A guest blog post written by our client Jen Martin, about her experience training her German Shepherd Dog, Rogue, who had extremely high aggression towards cats and other dogs.
Rogue is a purebred German Shepherd Dog who, from the beginning, was not good with cats or other dogs.
She belonged to my partner Jason originally, he did all the right things. He researched a breed, he went to a registered breeder. Looking at the new 8 week old litter, they pointed out a left over pup from the last litter. The then 5 month old Rogue was laying next to the puppy pen, nobody else wanted her so she had just been stuck in a yard or kennel at the breeders place.
Jason went home, but came back only a week later to pick up that 5 month old pup and bring her home. She lunged at the resident cat that very night, and he smacked her across the face – so I guess it is pretty easy to say that she didn’t get off to the best start.
When Jason tried to walk her down the street, even at 5 months Rogue would choke herself trying to get at anything that moved – birds, dogs, and it only got worse. She would struggle to breathe and choke herself on her collar.
Jason tried taking Rogue to obedience clubs, but it was a disaster. All these other puppies would be listening to their owners, while Rogue would be lunging everywhere, choking herself and ignoring any food she was offered.
She also went to the dog park to start, but that stopped too. She used to hide between peoples’ legs a lot of the time, but after she got older, she stopped paying any attention to people altogethor. She would choke herself trying to get to the park, then immediately go after the nearest small dog. She would chase the small dogs and she got into her first fight with a big dog pretty young.
The Turning Point
When I properly came into the picture, Rogue was over a year old.
By this stage, she was pretty much a nightmare. Walking her was almost impossible, I still remember Jase had her on a long line, Rogue ran and hit the end so hard that Jason was actually pulled off his feet. She would scream the house down if left in a crate alone, even the sound of the cats meowing equaled her melting down into a slobbering mess. Seeing another dog would cause her to flip out, lunging and barking on the leash. If she saw a smaller dog she would start to whine and lunge, if she was off leash and saw another dog it was game over.
She would throw herself at them, if they were bigger, you might have the chance to grab her before she tried to attack, if they were small, no hope. She wouldn’t put on weight, despite eating kilos of food daily, she was skinny, her coat wasn’t the best. She was just a real mess.
Seeing another dog would cause her to flip out, lunging and barking on the leash… She was a real mess.
I feel a little ashamed to say that I did ignore her a lot to start with. I was busy with my own dogs, and trying to work with this crazy out of control monster of a dog was not something I had time for, she wasn’t my responsibility. I saw a lot of behaviours that made me worry and I knew I couldn’t help Jase with them, so I arranged for him to go and see Steve. I knew where the best help was and I was confident Steve would help him.
But funnily enough, if you don’t tell someone the whole story, they can’t properly help you. Jase took Rogue to see Steve for a behaviour consult, but he didn’t really properly explain everything that was going on, because honestly he couldn’t see it like I could. Some work was done on her leash walking, getting her under control on the leash was really the top prority for him, and that was fairly well achieved. But I could see she was getting worse, despite not pulling on the leash, she would have these meltdowns inside her head.
I then made everything a million time worse, by bringing home a kitten.
Finally, two things happened in close succession that really changed everything. First, she bit Jason. We were at the local park, she was on a lead and a little dog came charging up. He tried to stop her, holding her off the ground, and she bit him on the arm. The other event was the very near death experience for my cat. The gate swung open when the back door was opened. Rogue raced in and pounced straight on Riot. Thankfully, she paused momentarily when I yelled at her, and Riot also didn’t run. These two things meant I managed to leap on Rogue in time.
After that, I just couldn’t let someone else handle that responsibility anymore, I said to Jase that I would take over her training. She would be our dog, not his, but she needed to live with me 100% of the time, and he needed give me full freedom to train her. I’m pretty sure his sigh of relief was heard a few houses over, he agreed, and that where the journey really began.
I organised a lesson with Steve. I showed him video of her most worrying behaviour, which was the overload around other dogs, and even more so around the cat. The reply I received back was both reassuring and scary. He agreed with me – the behaviour was far beyond a bit of leash reactivity or prey drive, and also a little terrifying.
Would Rogue be able to coexist with the cat? The answer was unclear.
We had our lesson, and with further exploration, Rogue’s real issues became clear. It was down to a almost chemical level, she just didn’t have the nerves to handle all her drives and emotions. She was anxious all the time, and that anxiety fed into other things in a very strong and very bad way. She also had excessive uncontrolled drive that she couldn’t handle. She was either at a level 1, or she was at a level 10. There was nothing in between.
My lesson went great, after so many months of trying to manage Rogue, I felt like yes, I finally had the right tools to deal with the problems facing me. It wasn’t going to be easy, but it was possible. Having a lesson with Steve is hard to explain until you actually experience it. It feels like your brain is being so stuffed full of knowledge, but at the same time its almost a Zen experience. There is this real relaxation that comes over you knowing that somebody is going to help. After living with a dog who would have a meltdown if you even opened the front door that is a pretty big deal.
So we began! My first job, was building that middle ground. We worked daily, I took her everywhere I could think of that had dogs, but they had to be at a distance. Fenced dog parks where my friend. I spent a lot of time roaming around outside them, showing her how to stay calm, building those middle grounds. At the same time, I was working with the cat. Crates and doorways were always stopping us to start with, she learned that the sight of the cat didn’t equal anything but calm. She went roaring ahead in leaps in bounds. I contacted Steve almost daily (poor Steve must be very tired of me by now!) with questions and updates.
All the work started to really pay off, in just a few weeks, the dog who couldn’t even hear the cat meowing without having a meltdown, was able to happily relax in a crate with Riot roaming around in front of her. Rogue no longer stalked him through the glass doors anymore. This same dog who would flip out at the site of a dog across an oval was happily touching noses with strange dogs through a fence.
A few weeks after that and I made a leap of faith. Steve said push her, you know she can do it. So I did. I took her into the park. I had her on a long line. She walked around, unsure at first, but slowly that same calm relaxed look came over her. Then she started to play. She actually played with a strange dog. I teared up, this was the first time since I had met her that I had seen her just play. Free from anxiety or fear.
She just played. She didn’t escalate, she just played. Then the game ended, I called her, she came, and we walked on. It felt like magic.
My next step was the cat. I let them out together. A lead and harness was involved for safety reasons, but wasn’t even needed. Rogue strolled in, Sniffed the cat in greeting, then proceeded to ignore him.
Since then, things have only improved. I’ve caught her and that cat enjoying a snuggle, and even a game of bitey face. I’ve been able to take her out to socialise her more, and while everything is still a work in progress we have gone from such an extreme to a calm, relaxed dog.
I also should mention the VERY accidental, but great test of the training we’ve done. I crated rogue for about 30 minutes while I went out. I ame back to find her and the cat both waiting for me at the door. She had managed to escape her crate, so had been totally alone for at least 10+ minutes. There was no bloodshed, no nothing. Just a very happy dog and a totally relaxed cat waiting for me together at the door. It was a bit scary to say the least, but a great example of how well the training has worked.
Jen has followed the program (a very detailed and outside of the box one too) to the letter whilst adding her own spin on it to fit in with her life and her other dogs. I had in my mind the road that needed to be travelled with Rogue, knowing now that she had been with a breeder instead of a home in critical periods where early socialisation and enrichment need to be part of a young dogs life, I guess no training had been completed and the puppy was just a ball of instinct and arousal.
I try to look at a dog in a holistic manner as their internal health and nutrition play a big part in the behaviour of a dog. Rogue was very underweight and this is a concern when trying to diagnose and rehabilitate a dog. Her Health wasn’t a result of not enough food but her mental state…
Daily Rogue got better, and with a change of diet and behaviour she gained weight, her coat shined and had colours now that were just not there before, her eyes were clear and deep in colour and the whites were now pure white.
She was on a good quality balanced Raw Diet with Animal Natural Supplements and it showed.
Her behaviour has improved beyond belief and really this is not an easy thing to do when you have a dog that started on the wrong foot.
It wasn’t just one thing, it was probably a million little things that has made Rogue look at the world through a more balanced set of lenses, and this of course means the behaviours she once had are far from her behaviours today…
I am really proud of what people can do with their dogs and Jen has managed this now with not one but 2 dogs…
The message is don’t give up, no matter what your dog does it is just a behaviour and to your dog at that time, was the right choice. We can teach them better ways, give them more options and choices and they will love you for it.