Friday, February 25, 2011

Our Journey into Canine Bliss

            For those of you who are already following my blogs, you know that I lost my dog, Sentry, the day before Christmas Eve 2010. I then began the arduous task of trying to fill the missing void left by her death. It is a blessing to have Ryka and Calypso come into my life and my life has taken a topsy-turvy turn since they arrived.

            Ryka and Calypso are West German Shepherds. The West German Shepherds are family dogs, companions, and guard dogs; and I have begun the journey of discovering what makes them tick.

            I think it would be safe to say that the majority of people look at dogs as just animals, and very seldom explore their pet’s history, temperament, or take the time to learn about the breed of dog they just brought into their family compound. Depending upon the breed you have chosen, this oversight could bring chaos into your life.

            My connection with German Shepherds began in childhood when my dad (a retired State Trooper) first brought home a Shepherd. Upon the delivery of her liter, my life—long devotion to the breed began.

            My recent acquisition of two West German Shepherds, three year old Ryka and seven week old Calypso, has served to deepen my interest in the breed and my education of the temperament of these animals. These dogs are very clear-headed, very loyal, and extremely smart. I work with Ryka for five minutes twice a day and her retention is amazing. Her training involves praise and I have never needed to raise my voice to her, a trait that works well with my non-aggressive personality.

            I have only had Ryka for six days as I am writing this story, and her devotion to me is unlike anything I have experienced. When I opened the car door to let her in (while at the breeder’s kennel,) she made an immediate transition from Johnny (the breeder at )to me. She never looked back. To her, I am home.

            While Ryka interacts very well with my husband (Jeffery,) it is clear she considers me her master. He will call her (or attempt to) and she looks to me for guidance. On the other hand, I only have to call her softly and she will come and sit on my left-hand side. I have to admit that I love this devotion.    

            I have been researching the German Shepherd’s temperament and the correct method of training for this type of dog. I learned it is not uncommon for trainers to spend two weeks on the “sit” command. I quickly changed my tactics after reading this bit of information. Ryka already knows the "sit" and "come" commands and I was attempting to teach her to heel. I think I was on the path to scarring both my dog and myself for life on this one. My self-devised method was not at all what I was reading.

            To teach a dog to heel, you can hold a toy or treat in front of the dog’s face as he walks on your left side. The toy or treat will hold the dog’s attention and keep him/her focused on the training. It would just be too much of a “Lucy” moment if I describe what I was doing. Let us just say, I was totally confusing Ryka and myself.

            Following the suggestion of the trainer, I did not try to train Ryka for two days. I then started back with the “come” command and then “sit”. Now, when I call her, she comes and sits on my left-hand side. In about a week, I will begin with the heel command.

            It was interesting to learn that the “Stay” and “Down” commands are negative commands and normally not taught until the dog is older. It is okay, however, to teach them these commands with food so it is not associated with negative training. This particular bit of information was a surprise to me.

            I could go into detail about how to teach a dog to “sit”; but suffice it to say, hold a morsel of food in front of anyone’s face (human or canine) and they seem to sense what “sit” means. Even the seven-week-old munchkin figured out “sit”. And, just to mention it, you should NEVER hit or shout at your dog. It breeds fear and aggression. Would you want someone hitting or shouting at you? I am sure the answer is no. Your FAMILY pet is no different.

            West German Shepherds are sensitive, alert dogs. Case in point: Ryka allowed a neighbor to come to the fence and interact with her on two different occasions; I was standing next to her. That same neighbor, along with another rode their ATVs fast down the driveway adjourning our property. To Ryka, that was a sign of aggression; and, the result of that action is the person she once allowed to pet her is no longer welcome. While trying to hold a conversation, I had to stay far away from the fence for her to feel that I was safe.

            When you have friends with dogs and the dog is reacting in a non-positive manner towards you, you might take a moment and realize that it may not be the dog at fault, it may be your mannerisms. Sometimes, it only takes a small movement that the dog interprets as aggression to lose the dog’s confidence. My stepson glared at Ryka and then intending to play stomped at her with his foot. This tactic, which he considered play, constituted aggression to Ryka, and dogs have very long memories. Ryka’s behavior towards him changed and we have to kennel her while he is at our house.

            I hope you found a little bit of helpful information as you were reading this story. Raising dogs is no less an art form than raising children. It is all about finding the happy medium where we can all co-exist and enrich one another’s lives.


  1. Glad you're doing so well with the dogs. Must say this post taught me some things I didn't know, yet they all make perfect sense.

  2. Thank you Mary. It has been and is continuing to be a learning experience. I plan to continue writing about our adventures, both for fun and education. Hope to see you back.


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