10 wk old GSD showing signs of dominance, biting and food obsession

  • 10 wk old GSD showing signs of dominance, biting and food obsession

    Posted by Matt and Jean on March 27, 2021 at 11:25 AM

    Hello! We just signed up here after going through everything on the YouTube channel. We’ve got Dixie, a 10.5 week old GSD. We’re pretty sure she’s working line and not show line (we got her from a hobby breeder so we don’t know for 100% certainty), and she’s very high strung and displaying signs of dominance aggression when she doesn’t get her way. She actually took very well to her crate and we’re following the advice to keep her in there when we’re not engaging with her, and to put her away immediately when she starts acting out of control and refusing to listen or obey, which has begun to happen at the end of every exercise or training session. We’re having some issues with biting — actual, aggressive biting, not just mouthing and nipping — when we try to correct her. None of it appears to be fear-based; she just doesn’t like being told what to do, which is very concerning.

    Another issue we’re having is that she’s overly fixated on food and treats. She screams and whines and carries on while my husband prepares her meals, and when training, if she thinks she’s done the thing to earn the treat but I correct or try to reset her (she’s very prone to anticipating commands and offering behaviors), she’ll lunge and grab at my hand or jump up and try to take it. She’s extremely bright and picked up on the basic commands right away, but over the last week she’s become less focused on learning and more fixated on getting the treat at all costs — which is usually what leads to the aggressive behavior that lands her back in the crate. She usually starts out well each session but quickly becomes impatient, loses focus and starts either grabbing for treats or attacking our hands and feet, refusing to listen or take no for an answer. Playtime also usually ends with her becoming out of control.

    I should also mention that we’re not having any issues with resource guarding, despite her food obsession. Are these things she’s likely to outgrow with maturity, or should they be cause for concern?

    We were also having a big problem with her trying to herd us both and attacking our shoes and ankles on walks, as well as trying to eat every leaf, twig, rock or acorn she found on the ground, but we recently got a Martingale collar and started working on “leave it” following the YouTube instruction. She’s already picking that up and our walks have improved immensely, so thank you for that, and thanks for any help and advice you can offer on these current problems.

    Amanda replied 1 year, 6 months ago 6 Members · 14 Replies
  • 14 Replies
  • Bill

    March 30, 2021 at 11:48 AM

    Hi @MattandJean – Sounds like you have a handful; good news is there are lots of experienced people on RC to offer food for thought as you develop and work on a strategy. From the things mentioned in your post, clearly the biting and nipping, and demanding treats are hurdles. Looking at the similarities in the two, it seems the dog is making demands and delivering its version of consequences when the humans are not doing what the dog wants. Really good news is that by working on this now, as you are, you will get to enjoy great years ahead. A couple things may be helpful. To successfully work with your dog/puppy, you need to work them in the stage they are in.

    Tackling the easiest first, it seems your puppy is VERY food motivated and therefore acknowledging that, you use treats/food to lure and shape. In early training when food worked, I found the “moist/soft” varieties effective for several reasons, easier on developing teeth, small and quick to ingest, and because they are moist my dog wasn’t inhaling/coughing on the dust as he did from hard, crunchy treats. (I believe there are some options in RC’s “shop”)
    ANY, EVERY, and ALL demands for treats from the puppy should be ignored. Opportunistic, your puppy is likely to continue behaviors that get it what it wants. You may already be seeing how bright your puppy is when you are using treats because the puppy focuses on the treats any may even nudge the pouch to let you know it’s time for another one – do not give in. If you periodically “give in” you are incidentally reinforcing the protest.

    Biting/Nipping at you. It is logical to conclude, just say no. Without a firm foundation and understanding of no – you likely see the behavior continue, or worse, escalate. As you may still be working on developing the effective no, try delivering it more firmly and loudly than you normally do. If you can, deliver that firm, louder and direct “no” as instructional – without emotion. If you have developed other obedience commands/skills you can consider following up with what you want the dog to do instead. The most important piece initially will be stop the behavior. Using pitch and stress with the “no” may add the emphasis needed until you have time to develop the firm foundation with/for “no”. There are many strategies you could try – the best one will be the one that makes sense to you that you can delver and follow up on without exception.

    Not all dogs are cuddlers. In fact, my GSD is not. By hugging, you may be invading the dogs space and it becomes anxious. As you mention petting inside seems to get the puppy in action – what you may be seeing when you are petting and showing affection – which results in the puppy wanting to play may actually be your puppy going in motion to relieve stress. In lieu of hugs and doting over the puppy, your puppy may prefer structure. While you may “feel” like you are not showing affection, in fact, you are. Providing structure helps dogs be happy dogs and assures them they are part of your pack. They simply need to know what you want them to do. (Yes, easier said than done!)

    Hope something here helps or triggers an idea for you as you make adjustments to help your puppy know what it takes to be a member of your family/pack.

    • Matt and Jean

      March 31, 2021 at 11:06 AM

      Thank you, Bill. There’s a lot of good stuff here. Matt was already good at directing her into another behavior after telling her no, but I would get so frustrated just trying to pry her teeth out of me that I would forget. I’m working on staying calm and redirecting her when she starts attacking my hands or clothes or trying to take treats. I think I need as much training as Dixie does. We’re both a work in progress.

      As for hugs and cuddles, she has times when she’s very cuddly, and she loves a good belly rub. We try to let her be the one to initiate the lovins, though, because we never know whether we’re going to get Sweet Dixie or Bite All the Things Dixie. We’re learning to read her moods and keep it to a quick pat on the head when she’s feeling bitey. But just in the last couple of days she’s been a lot more loving toward us both, which has been nice.

  • Alin

    March 30, 2021 at 1:53 PM

    I shortened your question and submitted it for Robert AMA video. The video will probably go up later today so keep an eye out.

    In the future, for serious issues like this – I recommend using Robert’s member AMA form first as you really want to be sure you hear what Robert has to say about these specific issues.

    You can ask 1 question per video and he posts 2 videos per week on Tuesdays and Fridays. AMA form is located at the bottom of the Member Dashboard page – https://robertcabral.com/member-dashboard/

    You can also browse and search other AMA videos with keywords to see if other members have asked a similar question or maybe you’ll find something that you’ve thought about asking.

    Archive – https://robertcabral.com/member-questions/

    Thanks and welcome!

    Members Dashboard

    • Matt and Jean

      March 31, 2021 at 10:53 AM

      Thank you so much, Alin. Robert’s input was actually very reassuring. This is our first large breed, and also the first time we’ve had a puppy this young, so we had no frame of reference for what’s normal. We were picturing her growling and snapping at us this way when she weighs sixty pounds or more, which is a scary prospect indeed. But it’s highly encouraging to hear that this is normal puppy behavior and she’ll outgrow it with time and structure.

      After going through the New Member course and starting on the Puppy course, it’s clear that our biggest mistake was giving her too much time outside the crate and allowing her to become overstimulated. Since I posted my question, we’ve been keeping play and training sessions short and putting her away on a happy note. She’s already become calmer and more pleasant to be around. I’m also happy to report that she’s really picking up the Leave It command, and she didn’t attack my feet even once on this morning’s walk, which was a first. We’ve already gotten so much out of our membership and we’ve barely even made a dent in the content. Thanks so much to you and Robert for all you do.

      • Matt and Jean

        April 2, 2021 at 1:45 PM

        @alin I can’t remember whether I got back to you when you asked if you could use my comments on the testimonials page, but yes, absolutely, if you still want to.

    • Amanda

      December 18, 2022 at 4:48 AM

      Hi, Is there still a way to watch this ask me anything? Or do the older videos go away?


  • Asma

    May 13, 2021 at 1:59 AM

    Hi Matt and Jean,

    I was just reading your question & came to realize that I’m also having the same issue with my 4 months GSD, I was wondering if you could share any tips regarding the biting, my puppy is very rebellious one might say & smart, teaching him the leave it and the out command hasn’t been working he’s very stubborn, yesterday I crated him for refusing to leave an electric wire after he cried it out & seemed to be sorry I let him out but then he got so angry at me he went after me to bite my arm which bled & led to him being crated again, if you’d see me you’ll probably think I’m suffering from domestic abuse 🤦‍♀️

    He barks like crazy whenever he wants me to come to him so he would just nibble on my shoes & walking away will make him come running to bite on my calves.

    I’ve been trying to teach him the quiet command especially that the neighbors have been complaining but is it wrong that I didn’t teach him the bark command first? I’ve also been trying to teach him to stop biting luring him with treats instead of my arm because toys don’t interest him as much as my arm but I feel that could give him the wring message that when you bite you might get a treat.

    He’s also very possessive and territorial, unless wants me in his room.

    This whole experience is very new to me I’m usually terrified by dogs but I guess we’re both learning.

    I’d appreciate if you could share any tips that you might have found effective in your situation.

    Best Regards


    • Matt and Jean

      May 13, 2021 at 10:07 AM

      Hi Asma,

      If you’re a member, I’d use the link Alin provided up above to submit your question to Robert for the next AMA video.

      But as for what we’ve been doing with Dixie, we watched Robert’s intro and puppy training videos, as well as the relevant videos in the FAQ section, and followed his advice to the letter, and she’s doing worlds better than when I first wrote the OP. She’s almost 4 months old now and I’m sure it’s a combination of maturity on her part and consistency on our part.

      Basically, we keep her crated most of the time and let her out on a very structured schedule. She comes out when we’re ready for her, she potties if she needs to, and we immediately start about five minutes of luring and shaping with treats. I put her through a series of “calisthenics” — lie down, stand up, sit, turn around, repeat — until she’s calm and cooperative, and then we move to practicing obedience commands. She’s always on leash (connected to a Martingale collar) when outside her crate, even inside the house, so we can easily (well, fairly easily — we have to be faster than her mouthful of razor blades) grab her and put her back up if she starts to act out of control.

      When she’s had enough training, we engage her in a game of tug or fetch. We use both to practice “drop it,” offering her a treat in exchange for releasing the toy. Keep in mind that when they’re this young it’s all still practice and reinforcement. She does great at dropping toys on command or leaving shoes alone when we’re playing inside, but outside we’re still often having to wrestle sticks and stuff she finds on the ground away from her. But we always reward her when she does let it go. At this age, don’t worry that you’ll teach them that they’ll get rewarded for bad behavior. That’s not really how it works. Reward for compliance, even if you have to help them comply. From what I gather from the videos, adding in correction for non-compliance comes when they’re a bit older. At any rate, she gets a few minutes of active play and then, if she’s calming down and getting tired, we let her have a few minutes on her bed outside of the crate with a chew toy. And then we let her get a drink if she needs one and put her back up until we’re ready to take her out again. When she whines and carries on, we just ignore her. Eventually she settles down and goes to sleep (I should add that if she’s been quiet in her crate and she suddenly starts whining and carrying on, that’s usually a good indication that she needs to potty. When that happens we let her out to potty and put her right back up).

      It’s the same when we take her out for walks — she comes out, we go for a walk, she gets a drink when we’re done and goes straight back into the crate.

      Another thing I should add is that she always gets a Kong stuffed with part of her daily allotment of kibble when she goes in the crate voluntarily (usually I just fill the Kong and shake it and she goes right in). But she doesn’t get any treats if we have to put her up because she’s acting up.

      Another thing we’ve done that I think has helped is a tip we got from another trainer (not Robert) — applying the “nothing in life is free” principle. Everything is ours — toys, food, bed, etc. — and she has to earn access to it, even if it’s just sitting and/or making eye contact with us. That’s helped her learn some patience and self-control, and I think it’s also helped teach her to respect us more and that she can’t run all over us.

      I know how frustrating the biting is. I’ve still got scabs and several of my clothes have tears and holes in them. Dixie has gotten a lot better in that area but it’s still an issues sometimes. There’ve been a few times when we’re out walking that she wouldn’t stop attacking my arms and legs and I’ve just had to push her down and pin her on her side (not an Alpha roll) until she calms down. Then when I let her up again I get her to sit and look at me and reward her for doing so. If she refuses and keeps acting up, we go straight back inside and she goes in the crate. But usually that gets her to calm down and she’s ready to walk like a good girl again.

      I hope this helps! The key is structure and being consistent and fair so they’ll respect you and listen. Oh, one more thing — another tip I read somewhere recently was that you need to wear GSDs out mentally as well as physically. The luring and shaping and obedience practice helps with that, but something like a puzzle toy or games that make them think can also help.

  • Asma

    May 16, 2021 at 5:39 AM

    Thank you @Mattandjean, this is great.

    I did send out my questions through the link Alin provided, I agree with what you said I guess my puppy Paolo just needs more time and practice, I’m reviewing each and every video Robert has on structuring religiously and reading his every blog, he’s starting to get the hang of some commands but when he’s in drive nothing gets through his head so I’m working on that so that as you said I can wear him out mentally & physically, but he’s still consistent on the biting, but I’m hoping its just a matter of time & more practice on bite inhibition.

    Thank you soooo much, I’m gonna keep your message in mind as I continue training.

    Best Regards to You & Dixie

  • Abi

    May 17, 2021 at 7:54 PM

    @mattandjean Thank you so much for listing your initial question, and the explanation of your update. I’ve had my 9 week old GSD for a week and she is being a puppy and starting to really test limits.

    She also does the feet/ankle attacking. I’ve tried stopping and standing still, but that doesn’t work, as she’ll just lay down and keep gnawing. During the morning/afternoon redirection doesn’t work at all, but at night in the middle of her evening maniac zoomies I have been able to mostly redirect her with a toy.

    She doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in her crate, mostly after meals to keep her quiet, and a nap or two when she gets out of hand. I was cautious about putting her in there a lot, because I thought it might make her hate the crate and, by extension, make her not want to listen to me.

    But perhaps spending more time in the crate would help?

    • Matt and Jean

      May 18, 2021 at 9:22 AM

      Yes, definitely!

      I’m not the expert here, but one of the best things we’ve gotten out of our membership here was Robert’s “permission” to crate Dixie when we’re not ready to actively engage with her. Puppies need that structure and routine just like children do, and one thing he said that really stood for us is that they need that quiet time in their crate to process everything they’re learning. It’s just like putting a toddler in a playpen where they can learn how to play quietly by themselves–as important a skill for dogs as it is for kids.

      Feed her in her crate, give her a treat-stuffed Kong every time she goes in, give her teething toys to chew on while she’s in there, and she’ll be fine with it. She may whine in the beginning because it’s not something she’s used to, but as long as she’s had all her needs met (food, water, bladder emptied, exercise and engagement), let her whine and ignore her. Eventually she’ll stop and she’ll learn to see her crate as her safe space, like her own room where she can go to just chill by herself and sleep. Get her on a structured routine for when she gets out of the crate and what happens when she does (see my post above for examples). And watch Robert’s videos! They’re a lifesaver.

    • Matt and Jean

      May 18, 2021 at 9:30 AM

      Oh, and regarding the ankle biting, I wanted to share this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sd14JYp-rU4&t=3s

      I (Jean) did this exercise a lot with Dixie and it helped as far as inside the house (I had to redo it with her every time I changed shoes or socks or exposed my toes, so it’s definitely not a once-and-done endeavor). Practicing “leave it” with my shoes as the enticement also helped.

      I’m sorry to say that none of it helped with attacking my arms or ankles while out on walks. Like I said in my earlier post, stopping and redirecting her into obedience to snap her out of her prey drive, or ending the walk and putting her away when that didn’t work, were the only things that helped with that. But the good news is that she eventually grew out of doing that (for the most part), and she’s only 4 months old, so it won’t take that long. Just hang in there.

      • Abi

        May 21, 2021 at 8:49 PM

        Thank you so much! I’ll check the video out. I’m hoping to recruit family members this weekend so we can work on leaving feet alone.

        She is doing really well in her crate, and in the past couple of days has randomly put herself in there for a couple times!

        Still trying to figure out a solid schedule that works, but I feel there has been a bit of noticeable improvement in the past couple of days!

        • Matt and Jean

          May 23, 2021 at 1:23 PM

          I’m so glad to hear it!

          BTW, I wanted to share another tip that I just figured out this morning. When we were on our morning walk and Dixie turned and came at me like she was going to jump up and attack my arms, I stopped walking and raised my knee to deter her (not sure why this never occurred to me before). I didn’t knee her in the body or anything like that, I just blocked her from being able to jump up and grab me. It only took a couple of times before she gave up and went back to walking like a good girl.

          Sounds like your pup might still be too little to try this on, but when she’s bigger, if she turns out to be a crazy arm biter (and I gather that most GSDs are), try it and see how it works.

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