2 months, 3 weeks ago Gidget HallParticipant
Hi there! First things first–thank you for the wealth of resources and information you’ve put out here. Super valuable to a “seek and find’ learner like me.
Here’s where I’m looking for help right now. My 2.5 year old white GSD, Zeke, came to us as our foster dog. He is ours now and you will probably see why! I knew he’d get returned even after the progress we made with him, and since our bossy female liked him enough to live mostly well with him, we just adopted him.
To set the stage well, we were the only foster family willing to take him! 🙂 His laundry list of issues was daunting: Extreme separation anxiety (to the point where he still has the scars on his legs from escaping multiple crates and kennels), fear biting, human reactivity, and overall just a very nervous, anxious dog.
He was obedience trained when we got him as our foster, but his former owner used the prong collar incorrectly and any leash correction would only amp him up, never calm him down. He could not “hear” much of anything I tried, training wise. We joked that we would not be surprised to see him walking on the ceiling.
We ended up putting him on a moderate dose of fluoxetine so that behavioral work would have a chance. It helped quite a bit, though he was, and still is, a nervous-natured dog. After that, we layered e-collar over his commands. The e-collar sensation had the opposite effect of the leash corrections–as I’d hoped. Low level corrections (between 2 and 10 on the 100-level Mini Educator) worked to de-escalate and calm him.
With that in place, we made a lot of progress on counter-conditioning and desensitizing him to his triggers. It took a few months, but he got to the point where he happily went in his crate and slept soundly all night. Prior to that, his SA included waking up in the middle of the night and panicking until he could see me.
Lots of other issues that we are working through (I’ll probably ask about those, too!) but the current one is this: Zeke recently had a few medical challenges all at once. Ear infection, food intolerance, and then a rough bout of whipworms and tapeworms. We got those progressively resolved and he is back to good health now.
Zeke has regressed on his crate behavior. He is back to waking up in the middle of the night and vocalizing until I check on him (his crate is in another bedroom) and calm him back down. More often than not, he’ll start up again a few hours later. As an experiment, I just slept on the guest bed in his room to see if he’d keep doing it. Nope. Happy as a clam, slept soundly through the night as long as I was in there with him.
We do not keep his crate in our main bedroom because our female just does better when she can have her space away from him. Besides that, I really want to eliminate this behavior vs. just manage it. He works himself up about enough as it is; more indulging in anxious behaviors does not do him any good.
When we tackled this issue the first time, I periodically left his e-collar on at night so that I could give him a mild correction for vocalizing. He does know “quiet” so I’d give him that command and then correct him (around a 5 or 6) for not obeying the command. I find if he can’t indulge in the vocalizing, he can’t get as worked up as if we allow it to go on.
I don’t like leaving any collars on in the kennel, so it made ME nervous, but it did help him achieve full restful nights eventually.
Before I consider doing that approach again, I thought I’d post here for input and advice. Are there other approaches that I should be considering? Thanks in advance for any insights you may have.
2 months, 3 weeks ago Michael D’AbruzzoKeymaster
There are many things to consider here and certainly you can get an improvement if you follow the general guidelines of “Foundation Style” dog training and start from the bottom and work your way up:
I’ll go in order from the bottom and work my up.
1. Understand canine behavior: German Shepherds, especially the white ones have a very very strong pack drive. More so than probably any other breed. Therefore, whether it is part of the final plan or not realize that a white shepherd being kept separated away from the rest of the “pack” is very unnatural for one and will cause distress not far off from trying to put a wolf in a crate (I had a client with a wolf that would likely kill itself trying to get back to the pack if put in a crate). This is a very primitive and natural instinct. Much of what you see with white German shepherds is the result of “reverse domestication”. Since they are not selectively bred for work, confidence around strange humans, sounds, etc.. like some of their working counterparts they revert to primitive behaviors very easily. German Shepherds come from a tight gene pool that were line bred on dogs that were known wolf hybrids.
What we think of as “good nerves” is actually dulled nerves to make a dog not care about certain safety hazards that would likely make a wild canine vulnerable. Same goes for things like suspicion of people and being parted with the pack, stuck in a crate, etc.. He was born with similar propensities as a wild canine in many aspects. To accept that this is “normal” for him is very important for the plan.
2. Health: Problems with health can obviously put some plans to a stand still and that is why it is located so far on the bottom, but also doing things out of order MAY contribute to a health problem which again sets you back. Anxiety does lower the immune system in both humans and animals and can make it easier for parasites and other infectious diseases to get a leg up on him.
That being said I would mostly pay attention to his diet at this stage and make sure he isn’t eating anything that causes mild allergic reactions which will make him that much more miserable and want to seek comfort if separated from you.
3. Attitude – This layer is the most overlooked because most people don’t grasp its significance right away. Our attitude about the dog will influence our behavior toward the dog, and our behavior will be the hands on training so we cant ever get this wrong.
Our attitude is influenced by our past experiences, knowledge, and peer pressure. So, for example, if our past experienced involved dogs that did well when separated and if peers advise us to punish him in the crate for his “bad” behavior our behavior will spring off of that.
My advice is to start a new plan with a slightly different attitude. For sure I can tell you have a big heart and that is why you adopted him and everything you are doing is to help him.
But, start to look at him slightly differently, as a dog that is behaving naturally for one with a more primitive pack drive and a dog that is likely very unhappy with the situation whether he is punished for vocalizing or not. Wagging a dog’s tail for him does not make him happy and discouraging the crying or attempts to escape doesn’t lesson the anxiety. If we are not careful an added association of ecollar corrections no matter how light will snowball the bad association with the separation and make it harder to stack the situation to more favorable associations than bad.
I am obviously not against using ecollars in training, especially if a dog understands exactly how to avoid the punishment and we are asking something reasonable of the dog to succeed at. If we are fighting raw emotions, I would see what we could do about the emotions first, instead of “treating the symptoms”.
Treating the symptoms never really works unless by chance we are also following through with a plan that IS addressing the underlying issues before side effects get too bad. That is what we want to focus on, the underlying reason.
4. Applied Behavior Analysis – This is basically identifying the problem behavior and making sure we have an appropriate and reasonable replacement behavior picked out before we attempt to change the behavior in a scientific way that makes sense to us. If it doesn’t make sense to us, it won’t make sense to him. So what is our plan? And will it make sense? That is what we do next.
5. Leadership will serve two purposes for you (and him). 1. It established operations, so we control everything that motivates not only him, but also your other dog. We need tools to work and motivate with. It sounds like the one of the reasons he is in a crate instead of with you is because your other dog will not allow it? That is something that maybe can be explored.
If we control resources we are empowered and it is easier to lead. When we lead we get to decide a lot of things, including resources such as resting places and your attention. We can make new behaviors more rewarding because everything becomes more valuable when we control it. When the dogs are in control of any need there is much more potential for conflict. For instance, do these dogs obtain their need for affection by their own solicitation and free access or do they wait for the family to provide? Something as simple as a dog being responsible for initiating the affection can throw a wrench into any plan.
A dog solicits affection, it makes sense to solicit you from another room.
A dog solicits affection, and other dogs become a competitor for that affection.
When they don’t solicit and are provided for, from the humans remembering to call the dogs over periodically it helps take a load off the dogs. Nothing to guard and it isn’t their responsibility to share in affection with you. I am going hasty with this explanation but it is important.
6. Drive balance – When we control and micromanage the day we can control when the dog exercises, gets a chance to chew things, eat, etc.. we control and satisfy all the drives of the dogs and keep them balanced. Print out a chart from the habitation article and make a note everytime you provide a need (love, food, play, potty break, etc..) and make a note everytime a dog fulfills their own need (CRIES to get attention, chews something they are not supposed to, etc..). Can we see trends in how much the dog’s need each drive? Can we provide appropriate replacement behaviors before they provide for themselves?
7. This brings us to ANXIETY: and if we really worked on our foundation we can work on this step, but it will not be the end of the plan. The important thing to remember here is that this step is for working on ANXIETY and not obedience such as not barking when told. Any automatic corrections for bad behavior fall under the next step habitation so you wouldn’t do anything involving that either until you work on this step.
Unfortunately, the best way to work on things isn’t always the most enjoyable to us, but you were actually on the right track when you slept in the same room with him. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that for starters and it is how I do things with all new puppies or even an adult dog if the dog is going to be in the home and is prone to separation anxiety. I would even go as far as pushing myself right up the crate if it helps him. From there, at a pace that is working, you slowly distance yourself from him. It may be from right against his crate, to the couch, and then it may be you manipulate the room so he doesn’t quite see all of you, but he knows you are there. Then, you leave the room for only a split moment and then go back to the couch. you do things like this slow each night to see what you can accomplish without triggering the anxiety. He needs to be confident that he is never really alone and it is very important that you let HIM out of the crate before he makes any solicitation like crying, even if you need to wake up early. He must get the chance to learn that you never really leave him (even when you are not there) and that he doesn’t need to panic for you to come back.
If you are controlling his resources you can always put his best things only in his crate when he needs to be left alone to lean the association with the crate in a better direction compared to when he is out.
Anxiety can take patience and it is OK to use meds to make it easier to get over the hump.
Using punishment for certain behavior IS valid if you put an honest effort into helping with the reasons he is anxious. But, do not do punishment unless it is done very carefully and according to a plan that makes sense in either habitation or obedience..
8. Habitation: teaching a dog how to interact with the environment,so he basically does not destroy the house. I do not know your exact situation, but sometimes spending too much time on crate training can slow down a true housebreaking plan, where you do not need the crate anyway because the dog will not make a mess and most of the anxiety is relieved the moment the dog does not feel trapped in the crate.
There are a lot of options here that you can do. For one, you can housebreak the dog in the room where you normally keep the crate. Once the dog behaves well in the crate, without anxiety, with you in the room at night, AND the dog understands he will be provided with the times for going outside and fed in the morning etc.. you can start leaving him out at night with you and follow a three phase housebreaking plan (which does involve punishment in the second phase with ecollar for putting his mouth on anything besides what you hand him such as chews before we start to leave him unattended). The thing is you don’t really want to work on habitation when the dog is experiencing anxiety because you do not want to punish physiological reactions that he can barely help.
Habitation can also be done in the crate if you are there watching and he is not acting “anxious” but I usually limit it to only behaviors that will get him injured such as digging at the crate and i just would do a little “nick”. I honesty never use the ecollar for barking in the crate because it is too much tied into emotional behavior and it is a good indication of where the dog is emotionally. Also, i do not want to take away a release for emotions and add to the dogs anxiety. The worst case scenarios are when there is danger of a dog being removed because of a complaining neighbor or family member. In that case, you can use your judgement if “quiet” will help without side effects. If you are using a plan that works on the anxiety and not just focusing on the punishment you should get improvement.
9. Obedience: this is technically where you are telling the dog what to do. Such as “quiet” or “down”. Remember, this is way up at the top because it ALWAYS works best if we have a solid foundation and it is done thoughtfully. I have already written a short book here but all obedience i make sure I do a three phase style so the dog truly understand that obedience is just as much a good thing as a responsibility of his. We never want a dog to be insecure about commands that utilize punishment, therefore the dog must always feel in control of the consequences and know 100 percent how to avoid them.
10. Perception: How does he perceive the crate now? How can we change it? Or how can we change his perception of being left alone in general whether in or out of the crate? These are things we can work on if we have at least a somewhat sane dog that will chew on things we give him.
11: management: we should always have a short term plan to hold as over and have a long term plan in mind. What is a reasonable long term management plan that will give you both a good quality of life while avoiding setting up either of you for failure. Is it reasonable to have all the dogs loose at night? Him loose in the room? Or for various reasons is the long term plan the crate? I would suggest aiming high. Aim for what you think will cater to both of your needs best.
I know this is long, but this is an initial blue print that you can potentially toy with.We welcome these dogs as they are. With respect, compassion, and devotion We will lead…
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2 months, 3 weeks ago Gidget HallParticipant
Wow, Michael! Thank you so much for the thoughtful and detailed response! A few thoughts came to mind as I went through each point.
On the canine behavior front, I’ve had GSDs for years, some more “balanced” than others, plus I volunteer in GSD rescue. But Zeke is my first white one and any time we “engineer” for color vs. other traits, it never seems to work out well. I have friends with white GSDs who just nod in sympathy when I share some of his traits.
PS, when I went through your self-help series, I almost fell off my chair laughing when you and Earl said, “It’s a freaking German Shepherd!” Oh, boy. Do I understand that. But I’ve counseled so many adopters to not get a GSD if they don’t want a protective, person-centric dog … who may vocalize plenty, LOL. Their “you are my person” intensity is one of the traits I love about them, I just need to help Zekers to dial it back just a *tad* for his own mental calm.
Next, on health and perception: These thoughts prompted me to think back through everything Zeke experienced as we resolved his health issues, and I had a bit of a lightbulb moment. He had some severe digestive upset between the food intolerance and the parasite infections. The kid was in PAIN until we got that resolved, and it showed. That plus the ear infection was a rough patch. It occurred to me that he did experience pretty severe vomiting right after treatment for the parasites–and one episode was at night in his crate. Until then, he’d been sleeping through the night just fine, something we had achieved about a year ago.
Given his rather sensitive nature, this idea made me consider that he may have regressed a little because he had that unpleasant experience in his crate. Prior to that, he’d been successfully taught to adore his crate–it’s the only place he gets his very favorite toy and very favorite treat. Since he did so well for more than a year, I think you’ve hit on something that may be a factor in his current reluctance. That’s something I can work on right away–reinforcing his prior state of mind that crate = happy place where only the best stuff is available.
He is 100% housetrained, so no issues there. We also run a pretty structured house (necessary for sanity with two non-cupcake dogs plus the random foster dog). They each must go to place while we get their meals together and they are required to sit and wait until released to eat. They get 2x-3x structured walks daily plus individual play time and training practice. They have been taught to sit and wait at any threshold (gate, door, etc.) until I release them–and lots more. We ask them to do a “job” of some kind to get what they want–outside, a treat, a meal, etc.
As I reflect on the anxiety part of your reply, I also had another “a-ha” thought. When Zeke first regressed, he’d wake up at 2am and start vocalizing. Two weeks into this and he’s not waking up until 4am. He may be self-resolving as he realizes he feels better and the crate is still a good place to be, but your idea of purposefully getting up earlier to prevent his reaction vs. react to his reaction is a good one. One thing I’ve learned since we’ve had him in our family is that pre-empting behaviors goes a whole lot further than correcting them. Example: His former owner taught him to go bark at the back door to go outside for bathroom breaks. I don’t like the demanding thing, especially on a clingy or protective dog, so once I knew his timing for needing to go, I pre-empted it and took him out for a walk before he could ask. That act alone resulted in improved calmness to his state of mind. So I think your idea there is probably spot-on.
As for our female, she can be bossy to him but she defers to us. We’ve had Zeke and other foster dogs in their kennels in our room with all of us before. While she manages fine, her own demeanor is more relaxed when she doesn’t have to “room” with other dogs. Zeke is the first dog she actually accepted without trying to stealth snark at him, so I should probably say they both do better when she has time away from him–because he’s not going anywhere like the last six foster dogs. They need to live well together for a long time. Until this recent issue, they did well in their respective night time spots, so I’ll try for restoring that harmony first, and if that is not possible, we can revisit.
Thank you again for your helpful and thought-provoking response. Extremely useful and very much appreciated. I’ll look forward to sharing updates on our progress.
2 months, 1 week ago Gidget HallParticipant
One more time, thanks so much for the food for thought. We put it to immediate use, so I thought I’d share a quick update on Zeke.
The first steps we took were to try to reset his perspective on his crate, pulling from a lot of the work we did when first crate training him and resolving his SA in the early days.
That included making the crate as comfortable and welcoming as possible, but still something “different” since he experienced that severe vomiting in it. So, we moved it to another spot in the room, right next to the guest bed. Then we replaced the old (fairly thin) crate pad with a brand new foam one covered in a smooth fabric (vs. the fuzzy fleece style).
We bought him a new Kong chew and tested a few stuffable treats until we found some that he goes nuts for. That part wasn’t as easy–he’s not all that food motivated! But once we found what made him light up, now he only gets that Kong and those treats when it’s time to kennel up.
And although I typically put toys away and not in the crate, he has a favorite (it’s a stuffed Lambchop, actually — looks a lot like him!) I thought it may help his eagerness to go in there, so I put that in there as well.
I did all of this during the day when there was no pressure for him to *have* to kennel up, as in for bedtime. He tested out the new crate pad right away, chewed his Kong, enjoyed his treats, and even napped in the crate (door open) with his toy under his head.
After that, he kenneled up on command that evening and settled immediately into his crate. No resistance, no trying to get out of the command.
His “calls for company” in the early morning hours became progressively less and progressively later. When he did fuss, my husband and I took turns snoozing on the guest bed with him until our normal get-up time of about 5:30 am.
As of last week, he is back to sleeping well by himself and only starts “talking” to us when he hears us stir at our normal get-up time. This is how he used to be in his crate, and it’s a relief to see his anxiety resolve.
Thanks again. Your feedback gave me a great deal of insight into helping my Zeke. He’s still an anxious boy, but at least not in his crate!
1 month, 3 weeks ago JudyModerator
That’s great to hear. Keep up the good work. Be sure to navigate the forums as well. There are many posts and much information in the knowledge base that you may find helpful.
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