I received an email from one of our readers. She adopted a 4-year-old GSP and needed some guidance in training. I referred her to the sites professional trainer for advice. I thought that the questions and advice would help many of our readers who have adopted pups.
I thought it would be the easiest to respond to the questions if I type my answers in red as they came up in the email. So here are my recommendations:
I’ve just rescued a very lovely female GSP. Cassandra “Cass” is my first GSP and I’m really in search of serious guidance. My past pooch experience has been with Lab mixes and clearly, there is a BIG difference in the two breeds. Cass has had it very tough in her 4 short years. It’s clear the she was used as a breeding bitch very early on, was passed from home to home; her last “owner” being a policeman in a small Kansas town. He surrendered her to the local kill shelter about a year ago where she was picked up by a GSP rescue near Colorado Springs (I live in the Denver area).
Cass is a very lucky dog to have been adopted by you! She is well into adulthood and her temperament is now stable, but you can do much to help her feel safe by increasing her confidence at her pace, not yours.
The people at the rescue are very well-meaning people but I don’t think they understood her either (I do). They had her for over a year until last Saturday when I brought her home. Even though she was eating regularly, she was quite underweight from stress and worry, wouldn’t come inside and avoided other dogs. I was warned that she wouldn’t warm up to people. They were wrong. She’s very lovely, VERY affectionate, crazy smart and REALLY wants to do the right thing. She learned to not counter surf in about 3 days. Never , we haven’t had an accident in two days. “Sit” was almost mastered in one.
It is very common for fearful rescue dogs to bond quickly to one person or family, yet be suspicious of others and even become territorial or defensive. In a safe and nurturing environment, dogs (and people) can blossom toward their full potential.
She doesn’t seem to be destructive in any way but as a precaution, I’ve crated her while I’m at work. I have have a very lovely neighbor who comes over several times a day to let her out and go for walks. What an ideal situation you have, so that Cass has some mental and physical enrichment while you are gone!
So, here are my questions:
1. I’d like to not crate her at all. How do I know if I can leave her outside a crate? I’m currently leasing a condo (but am hopefully buying another unit in the same complex this spring).
I would not change anything, at least not yet. If she feels secure and comfortable being crated, and as long as the crate is not over-used (no more than 3 or 4 hours without an exercise & potty break), don’t risk a problem where you don’t have one.
2. How can I quickly get familiar with GSP traits? I’d like to know what her actions mean (for example, she loves to reach up and tug on the sleeves of my blouses, or anything hanging over a ledge)
One of the best resources for learning about canine communication is Brenda Aloff’s book here:http://www.amazon.com/Canine-Body-Language-Photographic-Interpreting/dp/1929242352 Interpreting what a dog is “saying” requires considering the context in which the behavior is occurring. Tugging on a sleeve could mean “Pet me”; “Stop that”; “I’m bored” or “I’m frustrated/angry/scared”. Whatever follows immediately after the tugging can either keep the behavior strong or weaken the behavior.
3. She has shown a bit of dog aggression when it comes to our home or her toys. Oddly, she doesn’t have the same aggression with food. What is the best way to overcome that?
Being territorial and possessive are normal in dog society, but undesirable in human society. It is common for dogs to be choosy about what they covet and guard. It is important that you do everything you can to prevent situations that prompt her to guard. And never, ever reprimand a growl or a snap. Get the help of a private trainer who uses positive reinforcement and is knowledgeable about current behavior modification techniques to teach you exactly what to do to change Cass’s negative emotional responses into positive ones. Always ask beforehand what techniques a trainer would use and steer clear of anyone who uses choke, prong or shock collars or is resistant to using food (treats). That shows they are not up to date with animal behavior knowledge. You can do a trainer search in your area here: https://apdt.com/trainer-search/
I’d love to take her to a dog park but she is an Alpha female and I worry about her being aggressive at the park with all the balls flying around). She LOVES to play (something the rescue didn’t know).
I’m not sure what you mean by her being Alpha, but taking a dog (even a very friendly tolerant one) to a dog park is a big risk. If she loves to play with other dogs, set up a play date with a dog-friendly dog her size with a similar play style, and be very careful about the initial introduction. First impressions do count. If she is not interested in playing nicely with other dogs, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you honor it and keep everyone safe.
4. What is the best way to train her on a leash and then off-leash in the field. Even though we are in a suburban area, our community has a large open space where she can run if she is trained on a collar.