German Shepherd training needs to take account of their hard working heritage. German Shepherds were bred to be intelligent, alert, quick, and strong. These traits make German Shepherds great fun to train. But they can also make an untrained German Shepherd a handful in the modern home!
Effective modern German Shepherd training taps into the breed’s intelligence in a positive way, helping you build a happy and productive relationship with your dog.
The Appeal of German Shepherds
German Shepherds consistently make the top ten most popular dog breed lists in the UK and US. They have been the second most popular dog on the AKC’s Breed Popularity lists for more than 5 years. Losing out only to the ever popular Labrador Retriever.
Their specific set of talents and their tendency to be highly trainable has led them to become one of the most widely-used working breeds in a variety of sports and work.
But what happens if you choose not to train your German Shepherd?
Big Dogs Need Good Manners
German Shepherds are strong, active, intelligent dogs. But big strong dogs need good manners, and manners are taught through training!
Big dogs need to learn not to pull on the lead, not to rush through doors, not to jump up at people without invitation.
Training your German Shepherd will help them to be more gentle and calm, and will reduce your stress when you are out and about with him.
Intelligent Dogs Need To Use Their Brains!
If they don’t use their brains they become bored, and that leads to mischief. Bored German Shepherds are still clever German Shepherds. Highly-intelligent dogs, when left to their own devices, can wreak havoc in a home.
They may work out how to open bins or doors, how to access forbidden items. They may harm themselves. They will certainly make a mess.
I’ve had training clients whose German Shepherds learned to escape steel crates. They could find their way into secured food bins and refrigerators, and open cupboards all over the house to ease their boredom.
Even my own managed to open the front door of a pet sitter’s home. And to go for an unsupervised stroll around the neighborhood.
German Shepherd training will challenge your dog’s brain, reducing boredom, and will burn off some of that energy!
Active Dogs Need Exercise
Additionally, dogs that are speedy and athletic like German Shepherd dogs need significant amounts of exercise. Pent-up energy leads to major destructive tendencies, including chewing through doors and walls and digging holes in your yard.
Now, before we scare you off from the breed completely, it’s important to understand that a well-trained shepherd who gets plenty of exercise and mental stimulation is a pleasure to own. These dogs have a reputation that lands makes them a favorite of dog owners all around the world. Ask anyone who has owned one. You’ll hear more stories of pure affection and loyalty than the horror stories of one untrained.
The Nature of German Shepherd Training
German Shepherd training needs to be consistent, regular and positive. They need great routines, planned training exercises and plenty of socialization too.
As a powerful breed with some guarding instincts, clicker training is the most effective approach. You can learn the basics of how to clicker train your dog in Happy Puppy Site founder Pippa’s training courses.
German Shepherd Training Tips
Here are a few general tips to guide your German Shepherd Dog training:
- Start right away with your German Shepherd puppy training.
- Raise a well-rounded, emotionally stable Shepherd by ensuring proper socialization throughout puppyhood and adolescence.
- Stick to positive reinforcement training techniques.
German Shepherds were selected for being fearless. This is a behavioral trait that can clash with compulsion, shock collar, or punishment-based training. Studies have shown that dogs with underlying aggression tendencies can be made much worse using these aversive training techniques. Therefore, we always recommend using positive training methods.
German Shepherd Obedience Training
Your initial German Shepherd training should focus on basic obedience. Start with teaching her about her new home and routine, being gentle with people, and potty training.
Then move into training for safety, like crate training, leash training, and coming when you call.
An additional trained behavior I found useful with my own German Shepherd training includes the cue to “leave it”; with respect to ignoring other animals, people, and items on the ground. Due to their high alertness, strong scenting talents, and protective nature, GSDs often need to be reassured when it’s time to be “off-duty” and relaxed.
Everything moving forward is a continuation of these training basics by adding distractions and practicing in lots of different places.
If you would like help training the ‘foundation skills’ of obedience using positive methods, take a look at Happy Puppy Site founder Pippa’s training courses.
German Shepherd Leash Training
There are two very significant factors that make leash training your German Shepherd dog absolutely critical: their size and their persistence.
This is not a small breed! And with proportionately large and powerful chests, their forward-pull strength will leave most humans in their dust.
Couple that with a dog bred to be fearlessly curious or protective and you end up with an owner that’s very likely to be dragged headfirst down the sidewalk after a neighborhood cat (again, I’m speaking from personal experience).
I highly recommend trying out the PetSafe Easy Walk Harness in conjunction with regular leash-training.
The Easy Walk Harness is uniquely designed similarly to a horse lead. It slightly cinches at the dog’s shoulders – their fulcrum of power. Helping you to slow them down or turn them one direction or another with much less effort than traditional collar leashes or chest harnesses.
Ongoing German Shepherd Training
A lot of dog owners tend to phase out training after they’ve completed puppy class or basic obedience.
It’s very important that this doesn’t become the case if you own a German Shepherd. Here’s why:
GSDs go through a pretty significant adolescence anywhere from 6 to 18 months of age. During which additional socialization and ongoing training is critical.
A lack of ongoing German Shepherd training can potentially lead to the development of some of these characteristic behavioral problems:
- Overprotective tendencies toward owner and family members
- Barrier Aggression. (Barking at, lunging, pacing, and attacking people or animals on the other side of a fence, window, or door)
- Incessant nervous or excited whining and barking
- Nipping and biting characteristic of herding breeds
- Separation anxiety
Continued training and socialization will significantly reduce the chances of these problems.
Games and Activities for Keeping Clever Dogs Enriched
Intelligent, energetic dogs like German Shepherds benefit significantly from mental stimulation in addition to ongoing training and exercise.
Those that don’t often end up exhibiting one of these signs of boredom:
- Digging excessively in the backyard.
- Your neighbors complaining that he barks all day while you’re gone.
- Chewing on anything and everything in the house.
- Getting into the trash constantly and dragging out everything across the house.
- Gaining weight.
- Following you around constantly when you are home.
Try to ensure your GSD is getting enough mental stimulation. Rotating toys, using puzzle feeders, and implementing clever enrichment to break up their routine are all great ways to do this.
A Note About German Shepherd Military Training
As you probably know, German Shepherds are one of the most common breeds utilized in police and military K9 units. All of the temperament characteristics we’ve mentioned in this article make them superstars in tracking suspects, locating missing persons, explosive and drug detection, and even attack.
The training techniques utilized for these types of work should be left to professionals in those fields.
Dabbling with targeted aggression is a very dangerous activity. It could lead to serious injury of people and dogs and could ultimately result in the removal of your dog.
Good German Shepherd Dog Training Leads to GREAT Companions
All in all, the loyal and intelligent German Shepherd Dog is a global favorite breed for a reason. By following these German Shepherd training tips and techniques and socializing them regularly, these dogs can be a stellar example of man’s best friend.
We love hearing stories about great dogs. So if you have a favorite story to share about your German Shepherd, be sure to let us know in the comments below!
Liz London is a certified dog trainer through the Certifying Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT-KA) & the Karen Pryor Academy (Dog Trainer Foundations Certification). With regular continuing education courses from the top animal trainers from all over the world, including Michele Pouliot, director of training for the Guide Dogs for the Blind. She has trained zoo animals, search & rescue canines and gundogs. And helped people raise happy, healthy, and well-behaved canine companions for over ten years.
References and Further Reading
- Herron et al. 2009. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors Applied Animal Behavior Science, 2009.