Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
Anyone who has owned a companion dog at some point in their life knows that most of the fun that comes from having a German Shepherd are the activities you get to do together. Heck, even a lot of people who don’t have dogs themselves know that play will keep you and your dog happy.
Unfortunately, a lot of people, for whatever reason, find that most of the time they get to be with their dog is spent just walking or even less. Not that walking your dog isn’t quality time for the two of you, it’s just that there are tons of other ways that you and your dog can have a good time together.
Through playing, you get to share the wonderful experience of companionship with each other. On top of that, your dog is going to want to be able to do more than walk around the block now and then.
The Benefits of Playing With Your German Shepherd
Today, we’re going to look at some of the best ways that you can engage with and enjoy life with your German Shepherd. Not only will these activities help the two of you develop a good bond with each other, but they’ll also be great for both of your physical health and will promote longevity.
A lot of them are physical activities, which can make them great opportunities for people who are looking to begin exercising but are unsure of where to start. Playing with your dog doesn’t really feel like exercise because it’s masked by the amount of fun that you’re having. I really want to stress the term play. If you look at it that way, you will have less resistance to getting out and doing things together, even when the weather is bad.
Dogs have very sharp minds, but their intelligence needs to be complemented by physical activity just like humans, who are known to suffer from cognitive problems if they don’t get enough exercise. Going for a walk isn’t the most mentally stimulating thing for either of you, so engaging in complicated activities can be great for honing both of your intelligence.
The following exercises are a mixture of mild- to moderate-intensity activities that you can do with your dog. If you adopt a few of these into your weekly routine, you’ll develop not only a better relationship with your dog, but it will also promote physical and psychological benefits to you as an owner.
Walking and Jogging
Despite how we’ve mentioned that it’s important not to strictly confine the time you spend with your dog just going on walks, that doesn’t mean you should completely write off walking or jogging with your dog. This is an extremely accessible, simple, and potentially relaxing activity that both of you can enjoy on a regular basis without needing any preparation or equipment.
It’s best for your dog to get at least two miles of walking every day, and it’s probably best for you too. This is roughly equivalent to 30 minutes of a brisk stroll; doing it twice a day would be even better. Also, this is a great opportunity to give your dog some much-needed socialization time. Try to make a point of letting your dog get to know other dogs, and you might find that you make some new friends yourself.
It’s a good idea to try to run on soft surfaces, like grass or a dirt path, when you’re running or walking with your dog. Their padded feet don’t do great with concrete when they’re traveling miles every day.
Work or Play?
There are a lot of activities that you and your dog can enjoy where the activity is sometimes considered work for the dog. These activities include sledding, carting, and scootering—things that involve your dog towing you around while you’re seated or standing on something.
German Shepherds are usually quite fond of doing this for a few reasons. First off, it really helps give them a chance to explore. They get to feel in control, and they’ll be proud of themselves because of it. They’re also bred from a very strong line of dogs that were typically used as work dogs back in Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
A lot of these dogs are still used as work dogs, such as those used in most police forces, as well as shepherds that you see in film and the media, and they seem to love their work, so it’s no wonder that they enjoy pulling you around on a sled just as much!
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- Safety is equally, if not more important for these sorts of activities than it is for hiking. You’ll want to make sure that your dog has gone through some serious obedience training before you go anywhere that could present obstacles or dangers, and you should be sure that your dog is capable of making good decisions when presented with surprises.
- You can get towed in some local areas, like parks and biking paths, but it’s important that you look into local regulations before doing this so you don’t encounter any problems with the law or with other people.
- You’ll want to make sure that you get a good harness for your dog that can handle the strenuous nature of this activity. Always consider your dog's health and proneness to conditions like hip dysplasia and joint issues.
If you’re of a competitive nature, or if you just think that your dog is so fantastic and skilled that it could dominate others in a test of skills, you might be interested in getting it a spot in a competition. There’s a whole world of competitive dog sports out there, and you could look into the opportunities that you have in your local area if you’re interested in this sort of activity.
However, if you plan on entering your dog in a competition, you’re going to need to make sure that it’s undergone a lot of obedience training. That brings us to our next activity . . .
Because of the way a lot of us think of the word training, it doesn’t always conjure up an idea of an enjoyable activity. However, dogs don’t think of obedience training the same way, especially not German Shepherd dogs. Instead, they think of it as a physical activity, one that encourages them to accept challenges, that pleases their owner.
Not only that, but obedience training gives you a chance to bond with your dog and enjoy the experience of having a dog on a more personal level. German Shepherds are smart, and you should remember that even after they’ve learned all the basic commands, you shouldn't stop training them. They can learn some fairly complicated tricks and these things can broaden the type of experience you have with them.
Another way to train your German Shepherd is with a Schutzhund Training program. Depending on where you live you also see it under the name IPO (Internationale Prüfungs-Ordnung) and it's a form of protection training. It combines multiple disciplines.
- Obedience Training
- Protection or Defense Dog Training
These are excellent programs if you are really interested in training that resembles police or military dog training.
I want to stress that as an amateur you don't have to put too much strain on your dog. I've seen people hitting their dogs a lot or feverishly using a shock collar to drive their training to "perfection." Most people are not like that, but some are like the failure in life soccer dad that put all his hopes on his son, and in this case, on his success in training his dog for competitions or getting certificates for breeding dogs.
It should be "play." If your dog becomes suspicious of your gestures or becomes skittish, something is going very wrong. Keep yourself in check.
Getting Good Toys
Perhaps more than any other breed of dog, it’s important for your German Shepherd to have toys. Equally important is to make sure that you get a type of toy specifically suited for this breed.
Toys made for most dogs will absolutely crumble under the intense strength of their jaws. For this reason, it’s important to get something that was made for a large, strong dog. These toys are made of different materials and construction, and they can withstand your growing dog’s teeth a lot longer than a regular dog toy.
Having good toys for your dog will ensure that they won’t have to spend time gnawing on your furniture anymore, which is particularly important for younger pups. They will also be able to expend some of their gratuitous energy on these toys, which will save you some time if you’re too busy to take them out.
Agility Training German Shepherd Dogs
Agility training is a very broad activity that can help your dog attain the optimum level of fitness for a German Shepherd. Agility training means teaching your dog to work around different obstacles quickly, which can be done through intensive training on an obstacle course or a terrain that’s difficult to navigate.
You can build your own obstacle course using jumps, tunnels, tables, poles, ramps, and all sorts of other things. You can also train your dog to touch or interact with various things on these obstacles courses to encourage the development of mental health and their ability to think and make choices on their own.
Hiking is an activity that’s great on your own, that’s great with the family, that’s great with friends, and is always made even greater if you bring your German Shepherd with you. It’s also going to certainly be one of their most exciting experiences.
Dogs love hiking because it gives them a chance to let their inner energy show. They can run around and explore and satisfy all the canine urges that they don’t usually get a chance to explore when they’re stuck in a city.
It’s a good idea to make some preparations for your hike so you don’t run into any issues. Remember that you and your dog will be exploring different terrain which could present new challenges, and it’s good to be vigilant and prepared to meet any of these challenges. Make sure you bring a first-aid kit and lots of water, and it’s usually a good idea to carry a cell phone that can make emergency calls.
Have a Barn Hunt
A barn hunt is a game that’s gained some popularity recently as a sport, which some German Shepherd owners (and a lot of German Shepherds) seem to think is a blast.
This game involves letting your dog have free access to a barn, preferably one with hay bales and obstacles for your dog to navigate through or on. The goal of the game is for your dog to use its powerful sense of smell to locate a rat that’s kept in a tube somewhere in the barn. The catch? There will be other tubes that are full of something rat scented, like litter from their cages, and the dog must use its skills to discern the real rat from the fakes.
Flyball is a great game to provide your dog not only great exercise, but also a great opportunity to socialize with other dogs in an engaging activity. The activity involves something similar to a relay race.
Your dog has to jump over a set of hurdles and then activate a box, which will then launch a ball out for them to chase after. This sends them back towards the handler, who can then let the next dog run through the relay and launch the ball.
This is a fun and exciting way for your dog to feel like they’re taking part in something, and to feel like they’re helping you feel good. This means that you and your dog can deepen your friendship by doing things like this.
Swimming for Dogs
Swimming is a great way to spend time with your dog, and you get to enjoy their presence in an entirely different manner than you do when the two of you are on land. Whether or not you actually choose to get in the water with your dog, or simply stand on the shore and toss them sticks, your dog will get to enjoy a different experience and they’ll be at their best while they’re doing it.
Swimming is also a low-impact activity which makes it great if your dog has been injured in the past. Swimming doesn’t put as much pressure on the legs as, say, running, so it can be used as an alternative to activities that put a lot of strain on your dog’s injured limbs. This also makes it ideal for older dogs who don’t have the same capacity for running or jogging as they used to.
Because many German Shepherds suffer from joint issues, especially older dogs, I can not recommend swimming enough as an ideal low-impact activity. All my dogs have enjoyed swimming and going to the sea or a lake nearby was always a nice day out for me.
If your dog is not used to swimming, ease them into it and just go with them in the water, no rushing and never drop them into the deep end. The best way is to start from a level beach or a lake with a gradual deepening shoreline. Some water-crazy dogs will always dive right in, but others are more careful.
One of my dogs that didn't like swimming, in the beginning, I carried into the water, but never farther than where he could still touch the bottom with his feet. After a couple of attempts (spread over weeks) and waiting for him with his toy in the water he gradually pushed his own limits.
Remember, It's All Play
It’s not just the dog that has a role to fulfill when you took on a contract of owning them—you have a role, too, and that means that you have to take good care of your dog. German Shepherds are among the most energetic and active dogs in the world, so owning one means that you have to take time to make sure that they get plenty of exercise.
Doing activities with your German Shepherd isn’t a chore, and there are a lot of fun things that you can do with your dog. Hopefully, we’ve helped you find something that you two will enjoy.
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.
© 2019 Sam Shepards
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on May 24, 2019:
I should definitely finish my dog rescue article. I still still have a bunch of articles half finished or near finished from over a year ago. About 25 about German Shepherds that still need work and then over 3 times that on other topics. I should hurry to keep things relevant.
When you get a dog you should definitely check my obedience training and German Shepherd activities pieces. The dog food articles I have and will produce need to be more balanced (raw vs dry vs wet canned food etc.).
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on May 24, 2019:
When going to the pound, ask for medical information, no hip dysplasia signs (slope), eating habits or problems etc. Buying a dog with pre-existing medical conditions can drain your funds and often you can't get insurance for one that is already sick.
If you have small kids in the house I would be careful with any dog older than 9 months with behavioral problems. When in doubt place a baby camera or something to observe the behavior when you are out of the room.
Train the dog to wait patiently for his food when you give it. Teach him that you can touch and take away his bowl when eating, that he always gets it back and gets rewarded for patience. When you have small kids have them pass behind him early on when you observe it so that he gets used to it.
Most if not all behavior can be trained by positive reinforcement, the younger the dog the easier. Learn him/her to focus his attention on what you do during walks, by turning often etc, this way the dog will not walk you...
I can go on about this. I'm not very knowledgeable about the dog shelters themselves in the US etc...
Overall enjoy your dog, but only get a dog that feels right for you.
Take into account the investment in time and to a lesser degree money.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on May 23, 2019:
Sam I need a pound Shepard - probably a mix. Can you advise. This is just how it is.