Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
With the understanding that this dog breed would need a lot of attention, play, and exercise, we adopted our first German Shepherd. Activities are crucial in order to keep them healthy and happy. This was our first time caring for a German Shepherd Dog, and we initially underestimated just how much activity she would need.
When she was a puppy, we started to notice that she would get antsy, anxious, and even destructive. This was intensely frustrating for my mother, who liked to keep a clean and orderly house. My mom started to despise our dog and her destructive behavior. That’s when we took Sultan to see a trainer. We’d been somewhat successful with our own training methods—she could sit, stay, come, lay down, shake, fetch, and do just about anything else she was asked to do.
The trainer asked us if we noticed how calm and attentive Sultan was while learning or performing these commands. We told him that we had. He explained that Sultan was content doing something active that she knew pleased her masters. He told us that she wasn’t destroying the house because she was a bad dog, but that she was destroying the house because she was intensely bored. That’s when we knew we needed to be better owners and make sure that our German Shepherd had plenty of fun activities to keep her entertained.
Top Activities for German Shepherds
- Obedience Training
- Agility Training
- Household Tasks: "Cleaning Up"
- Dog-Specific Toy Time
- Dog Jobs
- Getting Outside
- Playing Fetch
We started looking for venues to keep Sultan busy. There was a dog park in our area with an agility course set up. We went and met with other dog owners, some of who were German Shepherd owners, and asked them what they did with their dogs. We acquired a great list of games, jobs, and activities that these owners use to make sure the natural “working” instinct instilled in every German Shepherd was satisfied. As a side note, these games and activities also seriously helped our Australian Shepherd, who had suffered from anxiety from a young age. Here are some of the suggestions that really helped Sultan:
1. Obedience Training: Raising a Good Canine Citizen
We had already done a little bit of obedience training with Sultan, but we were told that we needed to kick it up a notch. She was learning, but not as quickly or as much as she could be learning. She knew all of her basic commands, but German Shepherds are smart—they can do far more than the basic commands.
We took her to an obedience class where she learned not just to sit, shake, and stay, but also a command to cease barking when people came to the door, to not jump on people, and “kennel,” which would send her to her kennel.
Obedience training didn’t just give her something to do, it was a great way for her to bond with us and to cement her place in the pack. She learned exactly what was expected of her and what reward she would get when she did what she was asked to do or what was expected of her.
The best thing that we got out of obedience training was the ability to walk her on a leash without her pulling or us worrying that she’d yank herself free and chase after someone or something. This was a serious concern, since many of my siblings were still quite young when we got Sultan, and by the time she was a year old, she was far stronger than most of them. It would be easy for her to get away on a walk, but she never even tried once she had been leash trained. Walking a dog who is great on a leash is actually fun! Sultan's calmness also helped to mellow out our Aussie, who could be a complete nightmare on the leash.
2. Agility Training: Mentally Challenging and Encourages Discipline
Agility training isn’t for every dog. We knew we didn’t want Sultan to compete professionally, but we did know that she was a determined, intelligent dog who needed some serious exercise to relieve her energy.
There was a free agility course right inside the dog park in our neighborhood, and it was easy to teach her to run the course, even though she was wary of stunts like the seesaw at first. There was nothing she loved more than heading out to the park and running the agility course a few times—it was good for her and it was good for us.
If you don’t have an agility course in your area, you might be able to set up a makeshift one. Dogs, just like humans, might like some repetitive games like fetch, but eventually, they're going to get bored of that and want to do something that is a little more interactive and varied. Trying to find a game that fulfills those needs and gets both of you moving is key to a happy and healthy dog.
3. Swimming: A Healthy Activity for Large Breeds
The first time we put Sultan in water, she freaked out. She was only a year old at the time and she had absolutely no concept of floating. She knew how to swim instinctually, and she could get herself going, but if she could not feel the bottom underneath her feet, she would start panicking and climb up the person closest to her. As with most things, getting a dog comfortable in a situation is all about exposure.
The more we took her to the lake, the more she enjoyed the water. Eventually, she would swim and fetch just about anything. We kept her on her long, extendable leash while she was learning and started her out in the shallows. Once she was acclimated to the water, we started taking her out farther and giving her more leash. (Our Aussie immediately loved swimming and almost seemed to tease her by swimming out farther and faster than she could.)
Swimming, especially in the cool lakes around where we live, was a perfect summertime activity, and when combined with fetch or a game of search, she would be extremely happy for the rest of the day. We couldn't go as often in the fall, winter, and spring, so we had to find other activities to occupy her during those months.
4. Cleaning Up: Give Your Dog a Task in the Home
We have a basket in the living room where all of the dog toys go. It is on the ground, so if one of the dogs wants a toy, he or she has access to it. This keeps them from chewing on shoes and other things that they know they aren’t supposed to chew on and keeps the house more organized. It’s also possibly one of the cutest things in the world when one of the dogs grabs a toy from the basket, chews on it for a little while, and then falls asleep hugging that toy or using it as a pillow.
As part of her obedience training, we taught Sultan a command to clean up her toys. This is actually a great activity and sometimes doubles as a searching or hunting game, especially if she wasn’t the one to remove the toys from the basket.
5. Toy Time: Designate Dog-Specific Toys
I cannot overemphasize the importance of dogs having their own toys, and, especially for German Shepherds, getting the right kinds of toys. When Sultan was a puppy, we got her a few toys that were basically stuffed animals. She destroyed them in hours, and strew fluff all over the yard and the house. We started looking for more durable toys, hoping to find her something that would last longer than a few hours. She powered through everything.
Eventually, we started investing in toys that were made specifically for German Shepherds and other large dogs. We had a stuffed rabbit made out of firehouse material for a little over two years. She finally managed to rip one of the ears off after quite a while—that’s how good these toys are.
It is vitally important that a dog has toys that they know are their own. These are toys that they can play with when they are bored and can field the chewing habit that most dogs, especially during their teething phase, have. Plus, giving a dog a sense of ownership over something can make them happier.
Finding the right toys may be a process, and an expensive one if your dog is a chewer, but once you’ve found a brand that makes toys that actually last, stick with that brand. When you buy a new toy, present it to your dog so they know that it is theirs. Play with them with it so they understand that they are allowed to chew on it. This will keep them away from stuffed animals or other stuffed things in your house that might accidentally be seen as playthings.
6. Get a Job: Working Canines Are Happy Canines
Not all German Shepherds have to have jobs, and not all want a real job. If your dog doesn’t seem to be doing well and needs something to do with her days, a job might be exactly what they need. This doesn’t mean you have to get them a job outside of the house—many of them are great nannies and they can protect your children while they play with them. In a world where children are sometimes kidnapped right out of their own yards, a big dog who knows it’s her job to protect those children can be a definite asset.
Not all owners want to train their dogs to be guard dogs and are afraid that this will make their dogs aggressive towards all people. The truth is, however, that training your dog to be a guard dog is training your dog to be more attentive and receptive to your instincts and to social cues. A dog can easily sense when you are tense or afraid. They also seem to have an innate ability to sense when someone has bad intentions.
Police and military dogs are taught not to be aggressive, but to be disciplined, and to offer their owners protection when necessary. This could be a great option for families with young children or those that live in a neighborhood with frequent crime.
7. Get Outside: It's Good for You and Your Dog
Your dog doesn’t necessarily need a planned or structured activity in order to have fun. Many German Shepherd owners believe that if their dogs aren’t competing or aren’t actively working, they won’t be happy. The truth is, however, that most dogs just want attention and approval and plenty of exercise. If you can provide your dog with those three things, she will be happy and healthy.
Taking your dog for a long walk, a jog, a bike ride, or for play in the park, are all great activities. Don’t underestimate the power of just getting out and doing something active together. German Shepherds do best in active homes, so if you have one, make this a priority. Excess energy will lead to misbehavior, dogs are like children in that regard. Give them something to do, something that helps them burn off that energy, and they will be happy.
Sultan doesn’t always need to go down to the agility course or for a romp in the lake, she’s more than happy with a run in the morning and a walk at night, especially as she’s getting older.
Flyball is a fairly intensive sport that could give your German Shepherd the perfect amount of exercise and play to ensure that they don’t get antsy. The sport, which engages your dog with others and provides them with entertainment instead of exercise, is a great pastime.
In the game, teams of dogs race against each other. During the race, they will have to hop over a line of hurdles towards a box. The box has a switch on it that shoots a tennis ball out for your dog to catch. The dog, after grabbing the ball, has to run back to their owners.
Generally, games of flyball have teams of four dogs and four hurdles. The height of the hurdles is determined based on the size of the smallest dog in the team—about 5 inches below their withers. This allows the game to be fair for all dogs in play.
One of the best ways to find out where you can play flyball with your dog is to get in touch with a local community. If you can’t find any, try and set up a game yourself—you can race with all types of dogs, not just German Shepherds.
The German Shepherd is well-known for its fantastic capacity as a working dog, and one of the activities that they are great at is herding. In fact, their bloodlines trace them back to German pastures where the dogs were initially bred to be fantastic herders.
After recognizing their capacity for herding sheep, Max von Stephanitz decided to develop a dog breed that could be high-functioning sheepherders as well as great companions and working dogs. German Shepherds have since become popular herding dogs all around the world.
These dogs possess the necessary intelligence and temperament to lead herds of sheep into certain areas. Granted, if you don’t own a lot of sheep, you might not have an easy time finding a farmer who wants to let you have your companion run loose on their fields.
Tracking is one of the unique abilities that dogs possess that humans couldn’t get a handle on if we tried—at least not without advanced technology. And why use technology if we could get our furry friends to lend us a paw?
Dogs have a very keen sense of smell, believed to be thousands of times stronger than that of a human. This means that they can actually smell into the past—whereas we would need to see footprints to indicate where someone might have walked, dogs can see their tracks by picking up on leftover smells.
Tracking is a fantastic German Shepherd sport that encourages these dogs to use their fantastic sense of smell to locate things. This can be used to help train your dog for certain lines of work, such as being a rescue dog. However, some owners and puppies enjoy engaging in tracking because of the excitement and enjoyment that it can provide.
Tracking is one of the particularly fun activities for German Shepherds because it puts them in control of what they’re doing. Unless they’re doing something dangerous, there’s really no reason that you’ll have to issue any commands to them while they’re doing their tracking. Sultan really enjoyed being outside following a smell.
The AKC makes it relatively easy for dogs to join a tracking group. They host a number of tracking events across the country and are generally willing to meet new dogs and accept them into their ranks.
Tracking is a great way to bond with your dog. Tracking can also encourage your dog to develop and hone its own natural capacities, making it a more confident and happy animal.
11. Playing Fetch
Fetch is one of the most basic games that you can play with your German Shepherd. Activities can be simple but very effective and rewarding, this one is on the top of that list. It’s easy to enjoy, can be done nearly anywhere and doesn’t really get old.
When you’re playing fetch, you’re simply throwing something for your dog to retrieve. Once they catch the thing or have to fetch it from wherever it landed, they’ll usually bring it straight back to you. Then, you can throw it again or move on.
Sound simple? It is. There are a lot of different things that you could use to play fetch with. A couple of the most common are tennis balls and sticks, but you’d be surprised at what your dog will be eager to chase and catch. Other fun things include frisbees or dog toys.
Pretty much anything you throw past your dog, they’ll run to catch, if they’ve trained how to. Some dogs do this naturally, others have to be encouraged to chase after objects by being provided with affection or treats.
Once you’ve played enough fetch, you can begin teaching your German Shepherd simple tricks like how to catch things that you throw at them or to do jumping tricks while fetching.
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.
© 2017 Sam Shepards
Libby Lamb on September 08, 2020:
Ranger is my 1yr old? Rescue and he doesnt seem to understand that he is not suppose to jump me and others. I know its excitement when we get together 1st thing of a new day but his nails tear me up and he is so big. On his hind legs he is as tall as i am. Im 112lbs he is 68.8 and very strong. What is the secert? Im in desperate need if guidance. Thank you, libby
Midge from Tamworth on February 20, 2020:
Sasha is a very happy, active GS Puppy
I’m concerned because she’s not gaining weight. She is seven months old now and I’ve been feeding her twice a day on Supercoat, large breed puppy food, but if I give her more than a cup full (150g) she has green loose poos. How do I increase her food without upsetting her tummy.
Also she has been eating not only her own poo but that of her mate, my 10yo Cho Lab. Where am I going wrong and how can I rectify it all
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on September 19, 2019:
Too much repetition of the same activity can sometimes lead to boredom. Run with a ball in hand and play a little after she runs with you as a reward. Hiding also helps, but you can't do that in a hallway. Suprise and play will put her attention on you.
1231 on September 18, 2019:
Hi, I have A German Sheperd Lab Mix Named Kylie, She's A Female And We Resuced Her 2 years ago. About a year ago, We started doing a fun activy, We use to run the hallway, But then we eventually Stopped because she stopped running, I tried convincing my mom to do it again, Nothing worked, I want it to seem like a adventure for my dog, Any ideas and thanks!
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on June 23, 2019:
I used to do this to when I still lived at home with our first German Shepherd. I had two different ways to do it.
My parents have a large garden with multiple hedges, trees and a shed and you could run around 3/4 of the house etc.
I would throw a tennis ball and when the dog was fetching the toy I would run of hiding and he would search me and bring the ball to me.
The other options was to have him lie down somewhere and then hide an then call, but that is often to easy.
T P Simmons on June 23, 2019:
I play hide and seek with Cleo, my German Shepherd. When she isn’t paying attention or napping I will hide and I have a special whistle I do when I want her to come. She loves the game and so do I
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on August 01, 2018:
addendum, I would not get a second dog if you don't have a fairly large garden... (enough for them to run around, throw balls etc.)
Handling two dogs on a walk can be more difficult and if you need to go to parks for play can be a hassle.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on August 01, 2018:
It can be easy or it can be trouble. Is your dog a male? If yes, you'll most likely not be into much trouble.
Our first male was quite dominant so the hierarchy was always clear. We had our second one when the first gsd was around 2 years old. The second one died at age 10 and the first one became 14 years old, so around age 11.5-12 he got another friend, also without issues, he was still very fit and the leader.
You have to make sure you spread the love between both and that the first one is not feeling set back. If the first one is more independent it makes it easy. We never had trouble, but our first dog was a clear "alpha" and powerful and the others were always ok, with looking at him on what to do and having their place.
Having an independent dog, makes swimming easy for example. We could just through a ball and he would be off doing his thing and coming back, while the others needed more intervention and guidance with such things.
Susan K. White on July 31, 2018:
Would it be helpful if I got my GSD a companion dog? He is very social and loves to play with his friends at t he dog park.
Suuz on June 26, 2018:
Yes, it is very normal for your GSD to follow you around. They want to be with you and don't want to miss out when you're ready to go and do something! They also feel protective and can't protect you if they're not close by!
Rosemarie on October 25, 2017:
Just what i needed to read; i rescued a GSD and I can see that she needs plenty of all of the above in your article :) I am definitely going to set aside time after work and on the weekends for Stormie enrichment lol. Its been quite a new experience having her as the new addition to the family. One quick question; is it normal for her to "latch" onto one specific human? She can be resting and i get to get a drink or go the bathroom and she will pop up jsut to tag along. Whatever room Im she has to be in. I dont know if its healthy.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on August 16, 2017:
Thank you for your comments.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 15, 2017:
This is an interesting article. I've had several breeds of dog in my family, but never a German shepherd. I enjoyed reading about Sultan's activities.
Stephanie Purser from Australia on August 15, 2017:
An informative and well written article. I would recommend to anyone with a GS or thinking of getting one.