8 German Shepherd Training Tips You Can Use
German shepherd training really starts the day you first bring the puppy into your home. There are some things you will want to be aware of even before you purchase a book on dog training, which is not a bad idea if you’re not sure just where to start. If you’ve never owned a German shepherd before, or never tried to train a dog before, the information you’ll find in the next few paragraphs should help to get you started in the right direction.
Why This Breed Makes a Good Scholar
Two of the reasons the German shepherd (or simply “shepherd”) makes a good scholar is that it is a very intelligent breed to begin with and it is also a dog that is bred to respond well to training, which is one reason they make excellent police, guard, service, and rescue dogs. If you purchase a puppy of this breed from an established breeder, you’ll more than likely be bringing a bright, young student into your household. In short, it’s all in the breeding.
The German shepherd tends to be extremely playful as a puppy, which in some instances, could be a challenge when it comes to doing its schoolwork, but the truth of the matter is that these little canines enjoy companionship and want, or practically demand, to be involved in everything. That desire to be involved in everything can be put to your advantage when you begin your training activities.
Introducing Your Dog to New Surroundings
You can’t bring any dog into your home and expect it to immediately begin doing what you tell it to do, even if it’s an adult that has had previous obedience training. With a puppy, you’re naturally starting at ground zero. The dog has to first and foremost become acquainted and comfortable with its new surroundings. It will need to spend a little time exploring before it is willing to devote its attention to you, or to schoolwork. Give your pet time to adjust to its surroundings, learn where its food and water bowls are located, and where to pee (which will naturally take some time for a puppy). It also has to learn where it is not allowed to go. Once it understands its boundaries, training will be much easier. First and foremost however, your four-legged friend needs to understand who the boss is, and that is where you may need to learn a few of the responsibilities of being a pack leader.
Becoming the Pack Leader – Rules for You to Follow
If the teacher doesn’t have control of the classroom, the students aren’t apt to learn much. If your shepherd dog doesn’t recognize you as the leader of the pack, it will either ignore you or try to take the lead itself.
Training involves more than just teaching your shepherd dog commands. You first have to teach the dog to pay attention to you, and to do that, it has to recognize you as the leader of the pack. Dogs listen to and follow their pack leader. Being the pack leader isn’t restricted to training time. You have to be the pack leader all of the time, which means you have to start teaching the dog boundaries of behavior before you even think about teaching it to ‘sit’ or ‘stay’.
Here are a few things to bear in mind that will let your pet know who’s running the show.
- 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. 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.
- 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.
Now that you’re the leader, you’re positioned to become a good teacher.
The Importance of Vocabulary Lessons
Whether dogs understand words or just sounds isn’t always clear. They most likely can’t make sense of phrases or long sentences, although they can certainly pick words or sounds out that they recognize. The good thing about all of this is that you don’t have to teach your German shepherd a large vocabulary, and in most instances, a very limited vocabulary is all the dog ever needs to respond to. Single word commands are best, since it is presumed the meaning of them is easier for the animal to grasp.
Five Powerful Little Words – A five-word vocabulary may be all your pooch needs unless you are teaching it to roll-over, fetch, or act as a guide-dog. These five words are sit, stay, down, come, and heel. While it could be argued that come is the most important of these commands, all of them are important if you want a well-mannered and obedient pet.
No Treats, with One Possible Exception – In general, you don’t want to use treats in teaching these basic commands. The one exception is when you are teaching your dog to stay, and you are asking it to stay for what the dog might think of being an excruciating long time. Leave the spot too soon and there will be no reward. For the most part, dogs learn to sit, stay, come, heel, and get down because you as the pack leader have told them to.
Praise is Far Better than Treats – Giving your canine pet plenty of praise is not only advisable but also practically essential. Most dogs thrive on it, and you and your dog will be far better off if it sees praise as its reward instead of a treat. Giving enthusiastic praise when your pet seems to be getting the idea of what a given command means usually speeds the learning process along and solidifies bonding.
Show Your Dog What You Expect – The only real secret to successfully teaching a dog these commands is, after you have its undivided attention, showing it what you expect it to do when you give a certain command. Most dogs learn to sit and lay down easily, and will quickly learn to heel when kept on a short leash. The stay command may require a bit more patience on your part, and for some breeds, the come command often takes a huge amount of patience and constant reinforcing. Still, you don’t want to give a dog a treat for coming when called, as you might do when practicing ‘stay’.
Using a Little Horse Sense – One piece of advice that can be helpful in teaching a dog to assume a position such as ‘sit’ or ‘stand for show’ is to make it easy for the dog to do the right thing and more difficult for them to do the wrong thing. Horse trainers do this all the time, and teaching a horse a command usually takes a lot more time than it takes to teach a German shepherd. When you teach a dog the sit command for example, you apply pressure in the places that make it easier for the dog to lower its rear end to the floor, while making it more difficult for the dog to remain standing. It will quickly get the idea.
In teaching this simple vocabulary of basic commands, avoid saying please. You’re the pack leader. You don’t just want your dog to sit or heel. You expect it to sit or heel.
The Training Routine
Going to school will be a new experience for your puppy. Unless you’ve been through the process before, it will be new to you as well, and you could be excused for being a little uncertain as to how you should proceed. You really can’t just start out by telling your puppy to ‘sit’ and then hope for the best, so here are a few things worth keeping in mind that will make it easier for both the puppy and its pack leader.
- Tell yourself that you are the best teacher your pooch can have. If you’re willing to work at it, you will be telling the truth. Your dog would rather please you than anyone else, which should help to make your teaching efforts more effective.
- Work at one command at a time. ‘Sit’ is recommended since it is almost always the easiest command for a dog to learn. Do not go on to the next command until this first command has been mastered. Teach your dog one command at a time, in serial fashion, not going on to the next command until the previous one has been mastered. Otherwise, you might find yourself with a pet that is somewhat unpredictable when it comes to responding to commands because it hasn’t mastered them.
- Try to keep praise and reward in the right balance. Let praise be the reward. There’s no such thing as punishment; just make doing the wrong thing more difficult.
- Keep the training sessions short and intense. A puppy will often have the attention span of a toddler, which is to say about the same duration as a lightning bolt. Keep your furry friend busy with the business at hand. When it begins to lose interest, it’s usually best to close up shop until the next day. As time goes by, you will usually find the sessions can be a bit longer, but it’s still best to keep them short.
- Incorporate what your pet has learned into your daily routine. You do not want a dog that will only heel during class, but not when you’re out for a walk.
- When teaching the basics, avoid distractions. After your dog has mastered a few commands, you can begin introducing distractions to reinforce obedience. The ‘stay’ command will be an excellent test for learning to ignore distractions.
What has been discussed so far could be referred to as puppy kindergarten. Once canine pal has learned to follow the five basic commands, you should have a happy, well-behaved pet, and there may not need to be much additional training if simply having a good family pet is your goal. Sometimes, a dog needs what is commonly referred to as obedience training, which is often on a more advanced level. A few dogs really need this type of training, and need it to be done by a professional trainer. Most German shepherds do not require this type of training unless they are being trained for a specific purpose. Advanced training isn’t going to hurt them any of course, whether they need it or not.
Much of the training at the obedience level has to do with socializing. In addition, there is always the dog who, for reasons unknown, looks at the world a bit differently, and will therefore benefit from training under guidance of a dog expert. Puppies from the same litter do not necessarily take on identical personalities. A dog that is unusually aggressive, inattentive, or afraid of its own shadow, will usually benefit from attending obedience school.
It’s important for you to understand that, from a behavioral point of view, learning commands and learning obedience are not quite the same thing.
Specialized Training – Guard Dog/ Police Dog/ Rescue Dog/Service Dog
There are many breeds that make good watchdogs. These are breeds that will raise a fuss if they sense something is not right, but do not become overly aggressive, although they may have a strong sense of being protective. A guard dog is another matter, and there are probably only a handful of breeds that make excellent guard dogs. The German shepherd is one of these. Training this breed to be a guard dog is something that is best left to a professional, even though the breed tends to take to this type of training more readily than most. In fact, if you are considering purchasing a puppy that will be performing a specialized role, it would be a good idea to let either a professional trainer or an experienced breeder help you in choosing the right one.
Here are a few characteristics a guard dog should have that most German shepherds already exhibit:
- A guard dog does not need to be, nor should it be, aggressive. A guard dog does, however, need to be assertive. The threat of being bitten is usually every bit as effective as actually being bitten.
- A natural guard dog should be wary of strangers. A Labrador retriever won’t qualify, being a breed that tends to welcome strangers with open paws, but a German shepherd will.
- The ability to socialize is very important. Put in human terms, a guard dog needs to keep its cool when it experiences something new. Keeping its cool doesn’t mean not doing anything, but doing the right thing.
While the discussion up to here has dealt primarily on guard dogs, similar advanced training are required for police dogs, rescue dogs, and service dogs as they are continuously being exposed to new people, places, and situations. The German shepherd is one of the best breeds to serve in many of these roles. The breed’s training at this level has to be intense and it has to be complete, which is why it should be left up to a professional handler.
Whether you are talking about a guard dog, a service dog, or simply a well-behaved, well-mannered family pet, a German shepherd is one of the best choices you can make. Given a little encouragement, this breed will readily take to training and if you want to go the whole route, it can become a Rhodes Scholar pooch, and a loyal and affectionate one to boot.