Training a German Shepherd: A 3-Part Plan

Updated on August 23, 2019
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Lincoln has experience successfully training his German Shepherds and enjoys sharing tips with new dog owners.


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 your dog.

Training German Shepherd puppies is easy because they are so eager.
Training German Shepherd puppies is easy because they are so eager. | Source

Required Gear for Training

Before you start training a German Shepherd, make sure you have the right equipment.

You'll 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. Do not use retractable leashes (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, this is why your dog isn't learning. 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 below.

Training a German Shepherd trainer doesn't require a uniform!
Training a German Shepherd trainer doesn't require a uniform! | Source

Ten Rules for Training Your Dog

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.

  1. Demand your dog's attention or you will get nowhere.
  2. Be consistent with the instruction phrases you use.
  3. Give commands: lectures, pleading, and screaming won't work.
  4. Don't laugh at mistakes.
  5. Always correct bad behavior, even when it's inconvenient or disruptive.
  6. Punishment doesn't fix anything.
  7. Your German Shepherd will love you even if you don't give in.
  8. Your tone and body language have to match your words.
  9. Finish your command: almost completing a command is not good enough.
  10. 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.

These German Shepherd puppies are practicing "sit-stay."
These German Shepherd puppies are practicing "sit-stay."

Phase 1: The Essentials

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.

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.
  • "Stop." Halt.
  • "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.

Training a German Shepherd to heel isn't difficult once you cover the basics.
Training a German Shepherd to heel isn't difficult once you cover the basics.

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.

A well-trained German Shepherd makes its owner come to it!
A well-trained German Shepherd makes its owner come to it!

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
  • Schutzhund
  • 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image


        5 months ago

        Please help my dog is the German Shepherd of Marley the lab!!!!!! He is taking over our house and well basically he runs the show. He just will not listen to us and he jumps and jerks the leash and just does whatever he wants. We have 2 boys and a daughter who love him so much because of course he is the cutest GSD in the world. Any help will be greatly appreciated and we have tried several techniques. They say they will for sure work on any dog and well not Zeus he is not having any of it.

      • profile image

        Maria Karpov 

        20 months ago

        I have a soon to be 5 year old German Shepherd who is still horrible on a leash. Is it too late to train her on the leash? She is amazing at everything else. She is my second GSD and my husbands first. I told him from the get go the importance of training and begged him to get her professionally trained. Unfortunately, he didn’t listen to me and decided that he would train her, which is great for most people who have the time to do this; however, I knew my husband was far too busy and would not be consistent with training her. We just recently adopted a 2 year old male GSD fully trained and now I get to say to my husband...I told you so!!! Anyway...I would greatly appreciate some feedback on training my 4 year old GSD to walk on a leash. Thank you!!

      • profile image


        2 years ago

        We have a 2 1/2 yr old male GSD we adopted at 8 weeks old. He is trained really well with two exceptions. We cannot get him to do to the speak command & cannot get him to stop jumping on people. And, yes we've watched you tube videos and read up on training techniques for these things and nothing is working. Any suggestions on this would be greatly appreciated.

      • profile image


        2 years ago

        Hi thought I would give a little background info first.

        We adopted a white/cream german shepherd cross from our local pound. He was 8months old at the time. (he's now 2 yrs)

        We have taught him basic commands sit down etc.. his stay still needs a lot of work. It has taken him a while to accept us and our other dog and that he is staying with us.

        Our main concern is when we take him for a walk he still pulls a lot but not as bad however as soon as he sees or hears another dog he goes beserk. However when we take him to a local dog park and he is off leash he is fine, he will bark at a dog walking past but as soon as we call him he walks away.

        When leash walking with him

        we have tried all sorts of things. Turning around going back the way we came (this is really hard) as he keeps twisting back. He's been to classes and we've ended up being put on the outsideout of the way(at least that's how it felt) and in one case they placed us behind a screen!

        Any advice you can give would be great.

      • profile image

        paul aitken 

        3 years ago

        i have recently got a gsd who is 18 months old, i have only had him 3 wks and i am finding that he is not very sociable to other dogs, how can i solve this

      • profile image


        3 years ago

        Hi What is the difference between the intermediate "stay" and "wait" please?

      • profile image


        3 years ago

        Great article, I hate retractable leashes as well, I also hate to see dogs walking their people. I will actually stop people and correct them in Dogs need training, all dogs need it not just our Shepherds. I believe in having well behaved dogs , all my pups live in the house as well as the puppies I bring in to train for PTSD Dogs they begin training from the moment I bring them in. I've had my girl for less than 2 months and she knows all these commands - so it doesn't take long to have a well behaved dog, although puppies will behave like puppies they will romp and play but it's important to know when they are "working" or just out and about.

      • profile image

        Susan 385 

        3 years ago

        I have a one year old German Shepherd I just got, she hasn't ever been trained. She has her days and nights mixed up and won't poop outside. I've only had her a week i know it's early but it's there anything you would recommend. I want her for a emotional therapy dog.

      • profile image


        4 years ago

        This site has been extremely helpful thank you so much I WILL be coming back to it later on when he gets bigger

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        Great lens!


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