Training A German Shepherd Dog
March 28, 2019
When it comes to dog training, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ method. As each breed has different levels of ability and intelligence it is highly recommended that you find specific advice on how to train a particular breed.
As German Shepherds are commonly used as service animals, this means that it isn’t impossible to train them – no matter how stubborn they may be to start off with! German Shepherd dogs aren’t just loyal dogs, they also enjoy learning and pleasing their owners!
German Shepherds were originally bred for herding and guarding, this means that through the years, they have developed the personality, characteristics and energy levels for that original purpose. However, their high energy levels have been utilised for many other services, such as in the police force and in the military.
The first step to successful German Shepherd training is recognising how to approach each new training exercise or session. If you fail to pay attention to this crucial aspect of the training, you’ll find that your German Shepherd won’t take too kindly to your commands!
There are plenty of things which you will need to train a German Shepherd – especially if they are a puppy. The advice given in this article is primarily for owners with new German Shepherd puppies, but if you happen to have an older dog which needs training, you will still be able to follow this advice. Just be wary that they may be a little less responsive to training.
Step 1 – Body Language
What to Do:
Use behaviour which will encourage and motivate your German Shepherd, if you’re not energetic about the delivery of your commands, your dog won’t be energetic about making sure that you see the results. Always approach each new session with positive body language and expressions and always be ready to offer praise for accomplishments and desired behaviour.
However, you will want to ensure that you are being firm with your dog. You don’t want your dog to mistake your training sessions with playtime. That’s not to say you have to be stern! Find the perfect balance between enthusiastic which works for you and your dog.
What Not to Do:
Under no circumstances can you get angry at your dog during your training sessions. This involves physical reprimands of any severity. Losing your temper during training will ensure that your dog, will quickly become hesitant with any new training. Always make sure that your demeanour is calm and collected.
Step 2 – Start with the Basics
Puppy training should start at eight weeks old. This will allow you to work with the dog’s personality before they start to learn any bad habits.
Before you get concerned with anything else, you will need to ensure that your German Shepherd has been properly socialised. When it comes to dog breeds, they don’t come much more protective than the German Shepherd!
Your German Shepherd will need to meet other animals, at the same time as meeting plenty of new people including children. This needs to be done at an early age to prevent aggression and fear in later life. Invite over relatives and friends to let your puppy know that other people visiting the house is okay, and make sure they get plenty of interaction with other friendly puppies when exercising.
Along with basic toilet training, you will need to ensure that your dog understands basic commands such as sit, stay and come. You may not get immediate results in the beginning but always remain patient.
Reward-based training is the best way to ensure results. Always make sure you have treats on hand, and you only reward your dog when you have seen the desired behaviour.
Step 3 – Address Any Issues with Bowl Aggression
Bowl aggression can be a big problem with any dog. However, some breeds such as the German Shepherd can be more likely to get defensive when it comes to meal times.
After you have placed down your dog’s food and they’ve headed over to the bowl, pet them and see if they stiffen up or show any other signs of hostility towards you. If this is the case, prove to them that you’re not a threat by adding extra food to the bowl to show that you are giving and not taking!
If this doesn’t work, you will need to feed every piece of food to your pet by hand and only give your dog the food when they have followed the appropriate commands!
If your dog shows aggression at any point – do not hesitate to contact a professional behaviour expert and express your concerns with them. But always remember that feeding time is the perfect time to get your dog to follow your commands and learn new things!
Step 4 – Moving Away from Food Incentives
Treats can work as an incentive for your dog to follow orders for a while, however, you will be in danger of your dog only performing tricks when they are given food. Wean them off the treats by only give them intermittently between the successful commands. Make sure that you still vocally praise your dog after each time they give you the desired behaviour.
Step 5 – Moving Onto Bigger Things
If you have big plans for your German Shepherd and would like them to eventually become a service animal, you may want to consider taking them to special training classes where they will be able to learn alongside other pups! Pups can be enrolled after the age of eight weeks. Just make sure they are fully up to date with all of their jabs and shots first before you allow your dog to socialise with other dogs! You will need to provide proof of your dog’s medical history before you enrol. Remember, socialisation is an incredibly important aspect of your dog’s training as German Shepherds tend to be more anxious than other dogs, they will lash out to protect themselves rather than doing it out of aggression. This is why you will need to watch your tone of voice during all training sessions.
German Shepherd History
Early attempts were made in Europe in and around the 1850s to standardize breeds. Herders of stock animals wanted an animal that could assist them in herding and protection. In Germany, shepherds selected and bred dogs they believed maintained the type of traits desired for this type of work, resulting in a variety of dogs with various abilities suited to the task.
In an attempt to standardize these various breeds, the Phylax Society was formed in 1891. Though disbanded just three years later due to indecision, they inspired others to carry on the task.
Thus in 1899, ‘Horand von Grafrath’ became known as the first German Shepherd dog, his purchaser Von Stephanitz founded the ‘Vereinfür Deutsche Schäferhunde’ (Society for the German Shepherd Dog).
German Shepherds were used by the German army during World War One, which added a big kick-start to their popularity. Movies like ‘Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart’ further augmented the popular dog’s name.
Behaviour and Intelligence
Like all dog breeds developed to assist herding activities, German Shepherds are extremely intelligent dogs!
However, this breed tends to view outsiders with suspicion and be a bit slow to accept others as ‘friendly companions’. They have a dominant nature, so it is important you establish an understanding of the hierarchal role they play in your family environment.
German Shepherd Service Dog Training
Their intelligence, trainability, and desire to work put German Shepherds amongst the top of the list as the breed of choice for service tasks. Many dogs were and are selectively bred and used in various programs to help people with disabilities.
Even today, there are many programs and schools that are selectively breeding their own lineage for service work.
K9 Police Dog Training
Due to their heightened sense of smell, overall intelligence, and dominant nature, training the German Shepherd dog for police work took hold in the 1970s, although Germany had used them for similar purposes many years prior.
Although they are often used to locate illegal substances in a wide variety of circumstances, their main purpose, above all others, is to help keep policemen and servicemen safe.
A well-trained canine team is essential to effectively deterring criminal activity, assisting police in locating illegal drugs and explosives, in tracking fugitives and locating missing persons.