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Training a German Shepherd: A 3-Part Plan

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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.

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

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.

Wellness WellBites Soft Natural Dog Treats, Lamb & Salmon, 8-Ounce Bag
Wellness WellBites Soft Natural Dog Treats, Lamb & Salmon, 8-Ounce Bag

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.

 
Dean and Tyler Love To Walk Dog Leash, Brown, 3/4-Inch by 6-Feet
Dean and Tyler Love To Walk Dog Leash, Brown, 3/4-Inch by 6-Feet

Professional quality leash, you'll never need another. I love the feel.

 
Rogz Utility Large 3/4" Fanbelt Half-Check Reflective Dog Collar, Black
Rogz Utility Large 3/4" Fanbelt Half-Check Reflective Dog Collar, Black

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

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

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.

Ready, Set...Training From 8 to 16 Weeks

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

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.

"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.

Phase 2: Training From 4 to 9 Months With New Challenges

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 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

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

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.

Add your experience, ask a question, or recommend your article for me to check out.

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Reader Feedback 4 comments

great-dog-obedience-techniques 5 years ago

Great lens!


Kattie 18 months ago

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


Susan 385 5 months 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.


Lisa 7 weeks 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 public...lol 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.

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