How to take control of giant puppies like a Great Dane

two large puppies playing - st bernard irish wolf houndRecently I was contacted by a person at their wits end over a Great Dane puppy weighing 50 Kg who was under 6 months old.  This dog was playing roughly with the female partner of the owner and he was trying to work out a solution. Normally you might expect this to come under the realm of a dog trainer, and many great trainers are out there, but usually their solution is to FIX the problem or mask it or distract the dog, not to actually do what is best for the dog too, long term.  Not true of every trainer, but training often comes from a very different place than a dog walker will start.

Firstly it is wise to understand the history of any dog. The great Dane is believed to have some English Mastiff in them and Irish Wolfhound and were bred to hunt large angry wild boars.  While many people think that Great Danes are noble placid dogs, any dog with this kind of history, and their size and strength can potentially do a lot of damage - intentionally or otherwise.

Some people will suggest that you should NOT allow such dogs to be blooded and get used to hunting, others will say they need the exercise.  But socialisation is important beyond all.

Why 'bad dogs' need to go to the park

What anyone needs to do with a puppy is give them as much guidance as their mother dog would, and as much socialisation as possible.

I have had clients who have started with a wonderful ultra cute puppy, allowed it to do anything it wants, and as a 50 Kg dog, the dog still thinks its a puppy that is allowed to do anything - not an ideal scenario. Now it still jumps up on everyone ! But first things first.

Like all puppies this dog would benefit from a puppy training course - mostly because it needs to know how to play gently with its peers.  A vet will often give assistance during the classes explaining their techniques learned in the vet rooms to control large dogs.

Owners also need to understand that the window for ANY dog to learn to be social with humans and all dogs is 3-6 months.  This tiny 14 week period is when a dog either learns to be confident and happy on all encounters, or if deprived or leaning what is acceptable, can become anxious or aggressive. Fight or flight usually takes over with any animal put in a situation that it hasn't encountered before and it finds threatening.

A lot of people will tell you that puppies leg bones are still very malleable up to 9 months old and you should restrict walks because they can injure themselves - some breeds more than others. But the reality is that you should restrict large gangly legged dogs only in Distance walked, not time out playing socially - just ensure they have finished all their vaccinations.  If they are still not fully vaccinated from such things as parv virus, find a friend who has lived in their house for a few years (parv can live in dirt for 2-3 years) and have your dog play in their yard or your yard with another SOCIAL dog under supervision.

Dogs learn much better from other social dogs (like they would their mother) and social adult dogs give puppies leniency - unless they are big and threatening puppies, then play can escalate and you will need to break up and strong disagreements.

What lessons to teach a puppy at home

A lot of what a dog learns off lead playing and wearing itself out, will mean that it is more conducive to learning at home.

If one person in the house seems not to be dealing with a dog very well, they may also show anxiety to the dog which can mistake this energy as just play energy to be played with harder - so the calm assertive human owner energy and actions are also very important to how a dog will react and think is appropriate play.

The way that you play with your dog should be two adults with such a large dog as much as possible. Don't play tug of war and let the dog win. don't over excite the dog. Let it play with soft toys or hard rubber toys that it can't rip if it shreds softer toys).  The whole thing about the dog hurting the female partner is that the dog doesn't understand her pain. It might see excitement and anger but it doesn't realise the play is too hard.  Speaking in level low tones and saying NO a lot and stopping play with the dog works.

Do not hit the dog or use any negative reinforcement as this will not make the dog social. If the dog becomes unmanageable you can isolate it from the family - either by putting it in a pen or yard until it and the family calm down. Dogs are a pack animal and hate being separated from their pack, they will learn what is causing them to be isolated.

One of the great tricks we did is have our dog lie on its side and we rubbed its belly and patted its back. When it got too excited and dominant it would want to bite our hand and scratch our arms, but we said no and we stopped touching the animal, we turned our bodies away from it, we kept quiet unless it needed voice guidance.  Within a month (or consistent actions by us) it learned not to bite so much, and if it couldn't control its excitement it would puppy mouth on its own arm. Never hurting itself, but it learned by itself to re direct its energy.

Your dog is smart, but puppies take time to  learn, and hunting dogs are more resistant to training than most other dog groups, so you need time and consistency in teaching.

So its the daily off lead dog walks in dog parks, with supervision and putting back on lead if naughty and consistent human leadership at home. Only playing and engaging with the dog when it is at the right energy level, not over the top.  Never reward or feed a dog during heightened excitement or after it has done a non desired action.

These things take time but you have to show your dog leadership immediately. The daily walks will be loved by the dog as burning energy and reward for being good. They will socialise your dog and have them learn from the best teachers (social dogs) what is acceptable - i.e. no yelping in pain!

If none of this seems to be working you may want a dog behaviorist or dog trainer to at least stop the aggressive issues at home. But walks always work long term and just take your time. If you love your dog and want the best for your family member they will become thing to look forward to.


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