A Gentle Giant
Goliath lived up to his name. This 3 yr old German Shepherd was big in all respects. His size, his bark, and his mouthful of teeth were all impressive! When he’d jump up, he was looking you straight in the eyes. His behavior in the kennel was intimidating, and he definitely wasn’t sending out invitations to enter his space. In fact, just the opposite!
Unfortunately, dogs like Goliath, because of their breed-type and size, are often viewed as dogs who need a heavy hand to gain control over their behavior. They need to know who’s boss/alpha/pack leader/dominant and be “trained” to behave. Dogs and people pay a big price for this belief. https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2017/02/dominance-training-deprives-dogs-of.html
As is often the case, behind all of Goliath’s scary bravado was a confused, insecure, and anxious dog. Dogs definitely need boundaries and appropriate behavior to live in human society. However, more importantly they need to feel safe and have humane guidance to navigate and understand our world. Our job was to address the feelings/emotions that were driving Goliath’s behavior. Because his anxiety was extreme—he was constantly pacing—we gave him medication to help him relax and get some much-needed rest. We provided calming music, enriching activities like food puzzles, and nosework, chew toys to relieve tension. We spent one-on-one time playing ball with him in the yards. One staff member who formed a strong connection with him began spending time outside going for walks or just quietly sitting with him. We didn’t force him to do anything; we just allowed him to emotionally unwind. Goliath’s behavior changed and improved as a result.
A very kind German Shepherd-loving family came to meet him. They already had a multi-dog household, which included two other Shepherds, one a large male. Integrating new and resident dogs into a home can be tricky. Age, gender, personality, and the home itself all factor into success or failure. Multiple meets were done, first with the family and then with the dogs. The older male shepherd had a great temperament and our process of introducing allowed the dogs to negotiate their first meetings slowly and safely. We all agreed it could work and Goliath went home with them a few days later.
Typically, we stay in touch with adopters after a dog has gone home. It helps us know how well the dog is fitting into the new life and allows us to provide behavioral support when needed. So far, the biggest challenge Goliath’s loving and tolerant family is facing is his persistent need to sleep in bed with them at night. Currently, the humans are sleep-deprived while Goliath may be getting the best sleep he’s had in a long time! But everyone is still working out the new household dynamics, and we’re confident that sleeping arrangements will soon be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Fortunately, Goliath has landed in a wonderful home with great people. We have high hopes for a long and happy life for him.