Leadership in Question
First of all, it is important to understand that physical dominance is not leadership. If you use physical and verbal punishments to keep your shepherd in line, it's almost a guarantee that you have not established yourself as first in command. Rather, you've created a combative relationship in which the shepherd will constantly be looking for an opportunity to put an end to all the callous handling. Unfortunately, a shepherd that has acted out against an abusive owner usually ends up in the pound.
A positive relationship between dog and human is a partnership in which the shepherd and handler trust each other implicitly. The owner makes the rules of the house very clear, and those rules do not change. The shepherd knows that if he crosses the line, he will not be rewarded. He may be isolated from his owner and put in a time out for serious offenses; for less serious ones, he will be asked to perform the correct behavior several times and receive rewards. The bottom line is that the shepherd wants to work for his owner. His natural inclination is to please his owner; as this person, all you have to do is provide steady, consistent guidance. Working at obedience training every day is a very effective way of reinforcing leadership. There is no need for physical punishment or harsh confrontation.
You can also reinforce your leadership by participating in sports that both you and the dog enjoy, such as agility, fetch (with rules to “give” on command), and hiking. Training for sports provides many opportunities to reward your shepherd for doing the right thing, and it allows you to see how truly gifted your shepherd is.
Nothing for Free
One practice that is extremely effective in establishing and maintaining leadership is making your shepherd work for treats, meals, and affection from you. If she doesn't get anything for free, she will always look to you to know what she should and should not be doing.
The most difficult part of the “nothing for free” method is convincing smaller children to participate and follow the rules. If you supervise your children's interactions with the dog at all times, you can help them remain consistent in their interactions with her. If children perform these tricks with the dog often, they will soon be viewed as leaders, too.
The way this method works is that before you dole out rewards (body rubs, verbal praise, play rewards, or snacks), the shepherd must do something for you or your family. For example, your shepherd could be asked to sit before she receives a biscuit. She might be asked to do a series of actions, such as a sit, down, sit, before jumping up for the treat at the end. When it's feeding time, ask the shepherd to lie down and stay while you put the bowl on the floor. Then let her eat using a release command. She will consider the dinner her reward.
Dealing with Dominant Dogs
Since dogs consider physical attention such as rubs, pats, and scratches as a reward, it is important that the shepherd be required to do something for you to receive this reward. Again, it can be something very, very simple, such as a sit. If you want to work even more on cementing the number-one (you) and number-two (dog) positions, require your shepherd to perform long downs periodically throughout the day or during dinner. Dogs perceive the down position as a sign of submission. Dogs that seek to please their owners will be happy to perform a down, while very dominant dogs can be very resistant to do so. If you have a controlling dog, begin by working on shorter down-stays and work up to down-stays lasting as long as ten, twenty, or thirty minutes.
Here are a few examples of possible situations you could encounter with your dominant shepherd, as well as suggested solutions:
Situation: Your shepherd is lying on the floor and won't get up and out of your way.
Solution: Slowly shuffle your feet until you come in contact with the dog, and then gently push her until she moves.
Situation: Your shepherd won't get off the couch when you want to sit down.
Solution: Use a food lure to move the dog. Work on the “Off” command for future use.
Situation: Your shepherd snarls when bumped in bed.
Solution: Demote the dog to the floor.