We wanted to put together a good foundational guide for how to train your German Shepherd.
The guide below is therefor split into two parts:
– 10 General Tips For Training Your German Shepherd
– Advice From A Professional Dog Trainer On Training German Shepherds, & Dogs In General
At the very bottom of this guide, we’ve also linked you to a guide that outlines basic and advanced commands that every dog owner might like to know/be aware of.
Let’s take a closer look !
(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)
How To Train Your German Shepherd – 10 Tips, & Advice From A Professional Dog Trainer
Advice From A Professional Dog Trainer On Training Dogs
We had the opportunity to sit down and interview professional dog trainer Val Bonney from Bonnies, we were happy she could give us her time.
Val’s official title is Canine Specialist, International Trainer and Author, but to be honest, that sells her short.
She has almost 40 years of experience in the dog industry and has experience in (but is not limited to):
Dog Behavior Analysis and Specialization
Working with Vets and Owners
Running and Managing Training Schools
Being a Member Of Police Dog Training Associations and Various Other Clubs and Associations
Working with Police Dogs and their handlers in China
Being a Senior Obedience Judge
Trials Her Own Dogs In Competition
And of course is an Author
Her career experience goes on and on.
But, without further ado, let’s jump into some practical how-to advice and tips for training and obedience for dogs from Val herself.
We’ve separated the information into both puppy and adult dog training parts, and we’ve also contributed in some topics.
German Shepherd Temperament & Behavior
Before we talk about training your GSD, it’s helpful to know a bit about their temperament.
The more you know about your dog, the more you can work with them positively to build a bond, but also achieve training results both of you are after.
What Val says about German Shepherd Temperament and Behavior:
“Firstly you have to understand what is the difference between Temperament, and Environment.
Temperament comes with the dog and comes from its parentage.
Good solid characters in the parents makes for a temperamentally sound dog. Genetic problems in parentage can give you a badly behaved dog with huge problems.
Environmental/Behaviour is how you have worked with the dog in your environment from a puppy.
If it has been sound, wise and aimed at the dog being obedient then you will have what you need for further obedience and a great companion as it matures.
A dog can have a great temperament, but if you the owner do all the wrong things with it in the environment it is growing up in, then you may have some huge problems develop.
Behaviour may be shocking. Training is easy with a dog of both soundness in temperament and behaviour in its environment.
German Shepherds from good stock (parents) are usually a joy to own, to educate, and to teach/train. They have to learn to live with you as a part of your family, and this can only happen if their behaviour is acceptable. (This is up to you.)”
German Shepherd Puppy Training
Training a puppy is different to training a full grown adult dog.
There’s basic commands and obedience to teach.
There’s also potty training, crate training and house training to consider.
German Shepherd Puppy Basic Obedience & Commands
What Val says about teaching your Puppy basic obedience & commands:
“Firstly check the school/classes out yourself. You don’t send your child to kindergarten unless you have checked it out. Do you?
It needs socializing with as many other dogs of both sizes and breeds as is possible.
This doesn’t mean it gets thrown in with piles of other puppies, and left to its own devices. It must be a controlled situation.
It needs to be guided into walking on lead, it can be encouraged with the use of a toy or food (motivated) to do as it is asked.
It needs to be taught to sit, and heel and come when called.
Puppy classes can cover lots of other things, but all must be done under a trainer’s supervision,.
REMEMBER:- What a puppy learns between 8 and 16 weeks, is the whole basis of its Adult life.
He/she never forgets what he/she has learnt during this time, but sometimes as he/she gets older he/she very conveniently slots it all to the back of its head, if it is not a part of his/her daily life.
Learning to focus is one of the main things which should be taught at puppy training level.
A dog that looks at you when you call its name is a joy to own, as you can then give it other signals to do what you want.
I believe the most important command a dog can be given is to Recall (come) when called. This has to be total instance response to this particular command.
This can only be achieved if when on lead, the command ‘Come’ is given and the dog’s response is a willing, excited manner 100 out of 100 times. (Not all at once please.)
Then you can do it off lead and be sure your dog/pup will react in the manner you want it to. This response given immediately can save your dogs life in some situations, and will stand it in good stead for the rest of its life.”
German Shepherd Puppy Potty, Crate & House Training
What Val says about Potty, Crate & House Training:
“To me this is just so important. The crate becomes your dogs den.
Get one from the time you bring the pup home, but get one large enough to take a full grown Shepherd.
You can get them with inserts that are placed within the crate, and can be removed as the puppy grows.
Use the crate at night, pop pup in, close the door and cover the crate to make it a little darker.
Dogs sleep better in the dark. If it is upset at first, it will get over it in a couple of nights.
You may like to pop the pup in there during the day to feed it.
Get it used to being there. Don’t put food and water in the crate at night.
Remember what goes in does have to come out.
I very rarely get up to a dog at night. You will know if that becomes necessary.
My own dogs sleep crated from 8 weeks of age, until they pass on.
The crate should be kept indoors. This dog is a part of your family; please don’t make it feel ostracised by putting it outside.
The dog that sleeps indoors make a much better watch dog for you anyhow as it matures.
It’s not worried about wildlife or what is happening down the street. Just if someone or something foreign should enter your home. It will then let you know.
The crate becomes your dog’s home, and it is very secure within it.
Using a crate takes care of all toileting issues. Dogs very rarely soil the area in which they immediately sleep.
You can wash the crate should your dog inadvertently have a mishap.”
German Shepherd Adult Dog Training
As an adult, your dog should already have a good grounding in basic obedience and commands.
But, what if you want to progress into advanced training, compete, or even enter dog sports like Schutzhund?
German Shepherd Advanced Tricks and Training
What Val says about teaching your GSD advanced training and tricks:
“Please ensure your Shepherd goes to a good Trainer – check them out before you book in.
All dogs need Obedience Training.
If after you have completed your Basic Obedience you wish to go further, then you can make enquiries within you area, of who is available to do further advanced training.
Again be selective.
If you want a good family pet, if you have done all suggested here, then you really don’t need to have really advanced training for your family pet.”
German Shepherd Dog Shows and Competing
What Val says about getting your dog into Showing and competition:
“If you wish to compete in Obedience Trials then you need to find a Club which does this. This type of things can be very exciting and satisfying.
There are several levels – C.C.D. C.D. C.D.X. U.D. UDX.
These are the levels in order that you can achieve. They all take time and dedication to reach.
They are all Titled events.”
German Shepherd Schutzhund & Other Dog Disciplines
What Val says about Schutzhund & Other Dog Disciplines:
“If you wish to do other disciplines with your dog, such as Agility, Schutzhund, Tracking, Search and Rescue, gun dog work, or even Therapy work, then you need to be extra careful in the selection of the person who teaches your dog any of these disciplines.
They are specialist’s areas.
You will have to look around, and I repeat be very selective of where you send or take this wonderful companion of yours too.
Make sure your pet doesn’t start Agility until it is at least 12 months of age.
Its bones are still setting and you could cripple your dog if you go too early. It can’t compete until it is at least 18 months of age anyhow.”
German Shepherd K9 Training & Police Dog Work
What Val says about how police and k9 dogs:
“Dogs that do Service work are special, and dogs like our German Shepherds make great Service dogs, although we now find many other Breeds being utilized within certain Service areas.
The G.P (General Purpose) Dog is quite often the German Shepherd.
His size, his temperament, and his training make him extremely suitable for this type of work. His soundness in his behaviour is a must.
Most of the Services (Police, Air Force, and Prisons) have their own handlers for each of their dogs. They train them in all they need to know.
The Services teach their dogs whatever areas they want their dogs to work in – Drug Detection, Bomb Detection, General purpose (will include attack work) Tracking, Search & Rescue, and any other areas in which a dog can be used.
Services now use quite a few other breeds to do the type of work they require from it.
The Airports use many Beagles to do their searching of baggage for plants and other products. They are light in stature, and the people don’t mind them going over their baggage, and sometime themselves, but they may object to a German Shepherd with its size and weight doing the same thing.
Service dogs are trained to work singularly with their handler. Male or Female officers, train their dogs daily, have their dogs basically live with them and within their family, and love their dogs to death.
The dog and handler becomes a pair. No one else handles their individual dog.
When their dogs reach around 7 or even sometimes 8 years, they are quite often retired, and the handler is given a new dog. The dog they have just retired is taken home to live out its life with the handler’s family.
These dogs live a very active and fruitful life and are cherished until the day they pass over.”
German Shepherd Dog & Puppy Training Summary
We would like to thank Val for her time and contribution to creating this German Shepherd dog training article.
We hope you’ve got something useful out of it.
On that note, we will leave you with one final piece of advice from Val on training your dog, whether you’re a beginner or expert:
“Never lose sight of the fact your dog is a CANINE. It is not a human being. Do not treat your Shepherd like a surrogate child.
If you treat your dog like a human, it may treat you like another dog.
Discipline has to be just, quick and firm. You get about 4 seconds to make any correction. Never PUNISH your dog. Just a quick correction is all it will really ever need. Remember a 4 second window.
Your VOICE is the best training aid you can use, and remember “any piece of equipment is only as good as the person using it.
Enjoy your German Shepherd, Love it, have respect for it and it will have respect for you.
For more information on educating yourself to be a great companion for your German Shepherd, you may like to head over to Val’s website to have a read of her content, and check out her range of books – “Who’s the Boss? “Are you still the Boss?” and “Hey Baby – Who’s the Boss”?.
We linked to Val’s website at the beginning of this section.
10 General Tips For Training Your German Shepherd
These general tips are from our own research and experience …
1) Training And Bonding Begins As A Puppy
You should start socializing, training and taking your German Shepherd to obedience classes as a puppy.
Building a bond between you and your dog should start immediately and be a consistent focus too.
A few weeks after your puppy is welcomed into your household, you should start training and socializing.
Not only does this teach your puppy how to interact with other dogs and humans in a healthy and socially acceptable way, but it teaches your GSD the basic commands and actions you both need fit into each other’s lifestyles.
Some of the dogs with serious aggression, fearful actions or other behavioral problems were either mistreated as a puppy, or simply didn’t learn basic obedience or socialization early on.
2) Understand The Line or Type of GSD You Have
Knowing the line or type of GSD you have will help you understand its strengths and weaknesses, and benefit you both in the long term.
What makes your GSD excited? What makes anxious? How does it react to one stimulus or trigger over another?
What drives do they have – particularly working and prey drives?
For example, working line Eastern European GSDs were bred specifically for obedience and to work in highly disciplined settings like military work.
It’s possible your working line GSD could have a high appetite for obedience activities to keep it mentally stimulated.
GSDs are by nature of their breed intelligent and highly trainable, so you shouldn’t have an issue with training show line GSDs either. The style of training and type of training in the long term might just be slightly different.
3) Lead and Love Your German Shepherd Puppy Before You Train Them
Your GSD puppy will demand two things from you before you can train it most effectively:
a) Your leadership (establish yourself as the one with the final word)
b) Your love, trust and care
This all starts from your household. It’s not about being a dictator and having complete control over your puppy. It’s about letting your GSD know in a clear, but fair way, that you are at the top of the hierarchy and you lead them, not the other way around.
Care for your GSD, feed them, spend time playing and walking together, but in all areas, your word must be followed, no exceptions.
4) Positive Reinforcement Is Most Effective
Positive reinforcement training is so much more effective and healthy than forceful training (shouting and being too controlling).
If your GSD acts out of fear of your reaction for doing the wrong thing, this is an unhealthy way to train. It makes your GSD anxious, and fearful behavior can lead to negative consequences.
You’re already the leader in their eyes, so why not associate training and obedience to commands with positive emotions, rather than overly dominating and negative ones?
If positive reinforcement isn’t effective, your GSD may need to see a professional trainer or animal behavior specialist for other training methods, or possibly a behavior assessment.
5) Keep Training Sessions Short, and Consider Using a Release Word
When you begin training your GSD puppy, you want to focus on quality over quantity.
GSD puppies by nature want to please you and can be overly eager sometimes with their youthful exuberance until they mature a little.
Keeping your training session to 10-20 minutes can help with this.
Secondly, consider have a release word that you say with lots of excitement and positivity when you finish your training sessions. Something simple like ‘Finished’ can work well.
Don’t say it right in their face as this can shock them.
But, say the word in an excited tone from a small distance (they will begin to identify the word positively over time), give them a neck or side rub, and encourage to go off and play in freedom.
6) Training Has Two Basic Elements – Attention, and Commands/Actions
Training can be very difficult, or very simple.
You must understand how each of the above two things work first in order to be a good trainer.
Firstly, you must have your GSD’s attention before it will listen to your commands. Attention is gained by establishing yourself as a clear leader.
If you have trouble getting your GSD’s attention, you might be being too lenient in the household, or not firm enough in your commands.
Per DogBreeds101.org, here are some points to keep in mind if you feel as though you need to be more disciplined in your leadership around the house:
– Don’t allow the dog to go places you don’t want it to, like on the bed. Some people allow their pets access to the couch, but some pets may regard that as a form of ownership. The rule here would be to only allow your canine pet on the couch if you are already on it and invite it to join you. It would be best to keep it off the couch entirely, however.
– Let your dog play with toys when it is a puppy. Don’t give the toys to the puppy; however, lend these to them. The toys are your toys, the pack leader’s toys, and you’re simply allowing the puppy to play with them. You don’t want a grown pack member that is overly possessive about its toys. The toys belong to the leader of the pack.
– No matter what game you play with your dog, you as the pack leader, are the one who is supposed to win. Pack leaders always win, especially in games involving strength.
– Give your canine buddy a daily grooming, especially around the neck and head. Many dogs don’t like to be touched on the back of the shoulders or on their paws. By doing so regularly, you are showing them that you, as the pack leader, are entitled to do so.
– Eat before you feed your dog and when you go through a doorway, teach it to follow you. Pack leaders eat first and go through doorways first. Don’t feed your dog from the dinner table or from your own food.
– When you begin actual training and you use treats, which is perfectly acceptable, don’t give your dog a treat to entice it to do something. A treat is a reward for the dog having done something you wanted it to do. Make your German shepherd earn the treat. You’ll both feel better about it.
Secondly, your GSD will act based on how it interprets the command.
If your command is not clear enough (too many words, or elongated hand and body actions), or too similar to another command, your GSD will get confused.
If you can combine attention with clear and easy to understand commands, you will boost the effectiveness of your training.
Repetition is the key after your GSD learns the basics of a particular command.
7) Use Treats and Leashes Sparingly
Minimizing treats is required for two reasons:
a) You want your GSD to obey your leadership, not be bribed by your food
b) Too many treats = fat puppy, and the effectiveness of the treats wears off over time
When teaching more advanced obedience lesson like off leash walking and training, or even extended heeling for example, a leash might be necessary almost through to completion of the skill.
However, even with advanced training, you should look to lose the leash as quickly as possible where there is no risk to other or your GSD, so your puppy reacts out of their own free choice rather than feeling restricted or trapped.
8) Avoid Moving Too Quickly – One Skill and Step At A Time
Training can be frustrating and confusing at the best of times, even for you, and you’re the leader!
To make things simplified and easier on both you and your GSD puppy, only ever practice and master one set of training or skill at a time. Don’t move onto ‘Dropping’, and ‘Rolling’, for example, until you’ve fully mastered ‘Sitting’.
To add to that, with an advanced skill like off leash walking, you will be required to add distractions to the training session. Only ever add one distraction at a time.
9) Professional Training Is Required Sometimes
All puppies need basic obedience training and socializing when they are younger.
However, some GSDs for whatever reason may have aggression problems, or be abnormally scared.
These cases require specialized and professional level training to help them through these barriers.
Specialized trainers and professionals should be able to tell you if your GSD’s behavioral issues require vet attention.
Some GSDs may not even have behavioral issues. Guard, police, rescue and service or military dogs will require specialized training regimes.
10) Find Your Nearest Dog Association Or German Shepherd Club
Dog associations and German Shepherd clubs can not only refer you to your closest breeder or rescue centre, but also refer you to reputable trainers and give you all sorts of great free advice.
Find your nearest association or club ASAP!
Other Training Resources/Guides For Dogs
List of basic and advanced commands for dogs to learn
Crate training for puppies and dogs
On leash, and off leash training for dogs
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