Let me tell you what has all the sudden (and by all the sudden, I mean over the past four months) happened to my dog. I like to think that there are other dogs out there with the same issues, and maybe JUST maybe this will help you poor, troubled souls whose lives are simultaneously made whole and made crazy by your dog.
Homeboy has fear issues. We’re not exactly sure what spurred the shift (although he does hate those Petsmart baths…), but Jack has started freaking out in the car. He whines, barks, fidgets, and unfortunately, tries to get on my lap…regardless of whether or not I’m driving. He also has become afraid of other people and dogs, and reacts to that fear with a loud defensive bark that makes my insides feel so awkward I could collapse into a puddle of anxiety. He’s barked at our neighbors a few times, barked at strangers during walks, and barked at anything that scares him. This morning, I brought home a sleeping bag I borrowed from Mom for Andrew’s camping trip with the guys, and Jack barked at it like it was alive. The pup is slightly a pansy.
SO. To make a long story short, we took him to K9 University a couple weeks ago, where he went for his puppy obedience classes, and we had them “evaluate” him. I know that sounds creepy, but I promise they’re good people. ;) They kept him for the day while we were gone to see how he would react without us around. And wouldn’t you know, we’re apparently the problem. The trainer said he was laying around like the most chill out of 15 dogs in the training room and even did totally fine in the car. His freak out and anxiety only happens when Mama and Papa are around to protect and to be his comfort. They also suggested that his fear and anxiety could be spurred on further by my fear and anxiety, afraid he would bark or annoy someone, leaving me feeling awkward. I know, I know…dogs bark and that’s normal, but I want him to be perfect, ok!? I’m always concerned that people will confuse Jack’s barking out of fear with the crazy stereotypes about German shepherds being nasty, fighting dogs.
We went back for a behavioral class at K9 that taught us some new techniques on what to do if he starts into a fit of barking at a stranger. Essentially, all we were missing was a spray bottle and some vinegar. Within TWO times of being sprayed when he barked at someone, Jack learned to look away. He automatically started avoiding them and would bury his face behind me. Andrew and I were amazed how quickly he learned, and we simultaneously felt like idiots. It suddenly seemed simple.
The night after his training class, our friends Trevon & Jorden came over to see our new house, and we tested out the spray bottle at home when we let Jack out to meet them. To my utter surprise and delight, he was stellar. I had prepared myself for jumping and hyperactivity and barking, but he was as close as he’s ever been to a normal dog. Ha! We still have much to work on and we haven’t even had time to tackle those car rides, but we’re getting there. I have to keep reminding myself that he’s only a year old and shepherds are prone to anxiety. And when it comes down to it, I have to be thankful…he’s a snuggler, not a fighter. ;)