Hi. We have 2 German Rotties- Lilah (100 lbs, 6 yrs old, been with us since she was 8 wks) & Max (125 lbs, rescued 2 years ago, we think he’s about 8 & aging quickly). Lilah is super dominant/alpha/stubborn. Max is submissive to her/loves to wander when he thinks we’re not looking/naps a lot. They’ve fought in the past, but with more regular exercise & stronger leadership from me (they’ve always seemed to listen to my husband even though I’m the one who’s around more & in charge of their care), there’s only been 1 fight in the past 7 months.
Lilah’s jealous of any attention Max gets from anyone, but especially my 9 year old stepdaughter. Her possessiveness of her is usually the root of the issue. Now, I’m pregnant with my 1st & I honestly have no worries about Lilah around the baby. However, I am VERY worried about Max. He has a very strong prey drive that seems to have intensified. For as slow as he’s become, if he sees something small or furry, he’s a young pup again on a mission. It doesn’t even have to be small – he chased a 6 point buck out of our yard & deep into the woods last summer.
Max was picked up as a stray, found wandering (his favorite thing to do) the streets of Newark. When he goes after something, it’s doesn’t seem to be a vicious crazed beast, it seems like that’s what he had to do in the past to survive, to eat.
We had a friend with a yorkie who used to stop by before Max joined the family. Lilah tried to play, but Benny was too small for her. She never tried to hurt him. We brought Benny over once after Max arrived. He scratched my friend’s car up trying to get to Benny inside & when I had him in my arms, Max almost brought me down to get to Benny who was terrified & curled himself around my neck and under my hair to hide. Another time last summer, a friend was over with her 2 yr & 1 yr old. Max wanted nothing more than to get to the baby. I had to physically lay on top of him to keep him from overwhelming the baby & because in my gut, I didn’t like the intensity he was showing trying to get to him. I didn’t trust him.
Max is great with my stepdaughter, but I worry that he might view a baby and it’s movements as prey, not a member of the family. I want to work with him on this, but we don’t have access to too many parents who are willing to let their children be our guinea pigs in order to get him used to having a baby around. And I’m not going to ask.
Any suggestions or advice (or reassuring words) would be greatly appreciated!
You obviously know your dogs very well, and are totally realistic about their faults as well as their strengths – that is very important.
From what you say about Max’s behavior it seems as though he has a very strong prey drive (many Rotties do) and this may have been intensified by events in his life before he came to live with you.
Given his previous behavior around small animals and very young children, I would be negligent if I said “don’t worry, he’ll be fine” because I think you actually have reason to be cautious here and to be very proactive about dealing with this behavior now, before your baby arrives.
It’s really impossible for me to try to deal with this sort of situation online and I’m not a professional dog trainer, simply a Rottie owner and dog lover with a lot of personal experience! I strongly recommend finding a local dog trainer who is familiar with large breeds (such as GSD’s, Rotties and so on) and have them meet Max, work with him some and assess his behavior. I think you’re going to need help to get this under your control and now is a good time to start.
Make sure that whoever you choose only uses positive, rewards-based methods and doesn’t subscribe to the idea that large guardian breeds need loud, harsh or punitive training methods. You’d be surprised how many professionals still think that way.
As this is going to be your baby and part of his family – and will smell like your family and so on, Max may not feel that he/she is prey. He may accept the baby right away and know that he needs to protect it, not be suspicious of it. However, this is definitely not guaranteed and it would be foolish to take any chances. You will need to introduce them very slowly and carefully and obviously never leave Max (or Lilah for that matter) alone with the baby unsupervised, ever, no matter how good they seem to be with him/her. Max will have time to build a relationship with this baby and a tolerance for the sounds and movements a baby makes.
However, the prey drive is a very basic instinct and once instinct kicks in a dog really isn’t thinking, he’s simply reacting and it’s coming from a very old, deep part of his brain. He’s not being ‘bad’ or vicious, just a canine hardwired in a certain way. It will be up to you to make sure that there isn’t a situation where this could cause harm to your baby.
In most cases this sort of behavior can be handled with lots of time, consistent training and vigilance, and the earlier you begin the better. You’re already a step ahead of the game because you’re aware of the potential problems and are ready to deal with them, so hopefully this will all have a happy ending.
I hope this has helped and I wish you all the very best of luck.