Help! My dog is out of control!

Help! My dog is out of control!

(Q) We rescued a seven-month-old German Shepherd, who is totally out of control. He tries to dominate our other dogs and takes their food, treats, and toys. When we eat dinner he tries to steal the food off our plates. He is exercised three times a day and was recently castrated. He has had tests to confirm there are no health problems; the vet said he was just a baby and would settle down soon.

(A) Behaviourist Steve Goward says: His behaviours are erratic yet when separated out could be considered understandable adolescent behaviours for a dog who doesn't know what he is supposed to do.

Try to understand each of his unruly behaviours individually. 

Work on his obedience and make him more manageable around the home. This might sound trivial in comparison to the problems you are having, but the base for getting his inappropriate interactions under control is to have the basics in any given situation. If your dog will do a sit, down, and recall given any distraction, you will be able to teach him to control himself rather than you having to control him.

This training using positive reinforcement to reward his efforts will enable him to start to make better decisions, and to look to you for guidance when things get tricky. The key is consistency; identify the triggers and then teach an alternative. Working his brain more than his muscles is more likely to have the desired effect. Avoid using punishment as this will likely damage your relationship and suppress behaviours. Having a good understanding of his motivation will help you get past this difficult stage in his life.

(A) Behaviourist Claire Arrowsmith says: It sounds as though this rescue dog has not received any form of structure or social skills prior to coming to you. He may or may not be able to cope with living with all the other dogs, but only time and a great deal of dedicated input will tell us what his potential will be. 

This dog requires training from scratch but due to his size and age it is much more challenging. Some basic impulse control lessons are needed, such as learning to lie and settle; he needs to be able to play independently with activity toys, and to spend time with you learning all the basic training lessons.

You need a qualified trainer or behaviourist to work with you to properly assess this situation. Ask your vet for referral to a qualified behaviour specialist.