your position as alpha dog by making him move away from where you want to go, no the other way around.
2) Make sure that you always go through doorways first. Try reinforcing your position as alpha dog is to walk your dog around the house on the leash, making your dog wait while you walk through doorways first.
3) At mealtimes make sure that your dog or dogs eat after all of the humans have.
4) When your dog wants to go outside for a walk, make it sit and wait until you are ready to go
5) Do not feed your dogs tidbits or let it pester you at the table. Save the morsels and tidbits for training sessions instead.
6) Do not greet your dogs straightaway when you arrive home. Make it wait until you are ready and then call it to you.
7) Whenever your dogs want attention or anything wait till they are sitting and being well behaved

I also found in the training of my dog Blue, it helps to disallow the dog access to human beds, this includes any couches or La-Z-boys too.

By restricting your dogs movements outside, you will be able to better control your dogs behaviour and stop it before it starts.

After your dog becomes very responsive to obedience and alpha training indoors and on the short leash outside, you can start trying to let him out on longer and longer leads - make sure that your recall remains consistent and that he responds to it with immediacy.

If Sam doesn't recall when he should, shorten the leash again by a few feet and recommence the remote training. When Sam is consistently obedient to you from a distance on a leash, you can try leash free recalls/commands but start leash free training when there are the least amount of distractions around.

If Sam is primarily a guard dog, he still needs to know who is alpha. Have you thought of sending him away to police level obedience training? It is hard to send your pet away, but with his level of aggressiveness, you may want to consider it before he has the potential to really hurt someone or something.

Please let us know how he is doing or if you are having any results!
Posted by Steph-ampWyatt
Feb 13, 2008
Hi Jacqui,
That is very good advice from Blue and I think it will help you a lot, of course your Sam is not going to like it, he sounds very aplha, just don't let him make you feel guilty.Training has made a big difference with Wyatt, but it does take time, consistency and patience, we're still a work in progress, GSs really have a mind of their own.
Good luck and please post how it's going.
Stephanie & Wyatt
Posted by jacqui
Feb 18, 2008
Hi Stephanie,

Thank you so much for your interest in Sam and our troubles with him. I had got fed up with looking for advice on the website, and only your email today gave me some hope that I am not alone in this after all. Sam is marginally better since I posted my problem, in fact he is in the garden at the moment chasing snow flakes.
We still have a big problem as far as visitors to the gates are concerned, but if we know someone is coming, both my husband and I go out and put sam on his lead and talk to him and encourage him to be calm before the visitor arrives and we wait together for the arrival, this seems to work quite well, he does shake and scream a bit when they arrive and wont walk up the drive on his leash, he just lies down and rolls over and over trying to get off his leash The postman however is still a problem. We have moved the post box away from the garden fence now so we at least know that Sam cannot reach him. We had a big discussion regarding Sam and decided that we do not want him as a guard dog, we really want him as a family dog. We realised that although we have a lot of land here, we are very safe. The only burglars are the Deer eating the fruit in the orchard. The only thing Sam needs to protect outside is the car. So we try to have him indoors with us at night now (when he will come in). so that he becomes more sociable with us and our indoor habits. We have decided to hae Sam neutered, maybe this will quiten him down a bit, we will see. We would like to send Sam on some training, as was suggested, but Sam only understands English and there are no training facilities for him only in Hungarian. I hope you will keep in touch with me, it is lovely to be able to talk about Sam with someone who understands a little of what we are going through.
Posted by jacqui
Feb 18, 2008
Dear Blue,

Thank you for your kindness in responding to our troubles with Sam. We have discussed your suggestions and printed them off and have decided that we will start again with Sam from the very beginning. Tomorrow he will have a new lead, with a 30ft rope attached and we will start all over again. We will keep you posted on our progress, and hope you will keep in touch with us, your support is very much appreciated. Jacqui & Chris
Posted by Steph-ampWyatt
Feb 19, 2008
Hii, Jacqui,
I'm so glad you replied, Blue always gives good advice, You can e-mail them directly with questions and they usually reply in a couple of days. I can understand your frustration and believe me I can understand your fear when your Sam goes off on someone, the first time Wyatt did that I was scared to death, I still am, so for right now, like you ,we try not to put ourself in that situation, GSs can be VERY stubborn, and like kids a lot of hard work(a whole lot), please keep posting, believe me your not alone.
Best wishes
Stephanie & Wyatt
Posted by jacqui
Feb 20, 2008
Stephanie and Wyatt

Thanks for your response. We are now keeping Sam restricted to our front garden at all times. Last night he slept in the house, all night. That was a first. Yesterday we purchased an extendable leash (as suggested by Blue). Sam normally hates leads of any description, but once he realised that he could walk away from me more than usual, he comically walked to the end of the leash and stopped and waited for me to catch up. Bless him, he thinks he has taught me a new trick. Anyway, we take him for walks only on his leash now into the "big" garden and so far so good. Little by little I hope we will be able to break his bad habits of just running, running, running all round his big territory and not really knowing what to do with all the space. Thanks again for your replies, it is great that you and Wyatt are concerned and interested in Sam. I did contact Kingdom of Pets directly for help, but they didnt even bother to reply. Never mind at least is dosent all look so gloomy now. Sam sends hugs and kisses to you and a hand shake to Wyatt.
Posted by Blue
Feb 20, 2008
I am so happy to hear you are making headway with Sam!
Sam is still young enough that his behaviour is more easily modified then that of an older more established dog used to it's position in the pack!

I definitely recommend having Sam neutered, as territorial aggression can easily be aggravated by intact male hormones, these hormones encourage Sam to acquire his own territory (so as to attract some females) and protect that territory vigorously!

It is great improvement that Sam is walking on a leash with you! I am happy to hear you are restricting his responsibilities to the house and a smaller yard
- this will improve his relationship with you, and increase your chances of practicing alpha techniques with him, and thus improving his behaviour overall.

In time you should try to walk Sam on a shorter leash so as to work on:
1. His behaviour on a short leash - so that he is manageable at close confines especially around visitors.
2. Obedience such as: sit-stay while next to you, an improved and reliable recall, heel would be great for going to greet visitors, and also down-stay while next to you so you can chat with visitors without any risk of him jumping up or him running off.
3. The best progress would be having Sam greet visitors, while in a calm sit-stay/down-stay at your side.

One concern I do have - extendable leash - do you mean the type that are literally retractable (like a tape measure), or a long-lead that is something you can hand coil (similar to a lunging reign used for horses - just a really long leash)?

Extendable leashes are great after training has progressed to a more advanced response from the dog. But during training, the automatic retractable leashes are harder to control a dog with. It is harder to control a dog on a retractable because of the tiny little string that they retract on and the large heavy container/handle, these components make it more difficult to "reel" the dog in quickly and effectively (without getting some form of painful rope burn). The retractable leashes also tend to encourage the owners to "retract themselves" towards the dog - when for alpha training and obedience training we want the dog to come to the owners.

If you have one of the retractable leashes and not a long-lead, I would recommend going out and buying a long-lead to continue with training - and you can use the retractable when Sam has learned his manners .

With the long-lead - when Sam starts acting up, you can give him a reprimand (Ahhh, Grrr or whatever he responds to best) and then straight away reel him in towards you. This way he knows that bad behaviour causes his loss of freedom. Never use his recall in the early stages of training while he's overly excited and not likely to respond - he may not appear to notice you calling him, but he'll soon learn that a response to a recall is not necessary when distractions are nearby and thus not necessary at all.

The long-lead also gives you more control of his recall training - if he doesn't respond after the first or second call, reel him in but don't reward him enthusiastically, just give him a pet, make him sit stay, and then re-release him on a shorter lead.

As I said in my earlier post, recall training is best started on a short leash, and then graduated to longer and longer distances away from you. So perhaps save recall training until Sam is comfortable on a short leash, or your attempts to recall him from a distance may be unfruitful.

Otherwise, keep us updated with your progress and let us know what your biggest trials are and we can see how to help you and support you through Sam's training!

Good luck, and Sam's lucky to have someone who cares so much about him!
Posted by Steph-ampWyatt
Feb 20, 2008
Hi Jacqui and Sam,
How clever you are to learn so quick ,you're a good human, Sam must be soooo proud! I'm glad things are looking better for you, I know what it feels like to have your German Shephard want to "eat" someone and have no (or very little) control over the siuation, Wyatt does good with commands in the house and he's getting better outside, BUT.... sometimes he will just take off after a racoon or whatnot, usually straight towards the unfenced 60ft bluff with me shaking my pebble can yelling NO, ARGHHHHH and GRRRR like an idiot, (good thing I live in the boonies), then he'll pop out and give me this stupid silly grin like he's laughing me and sit in front of me like he should have done 10 minutes earlier, well I better quit rambling on ,I'm too am glad you answered back, it's nice to have someone to talk "kids" with.
Wyatt send hugs and kisses back to you and a big woof to Sam.
Please keep posting
Stephanie and Wyatt
Posted by jacqui
Feb 25, 2008
Dear Blue,Thank you so much for your reply. Yes you are right, I am trying to train Sam back to front. Oh gosh it is so obvious when you say it. Of course a retractable leash is no good for a dog who just takes off when the mood takes him. OK, now we have a proper collar, lead and extension to approx 10 metres. I take Sam around the "big" garden a few times a day on the short leash now. If I stop, so does he. Wow,. we may be getting somewhere. Yesterday, I chose the wrong moment to go through the small garden gate with washing. Sam was sitting inside the gate as instructed, I went through it and unfortunately the second car in a fortnight chose to come past at that moment and Sam shot through the gate and down to the large garden to do his usual, barking, screaming, running full pelt and biting the tops of the fence. I thought now what would Blue tell me to do here. Maybe I got it wrong, but it worked anyway. This is what happened. I realised that Sam wasent going to do anything I asked him to do especially without his leash on, so I just let him have his head for about 30 seceonds, then I called SAM, Come. Nothing, Well Rome wasent built in a day. I waited another 30 seconds then I clapped my hands twice and immediately called loudly but not angrily, SAM. He came trotting up the garden to me walked past me into the small garden and straight into his kennel. Is this a breakthrough or what???

Thank you Blue, I will keep hard at it and now I think Sam has a little respect for me as his boss and not his slave, I am sure he will beging to listen more and more. He loves it when he gets it right, his whole demeaner changes and he is a much happier dog. He is still sleeping inside the house all night and we really can see a difference in his whole well being, he seems calmer, more relaxed withougt so much responsibility and we feel great about his achievements. Thank you so much.
Jacqui & Chris.
Posted by jacqui
Feb 25, 2008
Stephanie, Hello to you and Wyatt.
thank you for your lovely message. Sam and I are getting along a little better now, I hope you read my response above to Blue, then you will see what happened the other day and how excited I am about it. Sam is going to be a perfect friend soon (well he is already, but there is room for improvement on both sides at the moment). Our other dog Holly (16years old), is a lot more relaxed now that I am not constantly shouting at Sam. Love to you and Wyatt, please keep sending messages, we are not out of the woods yet. Wyatt, seems to be a lovely dog, it is a shame we can't send photo's on this site, I would love to take a look at him. talk soon and thank you so much for your interest in Sam and me.
Posted by Blue
Feb 25, 2008
Hi there Jacqui,
It sounds like Sam is starting to be happy with not having to be alpha! This is good news, makes both you and him happier!

I'm also glad to hear of your progress with leash training and general obedience, it sounds like Sam's responding very well to alpha training and thus becoming more attentive to you!

The recall from the fence line was both good and bad. It was good that he he responded on the second recall (much better than not at all!) it was bad in that it was not an ideal recall - and not in the sense that his response wasn't fast enough.

By going to his after your recall kennel Sam is in an avoidance state of mind, not good -[I] he's not listening to you anymore at this point[/I]. His behaviour at the fence line has been previously reprimanded, so even though his return may have initially been sparked by your call - his going to the kennel feels safer, he knows that when he's in there he doesn't get reprimanded for his behaviour at the gate (or probably any other bad behaviour), so he's controlling the situation by avoiding you completely and going to a place that is absolutely his territory, and where you probably usually just leave him in peace.

If a non training - leash free situation occurs again, if you can, try to get in between Sam and his route back to his kennel - his recall should be directly back to you - not back to his kennel.

If you can intercept him in a recall situation like the one you described, make him sit-stay in front of you and reward him [I]quietly[/I] - especially if:
1. you had to move into his path to "catch him"
2. he didn't recall after the first call.
A quiet reward would be some low key praise and a lower ranking treat like some of his dinner kibble etc. It always helps to constantly have some treats at hand during training, especially for situations that arise unexpectedly! I find that a fanny pouch is particularly useful around the house/backyard when I know the dog may have an opportunity to act out.

On the other hand if in the future he comes after his first call you can give him a favourite treat, or a short play session to reward his excellent behaviour!

Another thing that may be useful is only use the recall "come" when you are sure the situation is controlled and the outcome is more than likely to be a decent recall (training situations ideally right now). Instead of "come" in uncontrolled situations, you can add another more loose recall into Sam's vocabulary in the meantime, like "here" or a lot of trainers recommend the use of words not common in conversation - I know one couple that used made up words for their recalls. This is good for calling him away from the attraction, but doesn't cause the command "come" to lose it's more immediate recall action required strength!

I have a few questions - is Sam protective of his kennel at all? Does he always respond when called out of it? Can you take him by the collar to bring him out of the kennel? If he gets any food in there, can you safely remove it without any aggression or reaction at all from Sam? If any of the answers to these questions are giving Sam the power to choose when he comes out of his kennel or what he does while in the kennel, we may need to work on that a bit too.

Let the progress continue!
Thank you for being so forth coming with your progress and the bumps along the way!

Posted by jacqui
Feb 26, 2008
Oh Blue, I thought we were doing so well too. Never mind, we will keep on trying.
In answer to your questions regarding his kennel. He dosent have food in there atall, so I cannot answer that question. If he goes into his kennel after a problem, he just lies there with his head hung over the entrance. I do get down and talk to him, but he will only come out when he thinks the danger of a reprimand is over. He has never shown any agression towards me at this time, but I have never tried to pull him out. So maybe that should be the next step eh? I will wait for your advice before doing anything more.
Posted by Blue
Feb 26, 2008
Hi Jacqui!
Don't worry you are doing great! Being able to walk him on a short leash and even just seeing Sam act more happy are all indications that your training is coming along!

My comments in the last post were mainly to steer you in a direction that would [I]maintain [/I]consistency and positive out comes in your training, I apologize if they made you feel unsuccessful in your training! You [I]are[/I] doing great! Again, Sam is a very lucky dog to have someone who so wants to make him a happier and healthier pet! (and pack member )

As far as the kennel goes, you should be able to call Sam out of it without any hesitation on his part, because you are the alpha, the pack should come to you.

You can practice Sam's recall from the kennel by putting Sam on the trusty leash and saying "kennel" or whatever you would say to have him go in. With a leash - as usual - you have more control over the situation, and less risk of Sam becoming aggressive with you.

Reward Sam for going into the kennel on command.

Then, when Sam has settled (laid down) try to recall him out of the kennel. Because he has a leash on, you can use "come" and if he doesn't respond, reprimand and try another "come" with a tug on the leash shortly afterwards. When he does recall successfully, reward him quietly if he doesn't come on the first command, but if he comes straight away, make a big fuss of him!

Don't try physically pulling Sam out of the kennel, he needs to come out willingly, even if that means you have to offer him a sirloin steak to get him to do it. Pulling him out forcefully is negative reinforcement for Sam and will only reinforce his worries of reprimand when exiting his kennel, when you are near.

In addition, if Sam goes into the kennel of his own accord after bad behaviour, ignore him while he's in there for about 10 minutes, then try calling him out of it. When you give him attention after he's chosen to go in there after bad behaviour, you are rewarding him for his decision to avoid you.

Rewards for going in the kennel should occur only after positive behaviour (like you gave him the command to go in there) or if he chooses to go in there for quiet time - using it as his bed (he chooses to move there from another quiet place/good behaviour of his own accord). Your kennel should be very similar in view to a dog as crate training, successful crate training will often lead to the dog enjoying the crate as a bed. They they should never see it as a way to avoid reprimand or be reprimanded.

A successful recall consists of when a dog comes directly back to you, and either sits in front of you * or if he comes directly to you and you can calmly and quietly take hold of his collar, without him trying to dodge you or run away.

[I]you can teach sit at the end of a recall, without giving the command to sit, by raising the treat above and over Sam's head. As though teaching him how to sit - it doesn't dilute the recall that way, and eventually if you do it after each successful recall he will learn that the sit is part of the recall[/I]

I would practice this at least a few times a day for several minutes (you can mix other tricks in to keep it more entertaining for Sam too ).

Eventually you will be able to practice recalling Sam from the kennel off-leash and he will learn that [B]coming out of the kennel = reward[/B] and not reprimand .

Hope this helps!

Sorry if this post was a little disjointed! I'm trying to get as much information in as possible without becoming too confusing! If you have any questions at all, feel free to ask!

Blue. :cool:
Posted by Steph-ampWyatt
Feb 26, 2008
Hi Jacqui and Sam;
I'm glad things are going better for you and Sam, Blue gives such good advice, I learn something new everytime I read one of her post,she is extremely knowledgable when it comes to dog behavior, while I on the other hand...:confused: but I'm slowly learning, Wyatt is doing better with his recall commands, it seems like suddenly it just "clicked" it surprises me when he obeys, of course I haven't tried it when someones around he could take a bite out of, baby steps... my next goal is to start trying to socialize him more, thats the problem with living in a rural area,(as you well know)We have a pet store in town that allow you to bring your dogs in, of course I will attempt this with a strong lead and a muzzle on, also a prayer, crossed fingers, four leaf clover,and any other good luck thing I can find You can post pictures, I have one of Wyatt in the 'Dog Lovers Corner", it seems like not many people(but me) visit that site, I would love to see Sam, comming from Europe I bet he is on the paperclip for directions to post a photo
Keep me posted on the "Adventures of Jacqui and Sam"
best wishes
Steph & Wyatt
Posted by jacqui
Mar 2, 2008
Dear Blue,

Thank you so much once again for your response to my posting regarding Sam. We are making "slow" headway with him, but he does seem to want to learn from us now and dosent seem to shrug his shoulders in that "oh god here we go again, bit more training, better keep them happy and do it". kind of way. We are having more laughs with him too, he has developed a very smart move for picking up a slipper as he walks past it, but he dosent chew, he just wiggles his butt and smiles, when I say, no Sam that's mummies, he just puts it down on the floor as much as to say, see mum I do understand you, sometimes I just don't feel like doing it.

I had a thought the other day, which may or may not help other people with food aggression. When Sam was around 4 months old, he growled once when I went near his dish while he was eating, well that is something I have never allowed with any of my dogs. When he had finished, I gave him a mug with some weak tea, tiny bit of sugar and tiny bit of milk in it and held onto the handle while he enjoyed his new treat. Obviously I did this quite a few times before he was comfortable with it, but as he realised I was not going to let go of the mug and what splashed on my hand, he either had to lick off if he wanted it or leave it, he soon came to love the closeness of me feeding him something and sometimes even now looks for a cup of tea. I often lie on the floor by the side of his dish while he is eating, and he has never except that once growled at me, I think he knows that once I put his dish down, the food is his, sometimes I even let him eat some then pick it up again and put a little more in for him, he trusts me that I will always give it back. I don't know if this helps anyone else, but it certainly did the trick with Sam. Yes I can take bones off him too. I will keep you updated on Sams training, we still have a long way to go, but we are both happier, he even chatters at the cats when he sees them on the house roof now instead of going crazy, not saying he wouldnt still kill one if he could though.
Posted by jacqui
Mar 3, 2008
Hi Stephanie and Wyatt,

It must be my age, pretty old you know, but I cannot get into the sending pictures of Sam and looking at your pictures of Wyatt, perhaps you can guide me through it.