Ask The Dog Guy's

FREE Brain Drain Activity Guide For Your Dog

With your subscription to the 'Ask The Dog Guy' Newsletter (also FREE)
Brain Drain Offer Pop Up

Overly Enthusiastic German Shepherd

Hi John,

I have a 2 year old german shepherd dog who is normally very well behaved. He took to basic commands and potty training almost instantly and responds very well with a few exceptions. We have been having difficulty in getting him to remain calm in public or on walks. We took him to socialization classes as a pup and frequently take him to dog parks, he is very gentle with other dogs and good at reading thier behavior and knowing when another dog wants to be left alone, however, on walks, at the vet or trips to the pet store he can not contain himself when he sees another dog. He pulls on his leash and barks non stop. He ignores all commands to sit or stay. This is not agressive behavior, just excitement about seeing another dog. If the owner of the other dog allows orur dog, Drogo, to get close they simply smell eachother and Drogo attempts to engage in play. I need to find a way to contain this behavior though, as not obeying commands is very bad. While I know my dog, other people do not and this behavior is has been viewed as agressive and frightening to others. (I would be scared too if a 65lb dog was barking continuosly at my tiny pup) I have even been pulled to the ground by my dog durring his excitement and attempts to interact with another dog. He does not exhibit this behavior with dogs he sees daily (our roommate as two dogs) but only with new dogs so doing controlled training is difficult. We have tried offering treats to motivate him to pay attention to commands but he just ignores them, he values interaction with the new dog far more than a tasty treat, not even his favorite toy interests him as a reward for good behavior durring this type if distraction. Any suggestions?

K. (Illinois)

Hi K,

Let me preface the following by saying, keep in mind I haven’t seen this dog in action so my response is a generalization based on German Shepherds I have ended up seeing with owners with similar complaints. It may apple to your situation but it may not, so take it with a grain of salt.

If your dog is “good at reading (another dog’s) behaviour and knowing when another dog wants to be left alone”, it is because one or more other dogs showed him what would happen if he did not respect their wishes. What you may need to ask yourself what did those other dogs bring to the table that you do not. We can be sure that it isn’t tasty treats or his favourite toys. It was very likely a negative consequence for a negative behaviour.

I’m guessing here, but you’ve probably done your obedience training on the basis of all positive rather then balanced, (which for the purpose of this discussion let’s define as all positive – almost all the time.) A lot of dog owners go to dog training classes and come away thinking their dog has obedience training but their dogs perform more what I would call a trick and often but not always only around limited distractions.

Over the course of my 30 year career I have seen a surge of people becoming dog trainers embracing the all positive, all the time, treat foundation method. Using treats to “train” a dog can convince people interested in becoming a dog trainer that they are indeed training a dog in a meaningful, useful way when they see how quickly they can get some dogs to perform a simple thing like – “Sit”. It’s a simple thing to learn but it does not a trainer make. Unfortunately, it has convinced a lot of people that they are dog trainers.

Some go on to learn more about behaviour, but a lot have flooded the dog training market with a very low skill set. The ones I’ve met mean well but their naivety sets a lot of dogs and dog owners up for failure down the road when dogs grow older, more confident or real life contexts are encountered. I don’t know how good this is as an analogy but it might help illustrate my point and motivate you to seek a higher skill set in your next trainer. If a man only visits his children once a week for an hour (dog trainer in a dog training class) and brings along a box of candy and toys that he doles out to reward their good behaviour he is going to find he easily achieve center of attention status and will indeed get results. He may also very well start to think he’s got the raising children puzzle licked and wonder why their mother, school teachers, baby sitters etc. who have to guide their behaviour into adulthood can’t mirror his success, the other 167 hours of the week. That is the model a lot of dog owners have inflicted upon them and find themselves in situations similar to your own. A lot of dogs pay a price too and because they don’t learn a real skill set at best lead lives of near house arrest because they can’t behave around distractions.

It’s not that it’s incorrect to reward good behaviour, (quite the opposite – remember all positive almost all the time) particularly when learning new skills but as any good mother, father or truly skilled dog trainer will tell you it’s a rare child or dog that won’t at some point in life develop to a point where they must hear from those guiding their path, “I’m not asking you. I’m telling you.”, along with a promise and delivery of consequences for disobedience. To some all positive dog trainers this is equated with abuse. Any negativity is found abhorrent by some. Let me be clear, that does not mean and I am not suggesting abuse. I’m suggesting a measured response based on a variety of common sense factors. Does the dog know what was expected of it? Was the level of distraction so great that the handler could not reasonably get the dog’s attention? (Don’t expect to succeed teaching a child geometry at the gates of Disney Land). Does the dog live with the handler like they’re college room mates or as teacher/student? Are there environmental factors undermining the success by conditioning the dog into a negative response (window watching in your case) etc.

I would suggest that the first thing you consider is whether your dog perceives you as a great college roommate or as a parental figure. If not the latter, I would work on that for a month before I’d work on your dog’s excitability around other dogs. Once that has been accomplished I would start testing the dog’s ability to comply with loose leash handling, stay’s and recalls around various distractions, using distance to give him a chance to work up to them if necessary. Finally, I would work around other dogs, again from a distance.

There is more that can be said but I’d suggest you see if you can find a balanced trainer in your area. Keep in mind some trainers consider “might is right” to be balanced so do your research and make sure you’re working with someone that is all positive – almost all the time. They will be big on reward but not exclusively so.


John Wade

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment

2 thoughts on “Overly Enthusiastic German Shepherd”

  1. Sandy Blacquiere

    I just read the above and it is the same problem/behaviour we are experiencing with our 90 lb 8 month old shepherd. I have been feeling frustrated because treats and positive reinforcement have no impact once he becomes determined to go see the other dog. I agree with your assessment of the situation but am still not sure what I should be doing? Am I understanding in your reply that the only answer is consulting a trainer? As we are in Covid I can’t take him to a class so is one/one training sessions your advice?
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Sandy,

      I’ve never been a big fan of group classes for various reasons, and the methodology usually used is only one reason. Below is a copy and paste as to why which weirdly enough, I just finished writing, but for a different purpose. COVID has complicated things for sure. I’ve always focused on the one-on-one, in-home. I still recommend that, but due to COVID, just not the in-home part, and I’m using technology to do virtual face to faces vs. real face to face sessions. Instead, we use video to track and analyze your progress. It works very well.

      Part of the article below provides some information regarding the approach I’m now recommending. I can send a more detailed break down if you wish.

      The only caveat is you have to be comfortable using the video function on your smartphone or tablet.

      Some People Believe That Group Dog Training Classes Are The Right Approach, But Are They? Probably Not

      The traditional and therefore most familiar approach to dog training is the group class where you go once a week for several weeks to an environment unfamiliar to your untrained dog where you are surrounded by a variety of strange unruly dogs of various ages, breeds and personalities all with their own issues. Not the most conducive environment for you to teach your dog life-skills. Far too many of these classes don’t teach life-skills, they teach geometric patterns around pylons, etc. for a treat. In essence, how you prepare for an ‘obedience’ competition, which in reality isn’t a competition as much as it is a theatre performance that occurs only after repetitive rehearsals, in the same environment. An environment that neither resembles a home or neighborhood, or the distractions both contain. (Watch the winning dog and handler when they leave the ring. Cut the leash.)

      Training a dog is more about teaching an owner how to train a dog, and on our best day, when we’re learning something new, the amount we’ll retain is less than 50%. Additionally, we’re bound to misinterpret some of what we learn. To top it off, we often have to contend with old habits or beliefs. Having to wait a week for the trainer to see us in action and provide input on what we missed or misinterpreted the week before isn’t the best way for us or our dogs to learn.

      Some people think that a group class is advantageous because it will assist in socializing their puppy or dog with other dogs. Well, sort of, but not in the scientific definition of critical socialization period and almost always, not in a good way. A dog’s imprint period for true sound, sight, and smells lasts from 3 – 12 weeks of age with a plus or minus one-week variation. During that period, it’s from 3 – 6/7 weeks of age that they learn to recognize the tone and body language social cues common amongst canines. Dog to dog tone and body language/social skills are supposed to be learned from their mother and pack members they daily observe and interact with instead of the frenzied version of tone and body language exhibited by completely unfamiliar canines. The amateur dog training world has this very wrong. As a result, we often set our dogs up to be more reactive as opposed to less. I teach far safer/better ways to keep your dog’s already learned social manners in tune. It’s a science-based approach that is far more likely to end up with a dog that gets along with minimal conflict with dogs they are to see regularly and exert self-control when exposed to unfamiliar dogs.

      Either way, it’s such a non-conducive learning-environment for either dogs or their owners that the trainers (almost always part-time amateurs) have to use treats to overcome the inevitable mayhem. After the training, very little has been accomplished, that can be practically applied in the real-world setting of home and neighborhood.

      My ‘Virtual+’ – Training programs contain features that use the Internet and smart-phone technology on your end, and a recording studio on my end, to address the built-in flaws unavoidably inherent to group classes.

      Consider that even if we were to meet face-to-face, whether in an unfamiliar gymnasium-type environment or the comfort of your own home, the reality is that you’ll be going back to your own home at the end of the session or I’ll be heading to mine.

      During the Zoom-component, I learn about your dog and use it to establish the best direction to accomplish your dog training goals. You’ll learn more about your dog’s behavior and dog training than any group class. You’ll also receive easy to organize incredible review notes based on that meeting, covering the things you’d otherwise most likely forget. You’ll also receive videos of the recommended exercises.

      However, the Zoom portion of the ‘Virtual+’ – Training program, while important, isn’t as important as what follows. Essentially, where the real benefit (and work begins.)

      The most brilliant feature that my ‘Virtual+’ – Training programs offer is that you won’t have to wait a week to learn what you may have forgotten or misinterpreted.

      To ensure I right away catch old habits, misinterpreted information, point out where you’ve got it right, and make you aware of what needs massaging (and why), you’ll be videoing yourself as frequently as possible during the early days of training, and forwarding the videos. I send back the same video but with the inclusion of an analysis. The video feedback you receive will be familiar in approach. It’s similar to how a sports coach uses play-video to break down where things are going right and wrong so that the player can improve. This feature, in part, because I have over 30 years of full-time experience and, therefore, a very educated and experienced ‘eye,’ has proven to be a considerable contributor to achieving results and achieving them with far less frustration for either you or your dog.

      Further good news is that until COVID-19 is well in our rear-view mirror, there will be no additional charge for this extensive followup.

      If your goal is for your dog to learn how to be more civilized and ‘Stay,’ ‘Come’ and “Heel’ – No Matter What, have another look at my program descriptions. I can’t make training your dog easy, but I can make it a lot easier.

      Here’s a link to my various programs, their cost, and my booking calendar:

      Booking a ‘Virtual+’ – Training Consultation with John Wade


      John ‘Ask The Dog Guy’ Wade
      Embracing Science and Common Sense

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top