We've owned dogs for as long as I can recall, sometimes those dogs are perfect in everyway and sometimes, well lets just say they prove challenging.
Lucy a white German Shepherd, is one of those difficult and challenging dogs. She came to us as a puppy, a crazy, jumpy and excitable 5 month old puppy. She jumped, was play biting all the time, barking, spinning you name it she did it.
So lets introduce you to Lucy now she is 2 years old. She is a dominate female dog, excitable and energetic. She has a tendency to be vocal and very dominate during play.
When we moved last year, it was a huge change for us, and the dogs endured massive changes themselves. But collectively they did great. We adopted a few more dogs, and fostered a few from the same charity.
When we adopted Elsa a Swedish Lapphund in black, well they were two matched personalities. I'd watch them walking off up the garden, both displaying the same confident body language, tails held high like flag poles. Issues were bound to happen. And they did. Lucy had a tendency to be vocal, and bark dispaying dominate tendancies to Elsa during play. I'd try to educate Lucy, word commands and distractions didn't work. Lucy's version of playing was charging about between the other dogs banging into them like a ball. On one occasion she charged so hard into the back leg of our oldest chap Mr Riggs and ripped his skin open. There went £425 on a vets bill. Not a bite but she loved grabbing legs for playtime. Lucy also has selective hearing. Perfect. I found I was constantly shouting her name, or 'Stop It' or 'Leave It'. There have also been a large number of expletives used. She has seemingly been untrainable.
Elsa being a dominate yet calm dog bided her time in putting up with Lucy. Eventually fur flew. A fight started. We'd been close a few times but I'd seen it developing and then Elsa decided she'd had enough.
No blood was shed and no injuries occurred, still if you've ever dealt with a dog fight it's not pleasant, mostly all noise and flesh grabbing. Our issue is we have 11 dogs and Ripley also falls into the excitable category and so usually joined in. We ended up with a three way dog fight on a few occasions.
So, we did some reading, some googling as everyone always does, what could be done? I found myself getting frustrated at Lucy. Did she not realise she was kicking it all off! Why didn't she just NOT nose punch Elsa??? Why did she just have to keep pushing it!!? and why for heavens sake did she not pay attention to the warning signs Elsa was giving off.....?? If I could see them surely she should of.
At one stage after one of those scraps I thought that's it, we are not the family for her. Perhaps she would be better off in a home with one on one time. Was she bored? what was I doing wrong? Was a life as part of a pack not suited to her?
After duly considering the options it was then we decided that no, she was ours, she was our crazy monkey and we would address this. The two girls did not hate each other, in fact they groomed each other and were happy to sit next to each other. The issue was when play started, Lucy's excitement got too much and Elsa responded.
So what was the solution? We walked them on leads in the surrounding country side. Both together, neither one further ahead than the other. No balls or treats to distract them when they were together. I also structured breakfast time. Elsa being dominate, including Ripley who has a food obsession anyway, both were crated for breakfast time. Elsa and Ripley were fed last, in Elsa's case and for one week I fed everyone else then fed her last. The poor girl had to sit through watching everyone else eat but this striped out any dominance that she had or was demonstrating. Then strangely enough, and I don't suggest this to anyone else we ended up adopting two other dogs, Leia a young German Shepherd pup and Barney a 1 year old Shih Tzu. Barney and Lucy play together, I think he fancies her. Lucy has a play mate, and we've stopped running Lucy and Elsa together in the fields, at least until they grow up a bit. Since then we've been pretty much there.
So the original question? Lucy has calmed down. I think in part to specific training to Elsa rather than her, Elsa is no longer holding that dominate position so she is less reactive towards Lucy and so Lucy is far less reactive towards Elsa. She has stopped being so vocal although I'm still working on that. And the other day Steven and I were watching Star Trek Beyond. If anyone has watched that one you'll know Jaylah, the white blonde character who 'brings the beats and the shouting' during the film. We joked that Lucy should be called Jaylah as she brings the beats and the shouting to our lives. I thought, with everything that we've been through with her perhaps we should re-name her, so far I've spent a lot of time shouting 'LUCY!' in sheer vain, and yes I know that shouting a dogs name over and over again does not help, but sometimes it felt like it helped. Perhaps this newly behaved dog needs a new name and a fresh start?
Today she still barks when I let her out for a wee, at no one or anything, just because she can but at a much reduced intensity.. She is perfect with our animals, never once wanting to eat one of our free range chickens. She has calmed down a lot, delicately asking for affection now rather than exploding into your personal space. She is possibly one of our best behaved and most calm at meal times. She has settled so much and learnt a lot, and whilst training will never officially stop we have reached a nice stable pack.
We won't stop trying with any of them, yet I'm glad we considered all the options because sometimes re-homing is the best thing, but we are very happy that she is here with us.
The above photograph shows Elsa, Lucy, Ripley curled up together. Settled sisters.
What assisted us in training Lucy was re-directing her attention and rewarding her calm behaviour. We used affection and our poultry treats. They contain no additives or E numbers and were a great addition to her diet, the last thing she needed was any foods that would make her more excited! Our treats are 80% fresh chicken or fish and potato, that's it!
What do you think? and have you had some challenging dogs yourself?
*I have never trained as a dog trainer, I speak only from experience in training our pack of 11 dogs. If you experience any dog training issues yourself please seek a professional. Otherwise use our experience as tips and pointers only.