There are certain natural characteristics in animals that don’t change much. For example: coyotes run with their tails down, dogs run with their tails up and wolves run with their tails straight out. Some dog breeds have certain characteristics that differ between breeds. If we are aware of these characteristics it will enable us to better understand our canine family members.
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Breed Preference for Homesteaders
We personally prefer the German Shepherd breed; however we have had in the past a Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix and a Basset Hound/Golden Retriever mix. The former is on a par with the intelligence of the German Shepherd. With highly intelligent breeds like the German shepherd, training needs to be positive and carefully done. A harsh word to a German shepherd can be detrimental as they try so hard to please. We train our dogs with a gentle voice. Harsh treatment or a loud angry voice can cause the dog to be aggressive or neurotic.
Not All Breeds Have Same Characteristics
It is best to know the breed or mix that you have adopted into your family to effectively train them. Highly intelligent breeds pick up what you desire quickly and have good focus. Therefore, short intense training sessions may work best for them. Some other breeds may take short sessions over a longer period of time. We limit our training sessions to a few minutes and only one subject. We reward success with a small treat and much praise. There are several ways to train that can be found online or a professional trainer can be used.
Watch for Past Training Mistakes
We adopt rescues and therefore don’t have experience with puppy training. By adopting we have found many times that the new family member has already had some training. We carefully observe our new family member for signs or traits that may have happened before we adopted him/her. Signs of maltreatment, abuse, sharp criticism, etc. which a previous owner may have employed may need to be addressed. No training leads to out-of-control dogs that lack structure in their lives; dogs need structure and routine.
Be Consistent But Flexible
Our training techniques over the years have been slightly different depending on the dog. For example we adopted one dog that had serious fear issues. Another one was deaf. We had to adjust the training to each dog according to its situation. With fear issues we had to be careful to keep a calm voice, and be patient and gentle. Her self-confidence was so damaged that it took us two years to restore her self-confidence. What a delightful family member she turned out to be. We had to work out hand signals with the deaf girl.
When I was a volunteer for a German shepherd rescue they would not adopt a female German shepherd to a household which already had a female German shepherd. There is a reason for that because a dog with gender issues won’t usually get along with another dog of the same sex. When two females fight for dominance it can be very bloody. Males will usually stop fighting when one dog surrenders. Knowing your dog and how they react around other dogs will facilitate bringing another dog into the household. If you understand breeds and pay close attention to their behavior especially around other dogs, like neighbors dogs or on walks, you should know if your dog is gender aggressive or not.
One Size Does Not Always Fit All
We currently have two female German shepherds and they get along well. One is senior and deaf; the other is young and full of energy. The senior dog relies heavily on the young dog to stay abreast of what is happening within our cabin. The young dog lets the senior dog know when it is mealtime, potty time or time for a walk. See the photo where they are laying together near the wood stove. The young dog has a job to do and the older dog has a dependence on the younger dog. They in turn look out for each other.
Meeting Needs Equally
Dogs have specific basic needs and it is up to us to meet those needs. They expect to be fed timely, kept safe, exercised and loved. It is important that we give both our girls equal attention so they don’t develop any jealousy. All family members need to take an active and equal part in training and feeding.
Adopting Shelter Dogs
Bringing an additional dog into the family should be done purposefully if it is to be successful. If adopting at a shelter the dogs should meet there for the first time on leash. If that goes well then the new dog should be transported at home separately and the dogs reintroduced on neutral land. We do introductions down the road from the cabin with both dogs on leash for control. If someone is surrendering a dog to you it is helpful if the leash is passed openly so the dog knows it has a new family. We have done this twice and both dogs knew they were with a new family; when the surrender was over and the other person left both dogs never looked back.
Introducing a New Dog to Your Pack
If the introduction goes well again on neutral ground we take the dogs for a short walk together and then bring them home. We have a fenced in backyard so with leashes still on we allow more socialization to take place with us close at hand. Then we accompany the new member into the cabin first and allow them to explore. Next we bring the rest of the canine family inside with leashes dragging for possible control. We never show any special attention to the new arrival to prevent jealousy and we resume our normal activity.
These techniques have worked consistently well for us over the years. These techniques may sound like a lot of work but they consistently work for us. We want to give the new family member every chance for success. I am not a professional dog trainer but have had dogs most of my nearly eight decades, so my observations come from having dogs as part of our family and personal experience.
Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site at Bruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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