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Michigan Dog Training

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Plymouth, Michigan 48170

How to train a fearful or aggressive German Shepherd Dog; not to attack Halloween displays

By Essential IT

German Shepherd, fearful aggressive service dog, bad dog training, bad service dog training

A soldier, Larry, has a German Shepherd Dog named Hudson that he says is a trained service dog. He recently uploaded a video of his dog attempting to attack a Halloween display on his Facebook page.  He uploaded the video supposedly showing how he is training his dog to be more comfortable around Halloween displays and it has already gotten close to 3,000 views.

Whether the dog is a trained service dog or not, I don’t know.  What is obvious is that Hudson doesn’t readily respond to his commands, is at an impressionable age, and is terrified of the Halloween displays.  Larry seems like a nice guy who has good intentions attempting to train his dog himself. However, this is not the way to train a service dog nor any fearful or aggressive dog.

Larry said he happened to be walking his service dog in a Halloween store when someone stepped on a foot pedal setting off a Halloween prop which scared his dog.  Not wanting to waste a training opportunity; Larry took his dog up to smell the prop and then he stepped on the foot pedal himself setting off the prop in close proximity to his dog. This triggered the dog to become reactive and Hudson lunged, barked and snapped at the prop.

To control the aggressive display, Larry stepped in front of his dog and told him to sit and tried to reassure him that the scary item wasn’t so scary after all by praising and cuddling his dog. But the potential damage to Hudson’s psyche has already been done. He reacted aggressively twice in regards to being startled. Overtime, he may habituate Hudson to scary things as Larry says he has done but this usually is not the end result.  Instead, when training is done as depicted in the below video, a dog rehearses being aggressive.  The other thing the video shows is what Hudson’s response will likely be to things that startle him and that is not a characteristic we want in a service dog who has full public access.

There are some other problems with the below video. There are liability concerns by conducting the training in a public place. If someone was too close to Hudson, he may redirect onto a bystander. In this video, Larry has a good hold of his dog but there is nothing to stop a child from running up from behind Larry to pet Hudson just before the prop is triggered.  Though this didn’t happen, there was a young boy who was startled by Hudson’s reaction. It isn’t fair to the customers nor the store owner to have training conducted this way in the store. In fact, any service dog who is disruptive can and should be excused from the store. It also isn’t fair to the qualified service dogs and trainers to have someone train their own dog in this manner. It presents a bad image for the profession and does an injustice for all service dogs and their rights to have public access.

Lastly, it is really questionable if the dog needs to be proofed against scary Halloween displays. If Larry was a store employee and medically needed his dog to be with him, then perhaps. But since Larry is a customer, he could choose not to enter a known scary place for a dog or train his dog properly in a private setting. Larry may have good intentions but he doesn’t have a proper education in dog training to do it by himself. He would benefit from working with a professional dog trainer.

Larry was contacted about his video and the below steps were suggested to him.  He, however, is not open to training his dog a different way and unfortunately, doesn’t see anything wrong with the way he was “training” his dog. He also minimized his dog’s response saying his dog was going into a “defensive posture” and barking to let it be known his “displeasure” over the trigger object. He is minimizing what his dog was doing. Hudson was having a fear response to the item and was acting aggressively toward it. It was offensive and not defensive behavior.

Michigan Dog Training, Service dog, Diabetic Alert Dog, dog obedienceIn a nutshell, here is how the training should be done for things Hudson or any dog is scared of:

  • Training initially should be done in a private space with limited distractions, not a public store.
  • The dog should be walked with a comfortably distance from the trigger object that challenges the dog but doesn’t overwhelm the dog.
  • When the object goes by or is triggered, it should be paired with the introduction of a a food treat (or ball play session). At first, it’s “stuff a dog” with the food treat so the dog doesn’t even have time to react. Later, the treat could come as the dog shows calm non-reactive behavior. If the dog won’t take the treat, then he/she is too close to the trigger object.
  • The dog should also be trained to look at his/her handler on cue such as with a “look” command.  This is helpful to tell the dog to look away from the trigger and to the handler.
  • As the dog improves overtime, he/she can be worked closer and closer to the trigger object. The dog should always be worked just under its threshold, challenged but not overwhelmed.
  • The dog can also be removed from the trigger object as a reward for being calm.

Desensitizing a dog can be compared with how training is done in the military. All soldiers attend basic training before being assigned to a station or post rather than being thrown into a war zone. As with dogs, basic obedience needs to be learned before attempting specialized training or behavior modification. Once a solider completes basic training, many then attend specialized training for their particular specialty (MOS, Military Occupational Specialty). The MOS for the dog might be the service dog training or the behavior modification to be calmer around scary objects. Flooding a dog by immersing them to a trigger object without sufficient distance and without prior skills to handle the item is setting the dog up for failure. It is not generally effective nor fair to desensitize a dog to scary things by immersing them. You have to habituate and desensitize the dog to it overtime at a level that they can be successful with.

If you need help to train your own service dog, contact Michigan Dog Training or call 734-634-4152.


This is a video of how NOT to train a dog by Larry and Hudson.



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