Training a German Shepherd: A 3-Part Plan
Training a German Shepherd: Why You Need a Plan
Training a German Shepherd isn't hard. I've had German Shepherds for over 45 years, and a trained Shepherd is a pleasure to own, visit or simply admire. So it makes me crazy to see a German Shepherd jumping on people, tearing across the yard chasing squirrels or pulling on the leash in every direction while the owner says "It's just instinct." For crying out loud! Train it!
In this article, I give you an outline of a three-stage plan for training a German Shepherd. If you have just started training a puppy, you can set goals using this outline. If you have a full-grown dog, it will show you any gaps in his training that you should deal with now. If you have a talent for dog training and want to develop your dog's potential after the basics, I'll give you ideas for specialized training.
Don't blame "instinct" until you've covered the basics of training a German Shepherd.
Before You Start Training: Required Gear
Before you start training a German Shepherd, make sure you have the right equipment. In order of importance, you need:
- A fresh bag of healthy dog treats
- A strong 6-foot leash
- A slip collar (a.k.a. choke collar)
These three things are the items you need. Useless, for our purposes, are retractable leashes (hint: GET RID OF THEM), flat collars, harnesses, muzzles, prong collars, longer leashes, or electronic training collars. If you've been using an adjustable collar or a long leash, you now know why your dog isn't learning. And if you have a problem with your dog chasing squirrels, cats, or cars, you already know how worthless these collars and retractable leashes are.
This is all the equipment you need for 92% of the basic training a German Shepherd needs. Disagree about the collar to use? See the video further below.
The dogs love these treats, which also happen to be good for them. Most dog biscuits aren't tasty enough to motivate a dog, but these are.
Professional quality leash, you'll never need another. I love the feel.
Easy on and off, won't catch on your dog's hair. Heavy duty, recommended for large breeds like German Shepherd Dogs.
The Case for Slip Collars
Here's the short and sweet case for slip collars.
Training the Handler: Ten Training Commandments
You don't need a buttoned uniform or a funny hat, but you—the dog handler—have a lot to master. Here are the ten training commandments that are prerequisites for success in training a German Shepherd.
- Demand your dog's attention or you will get nowhere.
- Be consistent with the instruction phrases you use.
- Give commands: lectures, pleading, and screaming won't work.
- Don't laugh at mistakes.
- Always correct bad behavior, even when it's inconvenient or disruptive.
- Punishment doesn't fix anything.
- Your German Shepherd will love you even if you don't give in.
- Your tone and body language have to match your words.
- Finish your command: almost completing a command is not good enough.
- Be the alpha leader for your German Shepherd or get out of the way.
If you've been trying to train a dog that has obedience problems, check your behavior against the list above.
Ready, Set...Training From 8 to 16 Weeks
I start training as soon as a German Shepherd puppy is weaned. Here's the first phase of training commands that I teach my pups when they are two to four months old.
Phase 1: The Essentials
These skills are appropriate for puppies from 8 to 16 weeks old. Adult German Shepherds should have already mastered these skills. If not, they should get remedial training before going further.
"Focus." Make and hold eye contact with the trainer.
"Sit." Butt on ground, eyes on the trainer.
"Stand." Four paws on the floor.
"Down." Belly on the ground, head upright.
"Stay." Sit-stay, stand-stay, or down-stay for short periods.
"Come." Move directly to the trainer facing her head-on.
"Go." Walk in the indicated direction.
"Off." Stop standing on hind legs (while jumping, looking over a fence, etc.).
"Potty." This is the right time and place to go.
"Kennel up." Get in the crate.
"Back." Step backward.
"OK." Released from the last command.
"No." Stop current action and focus on the trainer.
Plus, your dog needs to learn loose-leash walking.
If you want to get a running start on this list, there is a set of outstanding training videos that you can find online that let you bypass classroom training and learn the basics right away. The instructor, Dove Cresswell, is well known for getting immediate results. The videos are no-nonsense, and her training philosophy is spot-on.
Phase 2: Training From 4 to 9 Months With New Challenges
Phase 2 builds on the basic commands. For instance, "wait" is meaningless unless your German Shepherd has already mastered "stay." By now, your German Shepherd has more physical stamina and coordination, a longer attention span, and greater bite control, and has the development needed to be able to follow these commands.
Training should include these additional skills appropriate from 4 to 9 months old.
"Heel." Stay in position both before moving and while moving.
"Wait." Go to a designated location and remain there.
"Gentle." Take something from a person carefully, without touching them
"No bite." Even if you don't offer a chew toy alternative.
"Drop." Let go of an object and step back from it.
"Leave it." Ignore an object that has the dog's attention.
"Quiet." Stop barking, growling or whining.
"Paw." Offer a paw and let you clean or examine it.
"Stay." Stay sitting, stay standing, or stay down for an extended period while you leave the area.
"Fetch." Retrieve an object.
German Shepherd Training Plan, Phase 3: Advanced Skills
Once your dog has mastered the fundamentals, there are many advanced options. Some examples are:
"Speak." Bark only on command.
Interrupted run: Your dog immediately halts and performs down/stand/sit on command.
Indirect commands: Your dog follows verbal commands without seeing you.
Tricks: everything from playing dead to reading books.
There are many choices for specialty training also.
Specialty Training for German Shepherds
In addition to herding training and show training, there are prescribed training programs for:
- Companion dog
- Protection dog
- Search and rescue dog
- Guide dog
- Therapy dog
- Police K9
- Military dog
- Hollywood dog (movies, TV, commercials, modeling)
All these specialties require mastery of the skills in earlier phases of the plan above. This video gives a short demonstration of Schutzhund, a sport that requires excellence in obedience, agility and protection.
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