Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dog Work

When I was away from home for Kohl’s first summer with us, my wife was relegated to his raising from puppy hood to adolescent.  She described him as a rebel teenager.

He ate my foam bed, a few reference books, and refinished an antique wooden rocking chair.  Not the sort of work I look for in a dog.  Daily walks made no dent in his rascally ways.

I received urgent word from her when he had been jailed the second time.  I hoped to solve that family tragedy and purchased a wireless fence with expedited shipping to retain him.  

The fence has never been installed.  

When my wife came home one evening to a 8 foot by 10 foot rug upside down and holed in the living room, she was at her wits end.  Short of a complete disaster, she eventually discovered some dog work for Kohl to expend energy.

The middle daughter invited my wife and Kohl to the beach with her Labrador retriever Bella, a super high energy retrieving dog.  

The ball was the key.  I wouldn’t call Kohl a retriever in a traditional sense; more like a rugby player.  His goal is to get the ball before anything on the planet does.  Two balls keep him constantly active on land.  He drops the ball on the fly-by so that it typically rolls into the vicinity of the thrower for the next round of sprints.

In the summer, swimming in the ocean is excellent exercise for him too.  He prefers swimming.  This is a more challenging job for the thrower because he usually drops the ball two feet short of the beach.  

One day while camping at a remote forest cabin, the pink salmon were jumping in the bay. Kohl swam from one splash to another, tacking port and starboard, trying to find the ball.  He swam for over an hour.  We felt bad for him swimming so much and got him out of the water with a ball thrown on the beach.  

On land, Chuck-it brand ball chuckers are the only way this work would be worthy.  It gets nice distance and speed without destroying your shoulder.  The stick also allows you to reach out and grab the ball without getting your boots too wet when in the water.

On-leash walking is also work for him if the handler has proper control.  Kohl walks well with me.  I use just enough slack so that the choke chain is loose on him.  Typically getting him refocused requires a short zip of the chain links and no real pressure on him.  He responds to the sound of a tightening chain.  There are definitely times when sharp and quick corrections are used.  He is very responsive to them and has never been handler aggressive.  A fast walking pace is better than a slow one.  He is typically a good running companion but he is at times dog aggressive.  The dogs with high tails are especially irresistible.  In these encounters on leash he is manageable, but at times obnoxious.  

Kohl has not always been that way.  When he was a puppy, a neighbor’s standard poodle worked him over pretty good a couple of times.  Later, when he matched her size, he was eager to write a new chapter to that story.  I would never purposely free Kohl upon the streets without a ball to occupy him, but he is crafty.

Thankfully he is not an attack dog and didn’t damage the poodle.  

They have mostly been able to coexist on the street when they are together.  He barks at her from the windows almost every time.  The few other times he has snuck out, he asserts himself dominate right away, claims the ball and is on his merry way.  The poodle tries to stay out of the way.  

This is not ideal behavior.  We continue working to correct this, but a male German shepherd with his hormones intact would easily be dog aggressive without intensive training.  Cesar Millan’s methods are very good and people may have better ideas of dog psychology and pack structure as a result.  GSDs are a powerful and persistent breed.  Dogs that are not reproductively altered can act with high intensity aggression if not handled correctly.  Add the two together and there is a potential for high intensity aggression from a powerful, persistent dog.  

You must establish trust and respect with any dog.   

You must have the correct pack structure.  The earlier you create a stable pack, the better.  

You must have a job for the working dog to do.  The job must expend energy.  

You must control dominance correctly.

You must reward good behavior and correct bad behavior appropriately and decisively.

There are many trainers who have used these same techniques for decades.  If you have access to a good trainer, I’d advise you to invest in that.  All the obedience training your dog can get will pay dividends.  If there is no access to good trainers, the web is loaded with information.  Be sure to use logic when committing to advice.

Specialty training should also be researched and then started at appropriate ages.  Ideally your GSD would work as an advanced herder, or tracker.  Schutzhund and other ring-sports are options.  Service training like Search and Rescue and guide dog are good choices; those are excellent jobs for dogs.

GSDs are super personal protection dogs.  It is important to pursue bite training through reputable trainers.  This training is particularly invaluable for a dog that is naturally sharp and/or hard.

Be creative for your working dog and give him some worthy work to do.  Obedience can always be practiced and most certainly a dog’s job.  Anything constructive is better than the alternative:  Creating his own work to do.

No comments: