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Pups Aren't Interested In People
Published: September 17, 2002
Q: We are having a problem with socializing our puppies. We have two puppies that have been traumatized by juveniles taking them out of our pen without our knowledge. They never hurt the pups, however the pups have been very protective. They are a mix between German Shepherd and Labrador and they are both males-- brothers. They now only acknowledge one other family member and are very aggressive. They bark at each other and everyone else, but never hurt one another.

During the day they are outside and inside with us at night. We both work long hours. We tried puppy school but they had a hard time not barking at other dogs and people. I am afraid that our dogs will never be social dogs. Do we consider private training in the area? It is very hard to even take them for walks without them pulling and running and trying to control us. I would love to have them be social dogs, however, it doesn't appear to be something that might happen? What do we do now? Thanks.

A: Divide and conquer! You need to train each of these dogs separately and spend significant time regularly with each dog away from the other dog. You didn't mention their age, but when these two pups get older, they may declare war on each other due to emerging instincts.

They should not have been kept together when they were alone for all this time, because that causes a dog to become more bonded to other dogs than to humans. In other words, they may not care much about what you think or what you want.

Many dogs cannot make friends with dogs they meet on outings--it is not really natural dog behavior to do so. Some dogs who can do it when young will develop problems with it later. It is not necessary that your dog be sociable with other dogs, just that they obey you and leave the other dogs alone when you have them out with you. Obedience class is the place to learn that.

If you can't control them in obedience class, yes, start with a private trainer. Work your way up to being able to take them to class. Labs and German Shepherds typically need several months of weekly obedience class and daily practice of the class homework.

Another thing you could do to improve your situation with the dogs is groom each of them every day. If the coats are very short (I had a Lab/GSD cross myself for many years), you may be able to do it with just your hands most days. I put an old bed sheet over myself and under the dog, and work on the floor. Go over the entire dog, every day. This does a lot of things, including increasing the dog's ties to you, obedience to you, and ability to tolerate touch and handling by you as well as other people. It also gives that dog a little individual attention from you.

Besides the individual attention of grooming, though, you need to take each dog away from the house with you, without the other dog, regularly. You don't train two dogs as a group, you train them one-on-one. Bonding is the same, they have to each have an individual relationship with you.

Dogs are much more at the mercy of their own instincts than humans are. As much as these two male pups depend on each other for companionship, each may turn on his best friend when driven by instincts in the months ahead. Certainly they must be neutered just as soon as the vet says they are ready. And then there's lots of other work for you to do!

You might want to consider placing one of the pups, if anyone is interested in one of them. Their chances of a happy life would be increased with more individual attention from an owner and not living head-to-head with another male dog. Whether you keep both or just one, they'll only be family members if you can put in the time, much as you would do with a human child. I hope you can work this out well for the pups as well as the family.

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