Introducing Friendly Dogs
In addition to socializing your shepherd with all kinds of people, you'll need to socialize him with other dogs, too. This may not seem as critical; however, if you've ever attempted to walk a shepherd that is lunging and barking at every dog he sees, you can appreciate the importance of owning a dog-friendly shepherd. Your neighbors will appreciate it, too.
If you own a puppy, begin by introducing him to well-trained dogs that you know are friendly and fully vaccinated. You can introduce the puppy and dogs in a neutral area (a place that neither puppy nor dog will claim as his own), allowing the puppy to approach the adult dog. Even though you've chosen very friendly dogs for your puppy to meet, watch the adult dog carefully for any signs of aggression or attempts to control the puppy.
Dogs that are loose when introduced tend to have fewer confrontations than those that are leashed. It is thought that the leash makes a dog feel he has less ability to escape or more responsibility to protect you. Before you let your puppy play loose (in a fenced area) with a friendly, vaccinated dog, make sure that the dog's owner can reliably recall her dog.
You and your pup should attend puppy classes as soon as your shepherd is fully vaccinated (usually around fourteen to sixteen weeks). These classes typically include a puppy socialization period prior to the training portion of the class in which the puppies are allowed to romp and play together. The play can sound pretty rough, but for the most part, this is no reason to panic. Playing with other puppies of the same age is one of the ways your puppy will learn good bite inhibition. If he bites a puppy too hard, the puppy won't play with him, which is truly a punishment he will learn from.
If you see that your puppy is bullying or picking on another puppy that is becoming distressed, quietly walk up to your puppy and hold his collar. If he's still attacking the other puppy firmly say “No!” and calmly remove your puppy from the play group. Have him sit next to you for a minute, praise him for his good behavior, and then allow him to continue playing.
If your puppy is on the receiving end of a bully's attention, allow him the opportunity to communicate to the bully that he is upset. If he tries and fails or if he is obviously becoming distressed, step in. Remove your puppy from the situation and consult with the over-seeing trainer. The bully should be removed from play.
Adult Dog Socialization
If you've adopted an adult shepherd, the shelter or rescue should be able to tell you whether or not your shepherd is dog friendly. If your shepherd is aggressive toward dogs, don't throw in the towel. Behaviorists feel that dog/dog aggression (or fear aggression) is one behavior that can be modified. (For more information on working with a dog aggressive shepherd, see Chapter 14.)
Socialization is necessary for all German shepherds.
If your adopted shepherd is thought to be good with other dogs, that's great. Give her lots of opportunities to meet other (friendly) dogs of all shapes and sizes. Dog parks can be great places for your shepherd to play and meet other dogs; however, they can make for bad experiences if things get out of hand.
On occasion, you will find an owner of a small or toy breed who does not want your shepherd loose in the park. Though you know your shepherd is gentle, and your shepherd has every right to play in the park, it is better to be polite and wait until the little dog leaves.
A dog park is only as good as the people who are there with their dogs. Aggressive, controlling dogs aren't supposed to be allowed in dog parks; however, there's always someone who enjoys breaking the rules. Before you allow your shepherd to play with others at a park, watch the dogs carefully for antagonistic behavior. Talk to the owners, too, to find out more about their dogs.