The last time I was at the barn with my mom, it didn't go very well. There were two main issues, one of which was my sister and the other was my dog. I don't want to go into the whole thing with my sister, but I do want to talk about what happened with Bear.
I see Bear's behaviors one way, and my mom sees them another way. When I am at the barn with Bear, and my mom/her dog, Dexter, are not there, I have no issues with Bear. He listens to me, plays nice with the other barn dogs, and generally behaves himself. When Dexter is there, Bear wants to play. The two dogs have grown up together, a month apart in age, and Bear loves to play with Dexter. Dexter has mellowed more so than Bear has in this department, and sometimes just flops on the ground rather than running around. Now, here is one area my mom and I have differing opinions. Bear will stand over/near Dexter and "chew" (gently, without hurting) Dexter's cheeks, nudging him and then standing back. He will do this several times. My mom sees this as Bear asserting his dominance over Dexter, and yells at him every time he tries to do it- which is fairly frequently. I see it as Bear trying to play with Dexter, giving him space to get up, and then asking again to play. Does it have some dominance aspect to it? Yes, but when they play I see Bear allowing Dexter to chase him/push him down, which is a passive role.
It seems to me that Bear is willing to switch roles from "dominant" to "submissive," but often Dexter chooses to lay on the ground. Sometimes when Bear asks him to play, he does get up and play. Sometimes, he doesn't. To me, there isn't a clear boundary of when it is okay for Bear to ask Dexter to play, and when it isn't. To me, Bear gets yelled at a lot for trying to play with Dexter. To my mom, Bear is constantly trying to assert dominance over Dexter so she yells at him.
Bear is not an aggressive dog in protecting himself. I have seen dogs snarl/bark/intimidate Bear, and he runs away with his tail between his legs. He isn't trying to be Pack Leader, at least from what I have seen. However, he is protective of me and others that he cares about. When a dog runs up to me, he comes over and inserts himself between me and the other dog. If it's a dog he knows, like Dexter, he is casual about it and easily lets me pet Dexter. If it's a strange dog, he rumbles deep in his throat, his tail goes up and he thrusts his chest out at the other dog. Essentially, he is saying "She's mine, I don't know you, back off." When I tell him it's okay and make a point of petting the other dog with him, he relaxes and nothing more happens.
The last time we were at the barn, one of the barn dogs was acting dominant toward Dexter. I didn't see what happened, I only heard the dogs' voices. I heard Crusher (the barn dog) make a dominant sound, and then seconds later I heard Bear's rumble. There was a flurry of barking, then my mom yelling at them. Bear came to me when I called, and my mom started to tell me that Bear 'attacked' Crusher. I tried to tell her that he was being protective, but she then began insisting that Bear had meant to attack the other dog. (By the way it sounded and Bear's typical behavior, he didn't bite or try to bite the other dog. I think he ran up to Crusher in an assertive way while rumbling, as that is what I have seen Bear do before.) To be fair, I didn't see what happened at that moment. Here's what happened after, though: I put Bear on my lead rope and tied him near Rocky. I was done with him being yelled at and didn't want him interacting with the other dogs anymore. He accepted this just fine.
I kept Bear on the lead the rest of the time at the barn, as I was finishing up anyway. During that time, Crusher behaved assertively toward Dexter, to the point that I heard Crusher rumble at Dexter and possibly push him down. My mom then yelled at Crusher and put Dexter in her car. Crusher then hovered outside the car, and my mom had to urge him away from the car.
To me, that proves that Crusher was probably trying to push Dexter around, Bear saw it and intervened to protect his buddy.
My mom believes Bear was acting aggressively toward Crusher, because Bear is an aggressive/dominant dog. I believe Bear thought he was protecting Dexter from Crusher, and so he postured in a dominant way. Can Bear be dominant? Yes, of course. He can also be submissive- he regularly submits to one of the other barn dogs, and is quite humble about it. Again, I only see Bear's dominant/aggressive side come out when he believes he is protecting someone else. It's in his breeding as a German Shepherd to do that, but he has always listened to me and backed down when doing so. I have never seen him genuinely attack anything, only posture and rumble which tends to be intimidating enough.
Which of us is correct? Obviously I think I am, but either way, I am tired of Bear being yelled at. For a while he didn't even want to come in the barn, and would hide by my car unless I was going out for a trail ride. I have worked to make his last several times at the barn more positive, he has started to regain confidence in entering the barn again.
My plan for the future is to tie him up while Dexter is there, unless we are going for a trail ride. That way Dexter can get away from him, lay down all he wants and Bear doesn't get yelled at- for trying to play or asserting dominance, whichever way you look at it.