You've heard from everyone and their mother online that they have the secrets to GSD training.
I know, because I've heard them too.
These ‘secrets' might tell you what to do, but rarely do they tell you why. It's understanding the ‘why' that really deepens the dog-owner bond.
Most of those secrets are told over and over again. So, they're not really secrets anymore. I'm not saying everything out there is good or bad.
Actually there is good and bad. If you've been hanging out here you know I support force-free training methods, based on psychology and science. And so do many other great bloggers.
The Holy Grail of GSD Training
There are some fantastic truths about dog training out there.
And I don't have the Holy Grail to dog training.
But I want to share an experience I had recently that put a different spin on this thing called ‘secrets' to GSD Training…
Why do I want to do this?
- As trainers of our dogs, we don't always see what's in front of us.
- This can make us frustrated and despondent.
- We forget that as guardians of our German Shepherds we have what it takes to train our dogs.
If you train your best friend with 3 things in mind…
- The 8 core secrets of GSD training.
- You're embarking on a journey to discover your dog's incredible potential.
- Your German Shepherd is highly intelligent and complex, with his/her own personality.
If you keep this in mind, you're doing right by your dog in ways you can't imagine.
What Opened My Eyes?
My male, Zeze –
3 4 years old – has developed this weird behavior when we play fetch.
Each time I'd throw the frizbee he'd run to fetch it but would not bring it back to me.
Instead, he'd stop in his tracks a few meters away.
He's fully trained from a young pup to bring a fetch toy back to me. So this behavior confused me.
Especially until then, any fetch toy ended up at my feet. It was almost like he'd un-learned anything to do with ‘fetch'.
Just for a second I should digress here…
- They don't have access to these toys without me.
- I'm the only human who interacts with them and these specific toys.
- They are not allowed to chase each other's flying objects.
You might not believe this, but they never fail on the last rule!
Now back to my dilemma…
A Slap in the Face with a Wet Fish
I knew I was missing something, I needed another angle. And I was beginning to feel like a failure.
Then about 2 weeks ago I read an article about resource guarding on a fellow blogger's site. It's written by Hindy Pearson and it's a great article. You can find it at caringforaseniordog.com.
Finally, the penny dropped…
The change in Zeze's behavior is not because of him – I was looking in the wrong place. I'm dealing with a case of resource guarding. Lexi is guarding the space between Zeze and I through subtle body language. And so, indirectly guarding me in this scenario.
It's Lexi – not Zeze – I have to work with first to resolve this issue. And then see what Zeze needs – if anything – to feel included and comfortable again.
I have worked with Lexi on her resource guarding for the past 18 months, and thought I had it sorted.
I still don't know why this old behavior popped up in another situation. Maybe it was something I did with out realizing it.
Maybe it's because Lexi comes from a background where survival depended on closely guarding what she had.
It doesn't really matter.
What matters is teaching Lexi that there's no reason to resource guard.
And freeing Zeze from the isolation Lexi's resource guarding causes.
So, I took a whole bunch of steps back. And began watching their body language to work out a training plan.
This is a work in progress, so I'll write about my plan and success once we have worked through this.
8 Core ‘Secrets' to GSD Training
My dogs teach me a heck of a lot in and outside of training. Through reading, learning from other experts, experimenting, training with and studying my own dogs these are the 8 core ‘secrets' that have stuck with me.
See these as the weaving loom. And any interactions in or outside training as the threads that make the tapestry of the dog-owner relationship.
- Your German Shepherd is context-bound. As your dog's trainer you must generalize any behaviors you teach. Teach a behavior and then repeat it many different scenarios. Also, be aware that an old behavior can pop up again.
- Your German Shepherd has triggers and thresholds. You should know what your dog's triggers are and how to work with your dog if they cross that threshold.
- First and foremost, your German Shepherd is a working dog. Even my ‘limited edition', Lexi thrives when she's working.
- Reward-based training is NOT bribing your dog, it's giving your dog something to work for.
- Your dog wants to please you. This is powerful! And if you understand it, you will have great success in training your German Shepherd.
- You are training them, even when you think you're not.
- They will give you their trust. You owe it to them to use training methods that are no-force and respectful of their trust.
- Always set your dog up for success. Be fluid; structure your training around them, not you.
And always remember;
- Start small and take baby steps.
- Gradually make training more challenging.
- Acknowledge your German Shepherd's small victories.
- Be persistent – even if it means for several weeks.
So What Can We Do With The Knowledge?
Put it all together, and experiment with it. Weave it into your training programs and use it to gain a better understanding of your dog, you and your training relationship.
These are all things I already know and maybe you do too.
But working with my dogs on this is giving me a whole new perspective and so the dog-owner bond becomes deeper as understanding increases.
One phrase sums up what the canine race means to us humans. “Man's Best Friend”. They chose us and we chose them to evolve with us over thousands of years. And they have a loyalty that no other being from the Animal Kingdom has.
Some people might say I'm anthropomorphizing canines. But, to be honest, I don't care.
Because what they teach us is immeasurable in comparison to what we teach them.