A referral from Holly Hedge Animal Sanctuary had me visiting a GSD this week which had recently been re-homed via HH to an experienced couple. The GSD had been locked in a high rise flat with no social stimulation or toilet training since he was a puppy and been relinquished to HH at 16 months. His new owners had been given lots of advice by HH as to how to help settle the dog in but they ignored some of this advice and took the dog, which by the way had NO socialisation, to Brean Sands. There he did his best to ward off everything he saw in a ‘ferocious’ manner and left his new owners feeling embarrassed and relieved that the husband could hold onto the dog.
When I got there I was greeted by a beautiful young GSD and the owners, including the husband who had taken the day off work which is highly unusual according to the wife. They seemed like kind and decent people, answered all my questions and willing to learn so we got to work immediately by teaching some basic obedience and I even managed to persuade them to use a harness instead of a collar (as this reduces the likelihood of slipping the lead therefore safer). GSD was ball orientated so this was used as the end of session prize and praise was the marker with touch as the reward/reinforcer. The owners were used to +R which made my job ten times easier!
To evaluate his reactivity though I needed to see him in action, so off to the park we went. We began practising lead walking and orientating back to the owners in place of focusing on things around him. It was a quiet park but there were triggers present; workmen, people, dogs loose and on leads, pushchairs and cars coming and going in the car park. He coped brilliantly, he stopped pulling within 5 minutes of entering the park and although he was interested at what was going on around him, he wasn’t freaking. It was a good and positive learning curve for him.
His owners initially hadn’t realised what was happening. They were saying things like “He needs to come on caravan weekends with us and be social” or “He was worse at the beach” It took a while but after explaining that he needed gradual exposure to stimuli and triggers not the flooding he experienced at the beach in order to help desensitise him it finally sunk in. They also realised he was a quick learner and that if they were consistent with the techniques I showed them and followed my advice that he would be easier to handle in time. By slightly tweaking their perception of him and helping them understand his needs as far as training was concerned, they were then able to see the things he could do instead of focusing on his bad points and his past.
The GSD needs on going socialisation help and they will have my support and guidance every step of the way. This is just the beginning. It’s a shame they didn’t listen to the advice given by HH as my job of training him is a little harder now because of this experience he had but at least he is now on the right track.
I wonder though, how many other behaviourists have had similar cases?