Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
How to Train Your Dog in German
Training a dog German commands is best if done early on or as soon as you get your puppy. Your puppy is a clean slate, so to speak, so this developmental stage is a perfect time to be introducing German commands from scratch. If you are fortunate enough to start training your dog this early, German will be considered your puppy's primary language when it comes to obedience commands. The training will be straightforward and you will proceed in the same exact manner as with teaching English commands, only that the commands will be in German.
Imported Purebreds Might Come With a Language Advantage
If you are importing purebred dogs from Germany, the training will also be fairly smooth. This is because German Shepherd dogs, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and several other working breeds may already be trained in the German language. The biggest challenge will be that you will have to learn how to pronounce the commands correctly. Don't worry—your dog won't judge you if you mispronounce things a bit; at the very worst, he or she may simply hesitate and tilt their head!
Transitioning From English to German Takes Some Patience
Things can be more complicated if you have been training your dog in English and now you want to switch over to using German commands exclusively. Your dog likely responds fluently to English commands, and now they'll have to understand German. The good news is that there is a distinct process to rely on in order to switch your dog over successfully, but it is not very difficult to master. In order to succeed, you will have to follow this process carefully. If you follow these guidelines, your dog will soon assimilate to the new commands and respond promptly.
Clarification About the Word "Command"
Normally, I refrain from using the term "command" for dog training because it implies issuing an order with a potential threat of something unpleasant happening as a consequence of disobedience. In recent years, I have switched over to the term "cue." For this article, however, I am making an exception and using the word "command" for clarity. Always make sure that your dog's training is fun and that your dog complies with your training because of happy consequences—like access to the things he or she enjoys.
The Advantages of Training Your Dog German Commands
1. Your Dog Won't Confuse Commands for Conversation
There are several advantages that come from training your dog German commands. The most obvious is that if your household is English-speaking, your dog is unlikely to get confused when listening to common conversations. For instance, many dog owners in the U.S. choose to use the word "okay" to release their dogs from a stay. The biggest drawback with this is that, since the word "okay" is so commonly used in conversation, a dog may get confused and prematurely release while performing an obedience command.
With German commands, this is very unlikely to happen! These commands can, therefore, be extremely useful in busy areas where there are other people giving out commands in English like at dog events. Of course, this won't be the case if you are participating in a Schutzhund event where most dogs are trained in German!
2. Your Dog Will Only Respond to You
Another main reason why dog owners like training German commands is because their dogs will learn to only respond to them. Other people may tell your dog "down" repeatedly, and your dog will totally ignore them. If your dog is accused of being disobedient because he or she doesn't respond to English commands such as "down," explain that they only respond to "platz" because they have been trained in another language.
3. The Sound Is Appealing
Last, but not least, many people are drawn to using German training commands because they simply like the sound of a foreign language. These commands are simple, short, and often contain hard consonants which may help grab a dog's attention.
Popular German Words Used for Dog Training
How to Train Your Dog German Commands in 3 Easy Steps
Training your dog German commands requires a precise training method that systematically focuses on creating new associations and allowing these new associations to replace older ones. To a dog who was never been trained using German words, these words act as neutral stimuli and have no meaning. Therefore, you can't just pronounce a new word and expect your dog to respond to it as if using a magic wand. You can't explain this transition to them either.
Fortunately, there's an easy method to help your dog out. It entails transferring stimulus control from one cue to another using a prompt delay procedure.
The 3-Step Training Method
Let's imagine you want to train your dog to lie down using the command "platz." In this case, you need to help your dog understand that "platz" has the exact same meaning as "down." Here's how to do it in a way that your dog will understand.
Important: Please note that the below steps can be applied to virtually any language. So, use the same steps whether you are trying to train your dog in German, Hungarian, Czech, or Dutch. Also, to keep things simple, focus on training only one command at a time.
1. Introduce the New Word
- To help your dog understand that the new German word replaces the English one, start by first pronouncing the German word (in this case, "platz") followed by the familiar English word.
- Say "platz" and pause and follow up with "down."
- When your dog hears "platz," it's totally normal for them to care less about it since it doesn't hold meaning yet. When they hear "down," they should readily respond.
- Praise and reward your dog for successfully lying down.
2. Practice Makes Perfect
Repeat the above exercise several times in a row for several brief training sessions during the day. What you are trying to accomplish here is for your dog to start associating both words with the action of lying down. "Platz" and then "down" become the new stimulus.
3. Drop the Old Command
Now comes the time to start testing whether your dog is ready to drop out the old commands.
- Try saying "platz" only. If you practiced long enough, your dog will lie down even without needing to hear the old command. This is more likely to happen if you have an eager dog that has a tendency to anticipate your requests.
- When your dog successfully lies down, make sure to praise lavishly and reward. Make it clear that they did what you wanted, so don't be stingy and give several treats in a row.
Overcoming Training Challenges
What If My Dog Didn't Lie Down?
If your dog didn't lie down, you may need to practice a bit more. To further help your dog, you can start fading the old command.
- Do this by truncating the word "down." For instance, say "platz-dow" (making the word "down" shorter).
- You can also lower the volume of the word "down" by saying "platz" in a louder tone and then "down" in a near-whisper.
- Afterward, you can do both—shorten the word and whisper it too.
- You can then test your dog again by saying "platz" and then waiting a second or two to see if your dog anticipates your cue and lies down. Make sure you are ready to praise them lavishly. Celebrate when your dog guesses correctly and responds to only "platz."
- Always give lots of praise, pats, treats, and playtime. Your dog needs to know when he or she gets something right.
Tips for Using Hand Signals
If your dog is trained using hand signals, you can use those signals to your advantage to help your dog better understand what you are asking him or her to do. In this case, pronounce the German command first and then follow up with your hand signal. Praise and reward your dog upon performing the desired behavior.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Adrienne Farricelli