Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
German Shepherds are among the most incredible dog breeds on the planet. They are playful, intelligent, have a good temperament, and are very beautiful.
One of the things that people will likely want to learn shortly after getting a shepherd is when to start training it and how to do so. These dogs are known for being quite smart, and most owners would like to make the best of that by raising a companion that they can interact with in a positive way.
Today, we’re going to outline the basics of training a German Shepherd. This way you’ll be able to ensure that you and your dog develop a happy, healthy relationship.
The Character of German Shepherds
German Shepherds are extremely smart and very active. This means that, just like children, they need to be trained on how to use their energy and intelligence—otherwise they will just go crazy. The majority of people who think that they have a 'bad' German Shepherd are actually just bad trainers who didn’t give their dog an outlet for its energy!
German Shepherds are also known for having a great temperament, which makes them good for families. They are strong and protective, so they make good guard dogs. They are generally friendly—unless there’s someone trying to break into your property!
Dogs With Jobs
You might have noticed that the majority of dogs that you see in the theatre or at work (like police dogs) are shepherds. There is a reason for this: it’s because they’re incredibly smart and can be trained to perform complicated things.
That said, training a dog—any dog—takes time and perseverance. This means that you’ll want to know how to train them properly. Without proper obedience training, then your dog won’t know what’s allowed and what’s not.
Not only this, but giving them training allows you to establish boundaries with your dog. Having healthy boundaries is important for any relationship, whether that relationship is with an animal or another dog. The main difference between establishing boundaries with an animal and a person is that many people find it important to establish themselves as the alpha in their relationship with their dog. If they don’t, their dog will just do its own thing all the time.
Socializing Your Dog
One of the most important things to keep in mind before even starting to train your dog is to socialize it. Dogs are just like people, and they need social interaction to survive—at least in their early years.
Just like a child that never gets a chance to interact with other children their age will become socially anxious and unsure of themselves, so too will dogs. This means that the dog will be harder to train and will also be harder to restrain when they come into contact with other dogs.
A simple way to do this is to take your dog to a dog park. Here, you’ll be able to meet other dogs and dog owners. Your dog will be able to socialize with other animals, and you’ll be able to talk to other dog owners who can give you their own tips and tricks on training your dog.
Imprinting Your German Shepherd Dog
Another thing that you need to do before engaging in formal training is called imprinting. Imprinting is a way of establishing your dominance over your dog, but it also helps to bond the two of you.
This might sound manipulative, but GSDs have been bred to be working dogs. In most cases, they enjoy having a job to do, and they enjoy the love and respect that they earn when they do a job well.
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Imprinting is related to the way that you treat your dog. If you yell at your dog, chances are they will become aggressive and will have a hard time engaging with other people. On the other hand, if you are loving but assertive with your dog, and reward them for positive behaviors, they will become much happier and open as they mature.
When to Start Training Your German Shepherd
It’s a good idea to start training your shepherd fairly early in their lives, around the two-month period. You can train a dog at any age, but the phrase ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ exists for a reason. It doesn’t get any easier. Plus, if you start training them at a young age, you’ll develop a more powerful bond and the two of you will have a healthier relationship.
When you begin training, you should make sure that you have already developed a loving physical relationship with your dog. Even before they are eight weeks old, make sure that you gently touch their paws, ears, and tails. This can help them become accustomed to your touch and will help them overcome any fear.
How to Start Training Your Dog
There are several aspects of training that you will probably want to take care of during the course of your German Shepherd's puppyhood.
It’s very important to make sure that your German Shepherd is trained on a leash at an early age because they can grow quite large. If you don’t start early on, it’s only going to get harder the older that they get. Consider leash training to be your dog’s first lesson in obedience.
Make sure that you get a leash that’s not too tight. Your dog will probably be resistant regardless, but the tighter it is, the more uncomfortable it will be and the less happy they will be to wear it. Make sure it’s short enough that you’re still in control, but long enough that your dog isn’t constrained right next to you.
Using treats to help encourage them is a good idea. You can give them treats when you finish a training session.
If your dog starts pulling, stop moving and wait for him to stop pulling. Then, when it stops, you can move again. This will encourage him to believe that pulling won’t get him anywhere. One of the biggest problems that I see with dog owners is the way that their dog constantly pulls them everywhere.
The basic commands are important for any dog to learn. The German Shepherd is best suited to begin with the commands of sit, stay, and heel. These can be useful for helping to protect your dog during less-than-ideal situations and from calling it back during spontaneous situations, like when you encounter a stranger or if someone knocks on your door.
It’s important to be patient and to use treats to reward your dog when he successfully performs a command.
Food Bowl Training
Another thing that’s important for German Shepherds is food bowl training. It’s not uncommon for a young German Shepherd to begin barking aggressively whenever you start pouring food into a bowl.
One way around this is to avoid putting the food down until the dog has stopped barking. This will reinforce the idea that he will only get fed when he is quiet. Another way to do this is to feed him by hand and to only give him a bit of food when he is being quiet and compliant. This is more time-consuming but is generally more effective.
Dos of German Shepherd Obedience Training
There are a lot of things that you shouldn’t do when you’re training your dog and a lot of things that you would do well to remember. Here are some of the best dos regarding training your puppy.
- Be nice to your puppy, preferably all the time. Aggression is not a good way to train a dog. You should be especially nice when your dog returns to you, even if he is not called, and even if he’s doing something unpleasant. This will establish a good relationship between you.
- Make sure that you reward all positive behaviors.
- Try to only give a command once. If he doesn’t respond, then show him again before using the command.
- Use your dog’s name as often as you can to strengthen his response, and also use it before issuing commands.
- Use a normal tone of voice when you are commanding your dog.
- Be patient. Don’t expect too much of a puppy—they are just like children.
- Make sure you have ample opportunities for your dog to burn off energy.
- Make sure that you train frequently to stimulate the dog’s intelligent brain.
- Make sure that you regularly take your dog out to socialize.
- Spend as much time with your dog as you can. If you have to work during the day, make sure that there is someone else there to take care of your dog and to help him train.
Don'ts of Dog Training
- Make sure that you don’t do anything that your dog might not enjoy when he comes to you, regardless of whether or not he was called. Don’t yell, shout, or be aggressive.
- Don’t nag. If you repeat commands over and over then your dog might actually learn to ignore you.
- Remember that your dog might be smart, but he doesn’t speak fluent English. Don’t get upset if he doesn’t understand what you’re trying to tell him, especially if it’s outside the range of a normal command.
- Don’t expect that your dog will understand the word no unless you train him to, which can be difficult to do.
- Don’t yell. Dogs have fantastic hearing, and doing this will only scare them.
- Avoid isolating your dog at all costs.
- Don’t punish your dog for not getting commands right or for misbehaving. Reward him for positive behaviors instead.
- Don’t be too serious or expectant in your training.
- Don’t give up.
- Try not to share training with anyone else. It’s best to do it alone so you can reinforce your own relationship.
Obedience Training Takes Time
German Shepherds are very smart dogs, and they should be treated as such. It’s important to take the time to train your dog so they can be mentally stimulated and maximize their potential.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to train a German Shepherd—or any other type of dog. Training will take time. On the other hand, training can always continue. It's a great way to keep your dog’s mind occupied and to build a good relationship with it.
One of the most important things to remember is to always be loving and not to get aggressive with your dog. Reward positive behaviors and avoid punishing undesirable behaviors. This will help promote a healthy and happy relationship.
Hopefully, this information has helped you prepare for the wonderful task of training your German Shepherd dog.
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 April 22, 2019:
Thank you for your comment. Most of these principles apply to all dogs or at least to dogs with similar intelligence and build.
Not all dogs enjoy doing "work", but labradors do.
Liz Westwood from UK on April 21, 2019:
With a labrador in our family, it seems to me that the principles you apply in this article could also be of use for other breeds of dogs. I remember placing food in his bowl and commanding him to sit and wait until we said 'go' to eat his food.