This guide is a complimentary guide to our main guide on how to train a German Shepherd, including top tips, and advice from a professional dog trainer.
In the guide below, we outline specific training tips for:
– Off Leash Training
– On Leash Training (including Pulling, Stopping, & Lunging/Barking)
– Heeling Training
Let’s take a look at some tips and things you might take into consideration!
(NOTE: this is a general information guide only, and is not professional advice, or a substitute for professional advice. A qualified vet or animal expert is the only person qualified to give you expert advice in regards to your pet/s)
German Shepherd Off Leash Training, On Leash Training, & Heeling Training: How To, Tips & Steps
Before we get into it, you might like to check out this guide which outlines some of the best overall dog leashes on the market across different categories.
Now, let’s take a look at the training tips …
German Shepherd Off Leash Training
There might be two main approaches to German Shepherd Off Leash Training.
The first is to have the dog or puppy by your side at all times.
You are in total control, and the dog is ‘heeling’ at your side.
The second is arguably as effective, but focuses on consistent attention from your GSD at a distance.
The second approach is what we are outlining below.
GSD Off Leash Training Objective and Briefing
Let’s get some boundaries set first about what we mean when we say German Shepherd ‘off leash training’.
When we talk about ‘off leash’, we are talking about letting your dog roam free at a dog park, down the beach or anywhere they are physically off their leash in public and open to interacting with their environment and its distractions.
When we talk about ‘training’ in an off leash scenario, the objective is not to have complete and utter control over your GSD to the point they are anxious not to disappoint you.
You want to make the experience enjoyable!
So, our main focus is to teach our German Shepherd Dog or Puppy to ‘check in’ with us periodically, and of course behave when interacting with distractions – other dogs, humans and random inanimate objects.
Always use positive, but firm reinforcement.
Two tips for the German Shepherd Off Leash training below are:
Tip #1 – Pay attention to the distractions that cause your GSD the most difficultly, and how it reacts to each distraction.
This can help you adjust to make your training much more effective.
Tip #2 – Introduce new distractions in the controlled environments one by one, never several at a time.
**Note: It is not wise to ever try off leash training with dogs with aggressive or dangerous behavior. Call your local dog association or German Shepherd Club to get professional training, and obtain an opinion from an animal expert if required before introducing it to an environment where it can harm itself, or other dogs and humans.
Step One: Getting Initial and Consistent Attention In a Controlled Area
Pick an enclosed private area ideally with little distractions to begin with i.e. your backyard.
What you want to do to begin is to teach your GSD to give you their attention both initially and periodically.
So, start with your German Shepherd ON their leash (an easy clip leash), and either wait for their attention to naturally fall to you, or call their name once to have their attention.
As soon as you have his or her attention, unclip the leash, and excitedly say ‘Yes’ and let them go roam in freedom.
But, don’t just let them go, encourage them to go and play.
After one or two minutes, re-clip your leash onto your GSD, and repeat the process.
You can do this step with or without treats.
Step Two: Progress to An Environment With More Distractions
Note that the environment you train your GSD in should gradually increase in the natural distractions to simulate a real off leash scenario.
Start of with few distractions and increase them as your GSD becomes more competent.
For step two, you may want to progress to your front yard for example.
In most front yards, there are people walking past, cars and general public environment distractions.
These are great natural distractions for your adult dog or puppy to be tested by.
Step Three: Move To A More Open But Enclosed Area, and Extend The Leash
You now need to move to another area with higher difficulty, like say for example an enclosed dog park, in off peak time, but still with other dogs and humans around.
Take treats or a toy reward if you need to.
Find a part of the park where you have plenty of area to work with and have either an extendable leash, or a long length(s) of thin cord or rope that you can attach to your GSD’s harness or collar securely and safely.
You want to practice exactly what you’ve been doing in your front and back yard, only at further and further distances.
If your GSD starts misbehaving, it’s very important you don’t shout at him or her, or show frustration. Simply say ‘no’ in a controlled way, re-attach the lead, wait for attention and repeat the process again.
If your German Shepherd dog or puppy is really not behaving off the leash in this environment, calmly take them home and go back to your front or back yard and add in more distractions (consider playing dog sounds on your phone in the background – get creative).
Step Four: Move to A Fully Open Area Without Restrictions
You preferably want an area with little to no moving vehicles.
A beach is good for this.
It’s the same process as Step Three.
Depending on how confident you are, either keep the long leash on your dog, or revert back to the short leash for greater control and to minimise risk.
Step Five: Bonus Step – Take Your German Shepherd Walking Without a Leash On Footpaths
We only recommend this for the most obedient dogs, and of course only in areas where it is legal/no breaking any laws to walk your dog off the leash.
The last thing you want is for your GSD to go running off into traffic injuring itself and giving you expensive vet bills, or getting you in trouble with the law!
Unless your GSD is extremely obedient, it’s probably not wise to go walking freely near major risk areas like main roads or densely populated areas.
Quiet urban neighbourhoods is probably ok at this stage.
You have the best gauge on how competent your GSD is, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
And, that is it for off lead training!
Onto on leash training …
German Shepherd On Leash Training
Below, we discuss:
– Aggressiveness (but note that if the aggressiveness is serious or has the potential to harm someone – seek professional help. Do not try to address the problem yourself)
Always remember to train your GSD with positive reinforcement and ensure you are using the right leash and collar on your walks.
1) Training Your Dog To Stop Pulling On The Leash
Things To Consider:
– Your GSD might naturally want to walk faster than you (according to quickanddirtytips.com)
You aren’t trying to get your GSD to walk by your side, but rather keep the leash slack in front of you.
– The purpose of a walk is to allow your GSD (and you) to enjoy it – including sniffing, investigating, getting exercise and fresh air.
Remember to allow your dog freedom within the constraints of your walk together – you just want some level of control as the pack leader.
– It is a German Shepherd’s natural instinct (developed in the wild before domestication) to pull when being restrained, or fight against it.
This may be why, when you combat your GSD’s pulling with your own, it rarely ever works as a solution.
– Have some level of patience, and don’t combat force with force.
– You can perform this exercise in your front yard, back yard or a public park (or anywhere with some space) while your German Shepherd Dog or Puppy is on its leash:
– Place your GSD’s favorite toy/object/piece of food a short-medium distance infront of you both and begin stepping or walking towards the toy or object (steps for difficult GSDs, and slow walking for more advanced).
– It’s very simple – when your GSD pulls, you stop and firmly but kindly say ‘No’.
– If the pulling is consistent, you call your GSD towards you and go back to the start, taking your GSD further away from its goal.
– When the leash is slack, you reward your GSD with treats, or allow it to walk right up to it’s favorite object/toy/food.
– The whole purpose of this exercise is to reward your GSD with positive reinforcement, and not continue with forceful control.
In the above scenario, you can adjust it to your liking.
You are really just using basic positive reward/incentive training method.
Take away walking and treats when your dog pulls and when the leash is strained, and add them back in when they walk next to you or walk on a slack leash without pulling.
Very simply, your dog will learn over time to associate non pulling behavior with the things they like.
Another way to do leash pulling training might be with the ‘stop’, ‘come/look’, reward and ‘go’ method. This is how it works:
1. Put your dog’s leash and harness on, and put some dog treats in a treat pouch you can carry or clip around your waist
2. Walk outside your property. The training starts as soon as you walk outside
3. As soon as your dog starts pulling and the leash is tight, say ‘stop’ and take a treat out your treat pouch.
4. Move to the side of the footpath or walking area if you have to so you don’t get in other people’s way.
Calmly call your dog’s name once every 5 seconds or so and show them the treat in your hand.
What you are trying to achieve is to get your dog to stop pulling, turn around, look at you, and come by your side for the treat.
They want to walk and explore, so, if you stop and take that away, they should soon start doing what is required to start walking again.
5. By calling your dog’s name or saying ‘come’, your dog should eventually come to you for the treat.
When they do – get them to sit, give them a treat and praise them.
6. Before you start walking again, you want your dog to sit until you give them the ‘go’ command. So, say ‘go’ and start walking again.
7. Repeat Steps 3 through 6 when they start pulling again.
8. Don’t get frustrated with yourself in the first few weeks if your dog is still acting crazy. The more quality training you do, the better it should get.
Don’t expect miracles straight away, but if your persist, you should see improvements.
9. Aim to eventually remove treat rewards and get your dog to come to you without them.
Walking should be the reward in the long term over food.
10. Eventually, your dog should start walking either by your side, or on a slack leash.
Your dog should also start being more attentive to you on walks. It’s a great feeling when you reach this point!
If you live in an area with lots of other dogs around, keep your dog on a shorter leash close to you when training (as opposed to a longer leash where they have more freedom) so they can’t lunge at or get close to other dogs.
Be on the look out for other dogs in the distance or around street corners.
How well your dog listens to you starts in the house
If you find your dog isn’t listening to you, it may be because the rules in your house are very loose and easy for your dog, and they don’t quite understand you are the leader.
To fix this, do a few activities each day that get your dog to listen to you for a reward.
Two very simple and quick activities you can do are giving your dog a treat for sitting, and when your go to feed them, make sure they sit, look at you and wait until you tell them to eat. If they go for the bowl before you say eat, simply pull it back and don’t put it down until they are sitting or laying still.
Some dogs will pull more when they have a tonne of energy.
If you’re finding it hard to get your dog’s attention on walks, it might mean they are a high energy dog that isn’t getting enough exercise.
If your dog is able to play with other dogs without trying to bite or attack them, maybe they need to go to the dog park more often where they can run around as opposed to dog walks.
If you see no progress in 1-2 months of a 20 minute/half hour daily training session, it would definitely be worth finding a professional dog trainer in your area and ask them for their advice
2) Training Your German Shepherd To Stop At Roads
Things To Consider:
Most dogs are not naturally afraid of roads or vehicles – cars, motorbikes, trucks etc.
In fact, some dogs love seeing a speeding car go past and trying to chase it.
It simply wasn’t built into a K9’s evolution to be wary of big mounds of fast moving steel and metal.
Easiest of the three. In fact, you’ve probably figured it out yourself. Simply pick an urban area with preferably some traffic, and obviously roads.
Walk towards the roads and practice getting your GSD to sit on the footpath – use a treat if required.
You eventually want to get your puppy or adult dog to a stage where you don’t have to command it stop, but rather it naturally stops and sits upon approaching the road.
3) Training Your German Shepherd To Stop Barking and Lunging/Jumping On The Leash
Things To Consider:
There are various factors that influence how your GSD reacts around other dogs. Upbringing/how your GSD has been treated, and puppy training and socialisation early in life are two major keys.
Not all behavior is aggressive. Barking at perceived threats, or jumping for example might just be signs of a good guard dog or a friendly dog trying to greet someone.
You can identify the onset of aggressive behavior, or its triggers, by watching the body language in your GSD. Tight face muscles, heightened alertness, ears pinned back and change in the pace of tail wagging and barring teeth are all signs of onset.
Your GSD is naturally aloof/not immediately trusting of strangers that it doesn’t associate with its pack. Being wary and cautious is normal. Loud growling, barking, snarling, jumping and biting is not.
There might be two main reasons why your GSD will bark loudly and incessantly: 1) It is scared 2) It is protecting it’s territory or pack (think about it for a second – how you would react to a big scary alien entering your house or approaching you while out in public?).
Understand that even if you are able to curb your GSD’s aggressive behavior, you never know about the other dogs your German Shepherd is meeting unless they are a regular. Always ask the other owner before approaching a new dog, and approach slowly to identify any signs of aggressive behavior in the other dog.
If you suspect aggressive behaivor is serious, or a risk to your dog, you, other animals and humans, the immediate step would be to take them to a professional like a vet for a health assessment
If the aggression is non serious …
The absolute best training to frustrating or aggressive behavior on the leash is prevention. Getting your GSD early puppy obedience training, and socialising it with other dogs and humans as a puppy is a great start and can combat alot of aggressive behaviors. Contact your nearest dog or German Shepherd club for a referral.
If you suspect your GSD is scared, read this DailyShep.com article about fearful behavior and try to identify the cause of the fear. We’ve included solutions/training to these fear triggers.
If the aggressive problem already exists, you want to train your dog to be non-reactionary when other dogs are around, or greet other humans and dogs positively. It’s highly recommended you and your German Shepherd Dog or Puppy attend a class specifically for aggressive dogs (usually adult dogs). You’ll get professional training on identifying triggers, and how to combat them. Ask your trainer if they think there could be something more serious going on with your GSD, or whether they can help you fix the behavior in their classes. Contact your nearest dog club or German Shepherd Association for trainers in your area.
The third approach is to avoid confrontations with other dogs altogether. As best you can, plan a walking route that has minimal aggression triggers for your GSD. This is also recommended while you are undertaking professional classes.
German Shepherd Heeling Training
German Shepherd Heeling Training Objective and Tips
The objective of your German Shepherd heeling, is to have your GSD walk by your side OFF the leash in an environment with other distractions.
Here are a few expert tips to help with your heeling training:
#1 – You should pick one side for your GSD to heel. It’s not good if your dog or puppy keeps switching sides because with a leash it gets tangled around you, or without a leash you can trip over your dog. It also just adds to the inconsistency.
#2 – If you compete in dog shows, you will heel the dog to the left as this is the side most competitions heel the dog t. So, best to pick the left.
#3 – Your GSD should know how to ‘sit’ before you teach it how to heel. If not, it will be extremely frustrating for both of you.
#4 – You can choose to do your German Shepherd heeling training with a clip leash on or off your GSD.
You obviously want to work towards off leash heeling, but for very young pups and dogs who lose concentration quickly, a leash may be necessary to begin with.
#5 – You can perform heeling training anywhere you have the space, but the ideal place is a hallway if you have access to one.
#6 – Although you will likely start out training with treats or food rewards, you want to progress to a stage where your GSD responds to commands rather than food
#7 – Heeling (like on and off leash training) can be a mentally draining activity for both you and your German Shepherd.
If you only train in 10-20 minute blocks, you decrease the frustration and keep concentration high for both of you. You want to focus on quality over quantity, especially to begin with.
#8 It can be beneficial with any training you do with your GSD, including German Shepherd Heeling training, that you have a ‘release’ word.
You use this word at the end of training, and use it to communicate to your adult dog or puppy that training is over.
Act excited and encourage your dog to go off and play. It increases the positive association your GSD has with training and obedience.
Step One: Preparation and ‘Sit’
Go to an appropriate training environment free of distractions to begin with. Prepare yourself by arming yourself with treats, and clip on your GSD’s leash if necessary.
You want to start by having one treat in your right hand. Face forwards, and get your GSD to sit by your left side by baiting him or her with your left hand (present your hand to GSD pretending to have a treat enclosed in your palm or fist) and giving them the ‘Sit’ command.
Step Two: Move and ‘Heel’
Now you want to get your German Shepherd to do the ‘heeling’ part of the training.
To do this, bring your right hand down to your left hand which you used to bait your GSD into sitting. The purpose of this is to get your GSD’s attention onto your right hand.
Bring your right hand up in the air (your GSD’s attention should now be on your right hand with the treat). The next part is very important…
Say ‘Heel’, give your GSD the ‘Heel’ signal with the right hand (the one with the treat in it) and take 4 or 5 big strides forward immediately and swiftly. It is very important that once you give the heel command, you move forward instantly and with some urgency so your adult dog or puppy learns that must also respond quickly.
The most common response to this with German Shepherd heeling training is that your dog or puppy will either stay sitting or run around to your right hand side to get the treat. It is very important you don’t act frustrated at this. Simply say ‘no’ in a calm voice and reset to the sitting position and practice again.
This is where having a leash and training within an enclosed hall can make heeling training a little easier.
If your GSD does follow you swiftly and meets up with you on your left side (without running around your front to get the treat when they get there), give him or her the treat immediately in an excited tone, and immediately go back to your original position.
Repeat this process to re-inforce the behavior.
Step Three: Extended Heeling
Once your German Shepherd is comfortable heeling for one repetition over short distances, extend the distance, and the number of repetitions.
Remember, you want to decrease your GSD’s reliance on treats as you progress with this, and ultimately do it without a leash.
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