Ask The Dogfather: Rowdy German seeks guidance

He thinks he's just being friendly. – Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather? Send it to

Dear Dogfather,

Today I am 16 months old. I am a GSD [German shepherd dog] and a big boy, and feel I know just about everything I need to know. But my mom doesn’t believe me, and keeps on at me about some things that to me are not that big a deal. Like, when I grab someone’s sleeve (by the wrist!) when I like them. She thinks I’m being too mouthy. But hey! It’s what I do with the guys at the park. I mean, we’re out running, biting each other, being cool — but she thinks I’m not supposed to show this “affection” to my two-legged friends. What do you think? I mean I’m only trying to show I like you.

Anyway, she wants to know is there anything else she should be doing besides saying “No, no, bad dog”? (Just kidding — she’s afraid people will think that’s my name.) She really says, “No bite, no bite.” Just tell her I’ll grow up eventually (LOL).

Hi to Paula — hope to sniff again soon at the park. I’ll be around.


Dear Bismarck,

I get your frustration at our inability to play the way you want us to, but being a two-legged myself, I can explain the two-legged perspective. We kind of live in three worlds: the two-legged world, the four-legged world, and the third world we share. You four-legged’s favorite type of play is chasing and mouthing each other and pretend fighting.

That’s fine. But in my two-legged world, sometimes known as America, land of litigation, dog teeth and human flesh are a big no! Manners start in the home, so I’m going to tell your two-legged mom to make sure she teaches you to keep your teeth off all two-leggeds, always. I’m going to tell her that whenever your teeth are on her hand, she should not pull away, but rather freeze, and calmly twist your collar so it becomes tight and uncomfortable as she says, “No teeth!” in a kind of low snarl. As soon as you let go of her hand, she’s going to let go of the collar, smile, and say “Good boy.” You’re a smart boy, Bismarck, and you do want to please Mom, so you’ll quickly learn that teeth on her makes you uncomfortable.

As for grabbing two-leggeds at the park, I’d tell Mom to stop yelling anything because it’s not working, especially with a 16-month-old German shepherd who’s still in the latter stage of “punk age.”

When you are all wound up from play-fighting with your four-legged friends, what I’d suggest to Mom would depend on just how intrusive you are with two-legged friends. Based on seeing that, I might suggest a lot more off-leash control, such as approaching a two-legged while heeling to Mom. Bismarck, you also have to learn that whenever Mom says “Leave it!” whatever you’re looking at or thinking about doing, ignore it and come back to Mom. If you insist on mouthing somebody when Mom’s not near, I might tell Mom to get an electronic collar to startle you whenever you mouth a two-legged. But for the “Leave it” and e-collar, I’d tell Mom to get some pro to help teach them to you.

Be well, and be thankful for the mom you got, Bismarck.

The Dogfather

P.S. Paula says Hi.