Fearful Shepherd? Worried... - Page 1

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by meantformee on 28 August 2018 - 11:08

Hi Everyone

I am a first time dog owner and have always loved the hardworking and loyal nature of GSDs! I picked up Caesar from a breeder in Pennsylvania where he was kept in a kennel with his siblings. He did not receive much socialization and was mostly isolated aside from when the breeder/farm owner would give him and his other dogs food. He was 3 months when we picked him up. I had the pleasure of meeting his Mom, and Grandpa and both of them had a great calm personality. Below is a picture of Caesar fat 5 months weighing 60 lbs.

I am hoping for suggestions/recommendations for a first time Dog/GSD owner. Also, I suspect he has a little DDR in him mostly from his dad's side. The earliest pedigrees I could find in the database are his grand parents.

Paternal Grandparents

Maternal Grandparents

One major concern I have for him is the fact that he gets nervous/scared easily. I am trying my best to regularly take him for walks, introduce him to strangers but not too close because I do not want him to freak out. He tends to calm down but after 5-10 min he forgets and starts barking again even if he just licked the person. He does the classic moving back and forth when he is in a state of defending or fleeing. How can I help him get over his fear? Will he ever get over this phase or is this something in his genetics that can't be changed? My main goal for him is to be a personal protection dog and I am working with a trainer at the moment. He has admitted in his career he has never met such a fearful GSD but is willing to continue to see if his fearful behavior could be fixed through socialization. After reading many articles (particularly the one below) I have come to a conclusion that he might never be a protection dog. Am I wrong?


Thank you!!!
Q Man

by Q Man on 28 August 2018 - 13:08

So much of a puppy is learned in the very early times of their lives...You're doing the absolute right thing is getting some help in putting him onto the right path...
"Socialization" is the #1 Most Important thing in a puppy's life..."Socialization" doesn't just mean meeting people or other animals...It means being introduced to new things...Everyday your puppy should be introduced to new and intriguing things...Such as: New Territory (different properties with different surfaces)...Different Buildings...Parking Lots with and without vehicles...New People and Animals (The new people don't have to handle or touch him...it's up to him...let him go to the new people)…
All of this will help build his confidence and build his life...
If he goes to some people and growls or barks too much it's ok to correct him...You can do so very lightly and only hard enough to change his attitude...You can do so by having a "buckle collar" on him with a leash...or you can use your hand and just poke him in the ribs with a finger...
If you at some point don't agree with your trainer...Don't ever feel it to be inappropriate to ask "WHY"...It's your puppy/dog and you are the ultimate person in charge of what he does and doesn't do...
ALWAYS feel welcome to ask questions on this board (PDB)...There are plenty of knowledgeable people here with a lot of experience...


by Sunsilver on 28 August 2018 - 14:08

I really think you are being unrealistic in wanting to make this dog into a personal protection dog. If he has really strong genetics, he MAY be able to overcome his bad start in life, but the odds are against it.

A friend of mine got a golden retriever from a similar situation: dogs were raised in a big barn, and had little contact with humans.

When strangers came to visit, the dog would run away and hide. Eventually, it would overcome its fear enough to come out, but no one was able to touch it. It would lie under the table and watch the visitors from a distance.

by Nans gsd on 28 August 2018 - 16:08

Were either parents of this puppy like this younger? I am asking because my GSD guy (now 5 years old) went thru a similar stage and state of mind as he began maturing, I think it was a little older but still a pup.

My suggestion would be to attend a kindergarten puppy training class also sometimes called puppy socialization training class preferably with a well known trainer and IF you current trainer is well known to be excellent continue also with him/her. I like some of the Michael Ellis video training techniques and talks a lot about puppy socialization. I do NOT recommend Pet Smart or Petco training classes. Most of those people are beginners themselves. I do not think you can socialize too much, be sure you are meeting your puppies nutritional needs also as he needs his food to develop and grow. DO NOT GET YOUR PUPPY FAT. My guy grew pretty fast and due to that he had some Pano which is sore joints and legs so be sure your guy feels his best. I would also find something he loves, ball, frisbee to carry not to chase, Nyla bone or something you can treat him with after training sessions.

Maybe with basic training and puppy socialization he might not make a personal protection dog but still will make a wonderful pet. Just make him behave in public...even if that is just sit quietly and watch. NO ONE needs to pet him. Best of luck Nan

by astrovan2487 on 28 August 2018 - 18:08

Work on building the bond between the two of you by playing and incorporating some simple obedience. Find out what is high value to him, like a specific toy and play with him and work on obedience in public places to desensitize him. Start out at a distance from people then work your way closer.

Be firm in not letting people pet him until he is comfortable, this may never happen and that's fine, can't force it.

It takes one heck of a confident and stable dog to be a personal protection dog. Your dog may change a lot for the better but the chances of him being suitable for that kind of work is very slim. Teaching bite work to a nervous dog is a ticking time bomb for the people around you and is unfair to the dog.

At this point I'd forget about the protection work and just work on building his confidence. If he gets better with the fear issues have him re evaluated by an experienced personal protection trainer. Obedience, scent work, tracking might be something he would like and would help him gain confidence.

by joanro on 28 August 2018 - 18:08

Excellent post, astrovan!

Agree with Nan, that your dog is not obliged to be petted by everyone.

by Prager on 28 August 2018 - 19:08

 Disclaimer. I may be totally wrong since I have not seen this dog in person. But from the description given I would definitely NOT make any negative conclusions. I have learned through my training of many dogs that the owner is more often then not misreading the dog and the dog's emotions. that is why before I would start giving any advice I would ask what do you mean by "getting nervous" You have said:" He tends to calm down but after 5-10 min he forgets and starts barking again even if he just licked the person. He does the classic moving back and forth when he is in a state of defending or fleeing." That does not seem like fear or getting scared to me.

 Barking 10 minutes on the same stranger after accepting stranger may be a result of strong natural protectiveness. For example, my strong protection dogs will accept a stranger after I introduce him to the dog. But when then such stranger/visitor of my house changes behavior even slightly or  leaves the house for even a brief period ( for example going for a cell phone in his car) the dog will not let him in the house and I need to reintroduce such stranger to the dog. That is a VERY valuable protection instinct which is almost bred out of GS dogs thanks to sport training which is so destructive to the original protection purpose of the GSD and basically breeds natural protectiveness of sport dogs out and then dogs which are what they suppose to be - meaning protective- when they show such behavior a confused sport trainers call it an improper fear reaction.  Such trainers prefer happy go lucky GSD acting same as labrador retriever - which in my book is a disgrace. 

And moving back and forth? If the dog is not showing the "enemy" his rare end then it  is not sign of fear but it may be a sign of "let me go" I will take care of a business. The question is what would happen if you let him off the leash. Is he going to run away or advance? 

 Thus there is a very strong possibility that the dog is really strong protection prospect and you need to train "him down" Instead of up as most dogs these days need to be trained. 

 Disclaimer. I may be totally wrong since I have not seen this dog in person. But from the description given I would definitely NOT make any negative conclusions. 



by Prager on 28 August 2018 - 19:08

Another thing I would like to evaluate is the leadership of the handler. if the dog is immature and the handler is not in a leadership position then the dog will automatically assume the leadership position regardless if he is mature and mentally ready for it or not. That may lead to displaying of signs of insecurity. In such situations, the handler must not comfort the dog because such positive reinforcement reinforces the fear the dog feels. ( Remember positive adds and negative substracts from behaviors and emotions) The proper action in situation like this is to get the dog busy with basic obedience = sit, down, stay and so on and your demand on performance of these commands must be uncompromising and needs to override the concerns the dog has and praise him vigorously when he finally performs the commands correctly despite the fear or other concerns he has. Such an approach pushes dog's concerns into the background as unimportant and establishes your leadership and the dog then will look to you for guidance when stressed for whatever reason. This guidance then gives a dog guideline of what you want  him to do. Such dog then works for you and not for toys or food. ( but that is a different story). The worsed thing besides so-called calming a nervous stressed dog down is to just stand there like a pumpkin without giving a dog necessary guidance and watching the dog falling apart.
This is what needs to be done now since IMO socialization period is over. Socialization should help the dog to never go there - into being nervous. Once the dog is "there" other action needs to be taken. what needs to be done is what I have described above regardless if the dog is displaying natural but unwanted protectiveness or is nervous.

by hexe on 29 August 2018 - 04:08

Your photo didn't come through, meantformee, but if he is indeed as you describe him--fat--you're doing him a disservice. Pups should be kept on the lean side for the sake of their soundness--overweight pups are at greater risk of developing dysplastic hips.

by jillmissal on 29 August 2018 - 16:08

My $.02 - "I am trying my best to regularly take him for walks, introduce him to strangers"

Well, stop doing that. The dog is telling you he's not into it and you're scaring him. Teach him to focus on you and you only. There's no reason for strangers to pet your dog anyway. The goal should be for your dog to walk past a person without half a glance, not want to go get petted.

Start by finding out the distance at which your dog is comfortable having a stranger pass by. Keep your dog at that distance from people while on your walks and SLOWLY reduce the distance over time. This could take a very long time so be patient.


Edited to add - I am not a fan of puppy socialization classes. My young dog doesn't need friends. He has me and my other dogs. My dogs are not taught that other dogs are the source of fun things. As a result my dogs never race off to go meet another dog and can be recalled easily. Puppy classes teach the opposite (and you risk exposing your fearful dog to a bunch of bad habits from the other puppies in the class). It is definitely not easy to raise a dog with this ethos and it's a total pain as well (for instance I don't let my dogs off leash until they are about a year old) but in my experience it's well worth it.

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