I have emphasized the importance of socialization and obedience training more than once, both on this blog and in conversation with owners, but the subjects are so vital that both bear continuous repetition. I think that life has a way of distracting us and pulling us off of vital actions that need to be done in everything we do, including our pets. So, a little reminder now and then is a good thing.
With that being said, I wanted to post two personal anecdotes that show what can happen with working dogs when an owner/handler does not do the right thing re: obedience/socialization.
The first incident occurred at my vet’s office, around a month ago. I had taken in one of my females for a check up. While waiting in the room for my vet, I heard barking out in the waiting area and someone yelling ‘Knock it off!” to one of the dogs. I walked out into the hallway and saw a man and woman, each with a German Shepherd dog, on leash. I knew the man, knew he was involved in Schutzhund training with his dogs and that he was more concerned with how nasty his dogs were during Schutzhund training than how well he could control them. This is perhaps a variation on the ‘size fetish’ and an accurate index of the character of this guy. Now, telling a dog to ‘knock it off’ is not very effective, especially if not accompanied by a collar correction. It is just someone who wants to draw attention to the fact that he has a ‘badass’ dog, nothing more. I wasn’t able to see what happened as far as correcting their dogs went, but the fact that these animals were acting sharp like this in a vet’s office is a huge red flag. Well, I finished my appointment and heeled my dog out of the room into the hallway and out to the reception area, where one of these Shepherds sat, with the female handler. I walked my dog in front of them (not towards, but across = prey, not defense) and the Shepherd lunged at both myself and my dog, growling and barking aggressively. The handler did nothing to correct the dog, except passively allowing the dog to correct itself when it reached the end of the lead and going into a sit. Who the hell trained this person as a handler? Not a very good trainer. That spoke volumes as to who trained the dog, as well. Again, the dog had no manners, was sharp and went after another dog and handler, WHO WERE NOT THREATENING THE DOG OR HIS OWNER. This, in the Schutzhund sport, is something that should have been addressed in basic obedience. It’s called a temperament test, and if something like this happens, the dog is disqualified from that trial. More simply put, it is the basic criteria for a pass on the Canine Good Citizen test, open to all breeds regardless of training level. Yet, these two people think it’s somehow appropriate for their dogs to act this way. No, no, no. I don’t care if you own a fully trained patrol dog. If you have that dog in a sit, he stays in a sit and does not do anything but sit. This is behavior ALLOWED BY THE HANDLER AND REINFORCED WITH BAD TRAINING AND POOR OR NO SOCIALIZATION. Needless to say, I reported both of them to my vet and told the woman that she should learn how to correct her dog. She had nothing to say, and rightly so.
Here is the second example, again. a true story. the other day, I was out in a small downtown area near home, socializing one of my young females. This included heeling in the little park and then heeling up and down the sidewalks, passing people and other dogs, allowing people to pet her and so on. The usual stuff. At one point in her heeling, I approached what appeared to be a man with his service dog. It was probably a seeing eye dog - the animal wore a nylon harness with the emblem of some service dog organization, so it was either seeing eye or therapy, etc. As you probably know, these dogs are highly trained to go into stores, airports, etc. to assist their owners in getting around. So, I am heeling my female in front of this man and his dog (again a GSD – I have no problem with Sheps, by the way. I own two myself. I do have a problem with untrained Sheps). Again, not towards, but across, in a non threatening way. The dog lunges for me and my female, growling and barking. Fortunately, this was a small dog and the man was able to pull it back and grabbing it’s entire body close to his, told it ‘no’. With all due respect to disabled people, hugging a dog while telling it ‘no’ is the most useless form of correction possible. What did he correct in this dog? Nothing. More importantly, this is a SERVICE DOG. They are not supposed to have head issues. How does this guy expect to walk into a crowd of people or an airport with a dog like this? The real fault actually lies with the person who allegedly trained this dog. I’ve seen man eating patrol dogs act more responsibly. I wanted to talk to the man and help him report this to the organization that sold him the animal, but, I had no choice but to heel my dog away, across the street, rather than risk another confrontation with a sharp dog and a disabled handler.
Both of these incidents show the shameful lack of understanding that certain people have with regards to working dogs and their relationships with people, other dogs and the environment in general. The incidents above are the result of LEARNED BEHAVIOR on the part of each dog, allowed or encouraged by the trainer, handler and owner. It has nothing to do with the breed type, sex of the dog or anything else. Maybe, just maybe, that Shepherd shouldn’t have been selected to do service work, but responsibility still falls to the trainer of the dog to select the right dog for the job. You don’t use a nervy dog for work like that, ever.
Again, this is why everyone who owns a working lines dog, or any dog for that matter, to properly socialize and obedience train their animals so that they are well behaved and trustworthy out in the world.
This doesn’t mean that your dog can’t protect you. But, that entails lots of training, which always starts with socialization and obedience!