This isn’t a typical topic I’d post about around here, but honestly, I just had to brag a little. For those of you who don’t know, Jack is our 4 1/2 year old German Shepard. Zack’s had him since he was about 6 weeks old and I came into the picture about 6 months later. So really, I’m a “step parent” according to Zack (insert eye roll).
Jack is easily the most lovable dog I’ve ever owned and he’s 95 pounds of baby. But we have one slight problem with him: he’s terrified of people…and animals…and inanimate objects.
Now I know this doesn’t sound that bad, but in his case, it’s caused what trainers call ‘fear-based aggression’. Meaning that if he’s scared (which is ALL THE TIME), he gets mean. It’s to the point where we can’t even safely have people in our home because he’ll lose his sh*t. Every single time. The only two people who are able to be around him with zero issues aside from myself and Zack are Zack’s mom and brother. That’s IT.
Even taking Jack outside to go to the bathroom is a nightmare. If he sees someone, he’s instantly barking and losing his mind over it. And it doesn’t matter how far away the person is. They could be on the other side of the parking lot. It doesn’t matter. So as you can imagine, this poses a ton of issues:
- We can’t bring him to dog parks.
- We can’t have friends over.
- We can’t go out-of-town without him because no one can watch him.
- He can’t lay by windows because if he sees someone, it’s all over.
- He can’t be in the car because he gets anxiety and flips out if he sees a person or another animal.
- And lastly, we don’t even know if we can safely bring an infant into our home.
- This also means that we can’t even have a babysitter or a helper when Zack’s at work because no one can be around him.
So when we found out I was pregnant, I instantly went into a panic (obviously). Here we were, 9 months away from having a baby and our dog eats people. It’s just not a good combination by any means and re-homing him just isn’t an option for two reasons: first off, no one could take him and second, he’s a member of our family. He’s been our child for our entire marriage. When something is broke or if someone is struggling then you fix it. You don’t throw it/them away. So we began our search for a trainer once we arrived in California and were more settled.
If you’ve been following along for a bit, then you know that I tried training while Zack was overseas and Jack and I were in Maine with family. This lasted for most of last summer and while I did see some slight improvements, it wasn’t nearly enough for me to feel like we were on a good path. I have no doubt that the trainer we had picked was a good one. She came very highly recommended and I believe my sister and her boyfriend use her for their dog as well. But for Jack’s particular case, her methods weren’t helpful. And honestly, I felt that she too was a bit scared and nervous around him. Which he picks up on. So that didn’t last long and wasn’t extremely helpful for us either.
Our new trainer, however, specializes in this sort of thing. Zack found them before the holidays and once he told me about them, I knew they were the right ones to use. The owner is a former US Marine and has years of experience working with German Shepards. Better yet, he has many awards to back up his expertise. This made him a winner in our book.
It was pricey to get started, but the price includes 8 weeks worth of classes along with all the training tools we needed. So that means we weren’t showing up to a class only to have to go straight to the pet store afterwards to buy everything they wanted us to use. They provided us with all of it!
His first class was last Saturday and going into it, I was terrified. Understandable, right?! I mean our dog is literally a nightmare around people. And they train in public dog parks too. So that meant Jack would not only be exposed to a brand new person (the trainer), but also to tons of children, pets, and other adults who were just trying to enjoy their Saturday morning. And all I could picture was Jack completely losing his sh*t and not being able to get him focused on his lessons.
Well, as you can imagine, my fears did happen. He was not a fan of all the passersby and the first 15 minutes had me stressed beyond belief. We finally sat down with our trainer so she could go over how to use the shock collar she provided us with and he was okay to lay down next to us which was nice (until a dog walked by, of course). She told us she wouldn’t invade his space that day since he was clearly upset and told us she’d walk us through the training instead so that we were the ones working with him. Well all that went out the door. 10 minutes later, she was off in the field with him while Zack and I sat on the bench staring at them in amazement. Legit dog whisperer right there.
I was literally in tears at that point. We’d barely been at the park 30 minutes and Jack was off being trained by someone he didn’t even know. He didn’t bark at her or growl or try to eat her arm or anything! The very first person I’d ever seen him with aside from his four trusted family members. It was insane, you guys! And honestly, I really think it’s the shock collar.
Let me just say that I was super iffy about the use of a shock collar. It just seemed so mean to me and I didn’t want to hurt him. But training him with treats like we were with our last trainer just wasn’t working. When he’s that worked up, he couldn’t care less that you have treats in your hand. So at that point, I was willing to try anything. We even got to feel the collar as well so that we knew what he was feeling and honestly, it’s not bad at all. It’s just enough to grab his attention when he’s doing something wrong and it works! It 100% works! The dog we took home after just that first class wasn’t the same dog whatsoever. I left that class feeling so much more at peace with bringing a baby into our home.
Zack went back to work on Monday so I did some training with Jack while he was at work. Our trainer said 15 minutes of active training is equal to about one hour of physical exercise for him. For Jack’s case, they told us it would probably take more than one hour a day for everything to really sink in so we’re very lucky that I’m home all day with him to work with him on it.
I took him for his very first walk around the neighborhood that morning and WOW. Just wow. I have no idea what dog this is, but it’s not the Jack we know. He had a few moments where I could tell he wanted to bark at a passerby or another dog, but one click of the remote to change his focus worked every time. The number of people who were able to pass by us with next to no issues (even those with dogs) was crazy to me. Every time I saw someone approaching us, I brought Jack off to the side and had him lay by my feet while they passed by. And he waited patiently every single time for me to tell him to get up and continue our walk.
I was so impressed that I took him back out around dinnertime when everyone was returning home from work to test him out with more people involved and, again, he did excellent. Unless you have a difficult dog, you probably don’t even realize how emotional these two walks made me. To be able to walk him around our neighborhood, stress-free was incredible. We’ve ever been able to do that with him before. I now look forward to taking him out and I am SO excited for his next class so we can see what else he’s going to learn.
So what am I hoping to gain from all this?
I in no way need or expect him to be super cuddly with everyone he meets nor do we need him to like other dogs. We have no desire to have another dog any time soon so that’s not a concern of ours right now. But what we do need is for him to tolerate others. We need to be able to safely bring our daughter into our home without worries. We need to be able to have friends and family over so that they can visit the baby and help me out when needed. We need our lives to be a little more stress-free. And with this training program, I have zero doubts that we’ll get him to where he needs to be. And I cannot wait!
So since we still have 7 more weeks of his classes, I’ll be doing a weekly check-in on his progress and how everything is going. The baby arrives in 10 weeks so this is going to be perfect timing! I know I’m not the only one out there with a dog with fear-based aggression and the company we’re using for his classes have locations all across the country so if any of you want their contact information, feel free to reach out to me! And, of course, wish us luck at our next class!
Have you had a dog with behavioral issues? How did you prepare them when adding a new member to your family??