I have a two and a half year old german shephard that is just as sweet as he can be at home here with me and my family. The problem is when we go out around other people and animals.
At places like Petsmart, when he's on the leash, he will bark at and lunge at the other dogs. When we're at the dog park, off leash, it's better, but he's still very dominant with the other dogs, especially when we first get there. I guess the dominance issue isn't the end of the world, but if there is something that I could do that would help him get along with the other dogs, I'd love to do it. He just doesn't seem to have much interest in leaving my side and playing with the other dogs.
People are another story. Like I said, around me and my family he's great. Very sweet and loving and very obediant. But around other people, he's very skittish and won't let anyone get close enough to pet him. I don't think this is normal, because other doberman/gsd/rottweiler type dogs at the park seem friendlier. The thing is, I know how sweet he is, so I feel like there's something I could do in order to help him be more social. He's just not an agressive dog. He just seems nervous/unsure of himself.

I'd love to hear some ideas or suggestions that might help. He's just such an awesome dog that I would like to see him be more social and confident.
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Let me start out with... you need in-person help. Any time there is a risk of bite, you need to have somebody observe the dog to be able to correctly diagnose and treat. However, let me see if I can give you any helpful advice.
At places like Petsmart, when he's on the leash, he will bark at and lunge at the other dogs.

What do you do when he does this? How are you controlling him from making contact?
He just doesn't seem to have much interest in leaving my side and playing with the other dogs.

Then don't force him. Many adult dogs no longer want to play with strange dogs. It's part of the maturing process. You got more picky about your friends as you got older, didn't you? :}
People are another story. Like I said, around me and my family he's great. Very sweet and loving and very obediant. But around other people, he's very skittish and won't let anyone get close enough to pet him.

First of all, adult German shepherds aren't typically as in-your-face friendly to strangers like a golden retriever. (And yes, I've met some who are.) Though being somewhat aloof is normal for the breed, being skittish and nervous can be a result of both lack of socialization and bad breeding.
He's just not an agressive dog. He just seems nervous/unsure of himself.

You are probably right on the money. However, you've got to keep in mind that he thinks like a dog, not a human. If he feels sufficiently threatened, he only has two choices - fight or flight. And what he perceives as threatening could be baffling to you. Like a child running past him with his arms waving.
I'd love to hear some ideas or suggestions that might help. He's just such an awesome dog that I would like to see him be more social and confident.

Good goal! You may not ever see him enjoy the attention of strangers, but there are things you can do to help lessen his fears and increase his confidence. But that's what you need in-person help for.

I'll give you advice to prevent your next dog from following down the same path. But don't beat yourself up if you didn't know this - most people don't.
The puppy's most critical socialization age is before he is 3 months old, but you can still make a lot of progress up to about 5 months old. This is when your dog starts to develop his world view. If the breeder began socialization (which a good breeder would), then you've got the best clean slate you can have. The earlier the socialization begins, the better. Puppy has to meet children, teenagers, adults, elderly, different races, people on bikes, people with hats, people with mustaches...

you getting the picture? :} The more exposure he gets to all these beings he will run into later in life, the more he accepts them as normal and feels comfortable around them. If he doesn't get this exposure by the time he's 6 months old, it could be too late - he could develop fears that are difficult or impossible to erase.

He not only should meet as many different types of people as possible, but animals also. And he should be taken to every type of environment you can think of. If he's used to hustle and bustle, loud noises, crowds, etc., he'll be confident around them when he's an adult.
But... and this is a big but... it ALL has to be done at the dog's pace. If your pup is shy, you do not want to thrust him into strangers' arms. Let him approach strange people, dogs, whatever at his own pace, and don't force him into situations that make him panic.
And if he does get frightened by something, don't comfort him. :} Since he doesn't understand English, your cooing and oohing at him sympathetically just sounds like confirmation that the object is indeed scary. I cheerlead - "Oh, silly puppy, what was that! Look, a cookie!" If you can convince him you're not concerned, then he's not concerned.
I know this doesn't help your 2 year old boy, and I hope everything goes well for him. Keep us updated!
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I have a two and a half year old german shephard that is just as sweet as he can be ... animals. At places like Petsmart, when he's on the leash, he will bark at and lunge at the other dogs.

For this you need training.
When we're at the dog park, off leash, it's better, but he's still very dominant with the other dogs, especially when we first get there.

You need to find a more approriate place to exercise him. Dog parks are wonderful for some dogs, but not for many adult dogs.
I guess the dominance issue isn't the end of the world, but if there is something that I could do ... do it. He just doesn't seem to have much interest in leaving my side and playing with the other dogs.

He is pretty noraml in that regard. "Socialization" does not mean "playing with" other dogs. Socialization is a process for teaching a dog to be more comfortable about new and different situations. That he needs to do. But he should not be asked to play with other dogs he doesn't know. Rapid acceptance of strangers is not correct temperament for the adult German Shepherd dog. Neither is unwarranted aggression. Watchful warniness is appropriate for the breed. The properly "socialized" GSD is confident in new situations, but not wide open to friendship and interaction.
People are another story. Like I said, around me and my family he's great. Very sweet and loving and very ... to pet him. I don't think this is normal, because other doberman/gsd/rottweiler type dogs at the park seem friendlier. The

What you are seeing is a self selected set. They are there either (1) they are not yet mature. In the IMMATURE dog friendliness is desired. or (2) they don't fit the typuical profile or (3) they are being subtly managed. A really good dog manager will use a combination of obedience, avoidance, and protection (control of access to the dog). Properly done only the most observant will notice.
thing is, I know how sweet he is, so I feel like there's something I could do in order to help him be more social. He's just not an agressive dog. He just seems nervous/unsure of himself.[/nq]Yes, you are right about needing to do something about that aspect. But that is a different issue from expecting him to embrace relating to other dogs. Given your description of your dog's behavior a realistic outcome is that he might be able to enjoy playing with YOU at the dog park, as long as you take care to not let other dogs pester him. HOWEVER, exactly how you accomplish that is very important. Your behavior toward other dogs, and regarding your response to your own dog's behavior, will be very influential in how this progresses.

This is exactly one of these situations were IN PERSON help from a skilled trainer can most help. Because in about 85% of the situations you decribe it is what YOU are doing that is causing the problem. In other words, chances are what will most help this situation is for you to become more aware of what you are accidentally "telling" your dog, and how to adjust what you do to send a message closser to your desire.
I'd love to hear some ideas or suggestions that might help. He's just such an awesome dog that I would like to see him be more social and confident.

See a skilled trainer. Going it alone you have a higher chance of making it worse than you do of solving it. You can't see what you are doing as clearly as someone who is watching you, and who knows what to look for. IF what is going on is typical you are very likely doing things unconciously. You won't know you are doing them until someone interupts you several times and points it out.

Diane Blackman
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Hello Bill,
My rescued GSD did the same thing when I first got her. She also had separation anxiety such that she got the runs every time I left, and she wailed and wailed. But guess what? She is over the separation anxiety now, 1 year later. And while she will still bark at other dogs if I am not around, she no longer lunges, and even if she gets away from me, I can call her off of them. (I make no promises about her behavior when I'm not on the scene - like in the back yard when I go to the store or something.)

And BTW, my dog is indeed "in-your-face-friendly" with other people. I wish she were more standoffish. Sigh. As with all "rules" it depends upon your individual dog. Mine had a basically sound temperment that someone messed with. It was fairly easy to reverse some things. That doesn't mean yours has that basic soundness, but with her being so friendly to people, I tend to think you have some real potential to work with there.

Yes, socialization happens at a young age, but you can still influence their behavior long beyond that. Especially with a GSD who lives to serve and please you anyway. At least that is the temperment I see most often in the breed.
In our case, it was a simple outgrowth of obedience training. I was teaching her to heel, and it was a simple matter to catch her before she ever barked, just as she was making eye contact. I jerked the lead and said "NO" like I meant it. It took several weeks, (as did a reliable heel), but she eventually abandoned the agression toward other dogs in my presence. I'll know I have another victory when she does well when I'm not around.

Good Luck
Sara
I was teaching her to heel, and it was a simple matter to catch her before she ever barked, just ... toward other dogs in my presence. I'll know I have another victory when she does well when I'm not around.

You may have taught her to inhibit her actions. But you didn't do anything to improve the way she feels about other dogs.
There's a risk of increasing the fear by punishing her whenever another dog appears. What association is she going to make with these other dogs? When other dogs are around, mom gets mad. Other dogs are bad.

In that scenario, just as she was making eye contact with the other dogs I would begin to cheerlead. "Oh, good girl, look, another dog, whee!" And I would have her very favoritest treats and be stuffing her face with them.

It's a bit tricky to decide how to go about it, and dog body language has to be well understood. That's why I advise an in-person trainer or behaviorist. Depending on the dog and the situation, you might want to go on purely classical conditioning (no matter how the dog acts, other dogs still bring good things). Or you might want to combine classical conditioning with operant conditioning (praise and treats disappear when dog acts up).

If you change the dog's world view along with his behavior, the behavior is more dependable and predictable.
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Well, I'm sure the problem is that he hasn't been socialized properly. And assuming that is the problem, what can I do to help? I guess finding a trainer would be number one? Suggestions for finding a good trainer?
But there must be something else that *I* can do? Is there a book that I might read that could help? Anything else?
I guess finding a trainer would be number one? Suggestions for finding a good trainer?

I'd ask around for a good behaviorist savvy in aggression issues. Ask vets, go to dog parks or PetsMarts and ask people, etc. I'd also question the trainer/behaviorist to ensure positive reinforcement methods are used.
But there must be something else that *I* can do? Is there a book that I might read that could help? Anything else?

Books that can really help you understand and read dog behavior:

"Culture Clash" - Jean Donaldson
"The Other End of the Leash" - Patricia McConnell
"Bones Would Rain From the Sky" - Suzanne Clothier "The Good Little Dog Book" - Ian Dunbar
And here's a pretty safe exercise you could try.
Go somewhere you know you're going to run into other dogs, but you can maintain a steady distance. For example, get a chair and park it outside of PetsMart. Sit where your dog can see other dogs going in and out of the store, but far enough away that he feels secure and doesn't act out. If you see anybody with their dog coming in your direction, sing out, "My dog has aggression issues." They'll avoid you. :}
Your goal is going to be to teach your dog that every time he sees another dog, something good is going to happen. So as soon as he notices another dog, you begin to praise like mad and stuff his face with hot dogs (a special treat). When the dog is out of sight, the praise and treats stop.

The next time, you sit a few inches closer to the other dogs. Do the same thing.
The next time, a few inches closer. Rinse and repeat.

If at any time the dog begins to act out, move back a few inches and go more slowly. Look for improvement, not 100% compliance.

The closer you get to the other dogs, though, the more beneficial it will be to get a trainer to help you. If your dog has a bad experience with another dog at this point, it could do more harm than good.
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And here's a pretty safe exercise you could try.

I just remembered - your concern is socialization with humans, not other dogs.

Sorry, not enough coffee yet. :}
Okay, let's start here. There are things you can immediately that will help.

Don't let anybody stare at him or reach out to pet him. That's scaring him, and if he's going to improve he needs to be able to feel safe around strangers. A direct stare from a stranger is a threat in dog language.

Be careful that you're not giving him alarm signals. For example, if you automatically tense every time he's around a stranger, he'll pick that up. Stranger = daddy gets upset. Be cheerful and at ease.

Don't put him in situations that may be overwhelming to him. If you're going to take him to PetsMart, make it a weekday instead of a weekend. Less dogs, less people.
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Obedience classes, get in them with a good positive trainer and stay in them until he can at least handle being around other dogs and people. One session won't do it. If he absolutely can't handle the classes have some private lessons first and then get into the classes.
You need a person there to help you and help teach you as well as your dog.

And don't force him to meet people and don't coddle his fears. Reassuring him when he's fearful only reinforces his fears.
Lauralyn
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