My Question: I need help with my 1.5 years old German Shepherd. We have socialized him greatly since he was 8 weeks old. We took him to new places and met new people on a daily basis! Around 1 year of age he started to become fear-aggressive on walks and in the house. We have spent a lot of $$ and now need extra help.
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Solution: Probably you have spent the lot of $$ on a local trainer who could see your dog and work with your dog and with yourself, correct? So then he or she had a BIG advantage, and it's sad to hear the trainer couldn't help you (yet it's very typical indeed, we hear this all the time).
However, now with us you make it very hard to help you: your help request lacks detail! This is why we have the detailed Dog Problem Consultation. Avoids info back and forth, and allows us to truly help you - contrary to the trainer you PAID.
For example, what exactly does the dog do "on walks and in the house" that you summarized as "fear-aggressive"? Knowing the exact dog behavior and your behavior and the situations of such behavior is essential to provide you with a real solution! Think: Your trainer can SEE all the detail (s)he needs (and yet didn't make use of), but I can't see that, and you didn't even write it down.
So, for the benefit of others, let's clarify here a bit and make assumptions (BIG assumptions!):
- You walk your dog on-leash, and when you approach other dogs (or people? or both?) your dog lunges towards them? Only big dogs or any dogs? Only people with motorcycle helmet or umbrella or bright-colored clothes, or what? Or does your dog seem aggressive towards every dog (almost) and every person (almost)?
- And in the house? Phew, it's even harder to guess(!) the dog's behavior that makes you conclude he is fear-aggressive. Does your dog space out when you come close? Or only certain family members? Only visitors? Or does he snarl and bare his teeth when you seek compliance with a command you gave? How do you seek compliance, what exactly do you do?
You notice now: None of this you spelled out - and there could be so much more, it could be so different what your dog actually is doing, and what you are doing, right? There is so much ambiguity in your help request that it makes me fearful. - But not yet fear-aggressive, no worries.
So here is some brief general advice to manage fear aggression in dogs - this may or may not help in your particular situation of which you provided no detail. First we need to appreciate the CAUSES of fear aggression.
Causes of Fear Aggression in Dogs
In this order, and there are no other causes of fear aggression in dogs! This "list" is complete, yes. As traumatized dogs are not that common, you guessed correctly: Almost always dog fear aggression is caused by stress or by lack of systematic socialization - despite what the dog owner believes, which for most dog owners is: "Our dog is very well socialized".
Oh! I am just realizing, you stated that as well: "We have socialized him greatly since he was 8 weeks old. We took him to new places and met new people on a daily basis!" - That is not systematic dog socialization, no sorry. Systematic socialization I have detailed in the Puppy Development Guide - Puppy 101 (even includes Checklists!), it's equally applicable to adult dogs, in fact much more important there.
That you have a traumatized dog is unlikely, so well you treat him. So I would strongly suggest you review systematic dog socialization for the (assumed) case of lunging towards other dogs or people during dog walks: Start afresh to accustom your dog to other dogs and people at a distance (other side of the road and far away and familiar dogs/people, then closer and same side of the road and strangers, etc). All in here.
There is no doubt that your dog is well accustomed to yourself. So why is he "fear-aggressive in the house"? This is why I love the CAUSE-driven analysis of MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG! Making a list of possible CAUSES first, and then identifying what causes your situation, this is SO HELPFUL - and in fact for dog health it is life-saving!
So if your dog truly is fear-aggressive in the house (you didn't give any detail, it may be something else), then you really have a very stressed dog in the house! Again, you likely will now say: "No way, he has no stress here at all!" - but then I just say: "Study the Periodical I linked for you above, it is mind-blowing once you fully take it in."
The (for experienced dog owners and trainers only) Dog Training Toolkit shows tons of tools you can use to calm down your stressed dog (and it explains why most dog owners and professional dog trainers not even notice that their dog is stressed).
As a tip, the next time you seek help with a dog behavior problem, I suggest to compile a detailed report first, similar to a dog health or dog care problem. Note down (else details get forgotten):
- What dog behavior strikes you in a certain situation?
- What happened immediately before this, and what was the dog doing?
- How did you react, and why?
- How did the dog respond to your reaction?