Sharing your life with a German Shepherd means you have chosen a unique, fiercely loyal companion, one which the American Kennel Club ranks as the second most popular dog breed.
Possessing high intelligence and recall capabilities, German Shepherds often work in law enforcement, as drug sniffing dogs and as service dogs. If properly trained, they are obedient and loyal—willing to put his life on the line to defend his family.
Training should begin when your German Shepherd is a puppy. An untrained German Shepherd will become bored, potentially aggressive and destructive. These dogs are strong of body and mind and crave strong, kind leadership from the alpha in the family—you. And a well-trained German Shepherd will be a gentle companion, steadfast in his devotion to the family.
Training your German Shepherd
While a German Shepherd isn’t necessarily unique when it comes to training, one of the most important things owners need to understand is the importance of building a trusting relationship.
1. Use toys, praise and healthy snacks as training motivators. Knowing whether your German Shepherd is food, praise or toy-motivated helps determine which reward will matter most. Eventually, wean your German Shepherd off treats for a job well done, and replace treats with praise.
2. Reward your German Shepherd immediately after successful completion of the action you are training. It is important to recognize the desired behavior quickly. If your dog does something between the good behavior and when you treat him, he won’t understand the reward is for the behavior you were training.
3. Keep training sessions to no more than fifteen-minutes. If your dog is younger, spend shorter times training. It’s best to have multiple, brief training sessions than a marathon session. Your puppy will get bored, you will get frustrated, and it’s not a good situation for learning. Play with your puppy during training sessions to let him know the time he spends with you isn’t all about structure.
4. Learn about dog training in general, and about the personality of the German Shepherd breed. When you are educated on how to train a puppy, your puppy will benefit. Remember: Each German Shepherd is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all training method. You need to understand your dog, his personality, and his learning style to tailor training sessions that best suite his needs.
Building a Healthy Relationship with your German Shepherd
Positive training is the best foundation for building a trusting, loving relationship with your dog. A German Shepherd who is fearful of his owner or the trainer, will translate that fear into self-defense and aggression. Obedience is important, but mutual trust is as well.
1. Training can be as engaging as playing with your German Shepherd. Behavioral issues can arise because your dog is bored. He will need human interaction, as well as a variety of training activities considered an “engaging activity” or “learning games” to this intelligent dog.
2. German Shepherds are not inherently aggressive, and when you encounter one that is, it usually means that dog is living an unhappy lifestyle or hasn’t been properly trained by its owner.
3. Teaching an old dog new tricks. When adopting an older German Shepherd, know he can learn good behaviors and be trained out of past poor behaviors. The German Shepherd breed inherently wants a job, wants to please, and is eager to learn. Don’t discount an older German Shepherd, and understand patience is key to building trust.
4. Be sure to exercise your German Shepherd, even during the colder months. Regular exercise has its benefits—it tones muscles, reduces “cabin fever,” improves circulation, and prevents obesity—and it’s a must for larger breeds!
5. Socialization is key to a happy and well-adjusted German Shepherd. This dog can become resource-protective of its owner and its possessions. Therefore, you need to assure he has frequent interactions with other humans and dogs, so if you give him a command in any circumstance, he will listen.
6. Positive reinforcement is necessary in your training interactions with your German Shepherd. Yelling, hitting or punishing your German Shepherd leads to him imprinting with aggressive behavior. Rewarding good behavior is a keystone of positive reinforcement training.
Leading your German Shepherd
If you’re looking to be a pet parent to a German Shepherd you need to understand that this breed is a creature of instinct. Their behaviors are driven by instinct and when you’re training you need to work with his instinctual behaviors.
With a German Shepherd, it is important he understands you are the alpha pack leader in the family. To assure this relationship, you need to be firm and quiet while praising good behavior. Every family member in the household will need to earn your German Shepherd’s respect, and all family members should use the same training commands.
Structured training, disguised as play, will keep your German Shepherd engaged. Cognitive training helps combat boredom in this active, work-driven breed. After you have trained your German Shepherd to understand and comply with a few basic commands, move him into unfamiliar locations with unfamiliar people or dogs around him so he learns to focus his attention on you, not on the distractions.
Loving, intelligent family companion. Those are a few words that sum up the relationship you will have with your beautiful, well-trained German Shepherd.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.
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