Behavioural Needs of German Shepherds

Our focus this Sheptember is on the behavioural needs of German Shepherds. You will not be surprised to learn that, while many German Shepherds share particular behavioural traits, there is considerable individual variation. Some German Shepherds are big and brave and bold. Others are not. The poster girl for our Sheptember Campaign belongs to the latter category. Having had a difficult start to life, she has little interest in interacting with unfamiliar people. However, she is cute and fluffy and I am invariably asked if she can be patted.

It is socially taboo for random strangers to pat humans they don’t know (thankfully). Sadly, for my dog, she is expected not only to bear this strange ritual but to enjoy it. I explain that she is “shy” so that these nice people are not offended when she turns her head or backs away. Fortunately explaining that she is a rescue often also helps. On rare occasions, I am lectured by people I have never met before on how I shouldn’t allow her to be like that. I resist the urge to say that if a complete stranger patted me in public without my permission I would be far less polite than my dog at explaining that the attention was unwelcome.

Owners of dogs with anxiety or fear-based issues do not need to feel shame or guilt for allowing their dogs some space from things that make them uncomfortable. If you are working on fear or anxiety with a good trainer or behaviourist, he or she will be helping you to identify and understand your dog’s triggers and thresholds, and supporting your dog with these in a safe and controlled way.

If you are practicing being a good citizen out in the big, wide world, it is more than ok to say, to those lovely people who want to pat your beautiful German Shepherd, “Thank you, but he/she is in training” or just to say “Thank you, but no.” Most people will accept this, even if they don’t understand. And the best thing about a German Shepherd? The people who don’t accept it, generally have enough of a sense of self-preservation to walk away. If all else fails, the T-shirt seems to help.

Thanks to Chase The Dream Photography and Arts for capturing this little girl's personality so well.

Life As a Foster Carer, by Sarah

Truth is, we started fostering for purely selfish reasons. We had a 12-week-old German Shepherd puppy, our baby girl, for whom we would do anything. We also had to work all day, were in a rental property, and she was bored. She was starting to dig in the garden and bark when home alone. Doggy day care is very expensive and we weren’t ready or able to get a second dog, so we thought we would try fostering to give her a playmate. We had strict conditions; must be friendly, must be house-trained, must be good with puppies, must meet the dog first etc. The foster group we were with at the time said yes to all of this, and then dropped off a dog who violated most of our conditions at very short notice.

Three years and 34 foster dogs later, we have realised that fostering dogs is chaotic, unpredictable and demanding. We have also realised that it is one of the most intensely rewarding things one can do. Our furry child has loved it, and thrived. It eased her loneliness and boredom, completed her socialisation, provided her with an ever changing pack and developed her own empathetic skills. She is the true foster carer in our house, showing each new dog the house rules and normal behaviour, showing them they can trust people.

We have had all sorts of dogs: big,small, friendly, aggressive, fluffy, smooth, timid and traumatised. Each of them has left us for a home where they are treasured, and most of these people keep in touch. One of the most frequent comments I have heard is “how can you foster, I could never give them up.” This has never been an issue for us: we get a Christmas card every year from Miki the Rottweiler, and see Tyson the Malamute cross every few months; Saxon the Shepherd’s mum is a Facebook friend. When you know they are truly in a better place, when you meet the people first and they keep in touch, letting go is easy. For the couple that didn’t work out, we had a two week trial period to bring them home and find a better place.

Sure, our carpet has a few extra spots, and all my sweaters have dog hair. We spend a few extra dollars each week on food, and wake up earlier than we would when we have a new dog to house train. But in return, we save lives, make our child happy, and make lots of new friends. Being foster carers is an experience we wouldn’t change for the world.

Introducing Dogs and Cats

Dogs and cats can become wonderful friends, but you must understand that cats feel threatened by change so all developments need to be gradual.

1. If the dog is being introduced to the household with a cat, then understand that from the cat’s perspective, he/she is having his/her territory invaded. Get your cat used to being fed on a bench if they have previously been eating at floor level – otherwise the new arrival is likely to help himself to whatever is on offer. Also, make sure the litter tray is in an area that is off-limits to the new dog.

2. If possible, give each pet an object with the other one’s scent on prior to bringing the new arrival home. Before making any introductions, it is a good idea to rub each pet with a blanket the other has slept on. This will acquaint your pets with each other by smell before they meet in the flesh, and allows them time to get used to the idea of sharing the house with another four-legged family member.

3. If a cat is coming into a dog household, keep her in a separate room (with her bed, litter tray, food and water) for a few days initially, so pooch can only sniff at the door. Then move puss into another room and allow your dog to explore the room puss was previously in. Repeat this scent introduction process until they are familiar and comfortable with the presence (albeit at a distance) of each other around the house.

4. With a young or boisterous dog, make sure the dog has had plenty of exercise or play session before his first face-to-face encounter with the cat. This will make him calmer and less threatening to the new feline.

5. Have your dog on a leash while they are getting to know each other. The initial introduction should be in one of the rooms where they have familiarised themselves with each other’s scent.

6. Sit in a comfy chair with your dog lying down beside you. Have a friend bring in your cat in her carry cage, and put it down a couple of metres away. Keep your dog close to you in the DOWN position, until any growling, barking or hissing subsides. Once both pets appear comfortable with each other, ask your friend to gradually move the carrier a little closer. Do not open the door of the carry cage until your dog is relaxed and under your control (even if it takes a few sessions to get to this stage).

7. Allow your cat to walk around freely, while keeping your dog on a short lead. Let puss be the one who initiates any contact, while making sure your dog cannot lunge towards her. If your cat becomes frightened, return pooch to the DOWN–STAY position. Once both are comfortable in each other’s presence, lengthen the lead to allow them closer interaction. Gradually let go of the lead, but be ready to quickly separate them if the dog tries to pounce on puss. It is very important that your cat always has an escape route.

8. In the early stages of introduction, it’s a good idea to erect a temporary baby barrier-type gate, so your cat has somewhere safe she can retreat from your dog until they get the hang of sharing the household.

Dog Training by Paul Kearney of Kontented K9

You have just purchased your puppy or dog. At first, everything is cute and the dog/pup is the best thing in the world to you. Everything the dog/pup does is cute and funny, but as time goes on, those cute and funny behaviours soon become problems. You take the dog out on walks and now, that once cute thing of him growling and barking at other dogs, has become a real problem; to the point where it is easier not to take him out at all. And how cute was it when the children use to take the dog’s toys away, and the dog would bark? Telling the children off to now when no one can go near the dog’s food or toys because of the growls and snapping.

So, we end up putting up with this animal we now have, which wasn’t the one we purchased, or we surrender the dog to a shelter or rescue to re home, or worst-case scenario, due to the perceived aggression, we have the dog put to sleep as it is ‘the kindest thing to do’. What annoyed us the most, is the dog knew it was doing the wrong thing. You just had to look at it's face. He was sad and remorseful for what he had done whilst I was out.

So, what is the answer? How can these things be avoided? What can you do?

Training your dog is the answer to most of the above scenarios. This article is not how to train your dogs, but just some advice to get you started and hopefully, to make it a bit easier.

Puppy School/Class

These may be available through your local dog club or local vet. They are excellent to start your pups being socially interactive with other dogs in a controlled environment.


The ‘critical period’ for socialisation of dogs is about 3 – 19 weeks. During this period, exposure to other dogs and positive experiences to the environment sets them up to be well adjusted dogs. During this period, dogs, when they interact with other dogs, learn what is sociably acceptable behaviour in the dog world.

“But my dog is a rescue and I don’t think he was socialised properly or he has issues with the vacuum cleaner. Does that mean he will be stuck with the fear for ever?” Take a deep breath of relief because no. Dogs do not stop learning and can be taught at any age. It may take longer and may take a higher skill set from someone with the knowledge, just to get you started, but behaviours can be changed and new lessons learnt, no matter what the age.

“So, my dog is too old for puppy school, what can I do?” Community dog training clubs are a great way to train. It gives your dog the chance to interact with other dogs and learn basic obedience. However, one thing to bear in mind is that a lot of the trainers have only learnt what has been passed onto them. They may not stay abreast with the latest information on best practice. The best thing I think, is to go by yourself the first time and watch a class. See how they train. Talk to the officials of the club and ask lots of questions. What is their style of training? How do they handle dogs with issues or problems?

Next is the private trainer. Here the waters become very murky. Dog training is an unregulated business in Australia. This means anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. And you have a vast range of people in the industry. Ranging from force free to what is called balanced trainers. You have people calling themselves Animal or Dog Behaviourist who have no formal qualification in that field. My best advice is to contact the person and ask lots of questions; do they have any qualifications? (Especially if they are claiming to be a behaviourist). What style do they use? Remember, you are the guardian of your dog so you need to step up to the mark and do what is best for your dog.

“I really don’t have the time to train.”
 It has been shown, time and time again, that short bursts of training lasting for just a few minutes, is better. And play after a lesson helps the dog remember the lesson better.

Every time you are interacting with your dog, it is a training session. You are teaching the dog what you will allow. So, consistency is the key. Dogs like things very black and white and they live in the moment. Dogs will increase and repeat behaviours that have a positive outcome for them and this leads me to comment on dogs being sorry, realising what they did 30 minutes ago was wrong. Studies done show dogs cannot feel that type of remorse. What you are seeing are appeasement behaviours. The dog has picked up on your tone or body language and offers the appeasement behaviour to avoid conflict, as they may do to another dog.

Training your dog will prevent a lot of unwanted behaviours occurring, as will playing. The training process (cognitive thought process) will also tire your dog out. There are so many benefits from training and no drawbacks that I can think of, so go out and train or play with your dog. You will feel better for it too; trust me.

PD Jax - from rescue dog to police dog

Jax has Graduated!!!!

Our super smart boy Jax has made it through the months of tests and training and last week he became a fully fledged SAPOL Police Dog.

Of course, we all know how smart our GSDs are but Jax and his fellow police dogs are truly a cut above. Jax comes from a line of dogs who have been bred for this very purpose and when we originally contacted SAPOL about him, they were pleased to learn from his pedigree that he had excellent working lineage.

In fact, SAPOL already had another operational dog from the same lines as Jax. However, even with excellent lineage, the selection process to make the grade to be accepted on the training course is still exceptionally tough. Even once they are on the course, each dog has to prove it has the temperament and intelligence to acquire the skills it will need to be a fully operational general purpose police dog, out on the beat.

They need to not only be smart but also steady of temperament to handle all the different scenarios that life as a police dog will throw at them.

And so it is with much pride we officially introduce to you Police Dog Jax!

Listen to the ABC broadcast here about Jax with Michelle from German Shepherd Dog Rescue SA.