German Shepherds are known to be disciplined dogs. But they don’t come out like that out of the box. As German Shepherd owners we know just how playful and silly they can be. And so should they ever get to be well-disciplined, they would need to undergo training.
Such is why in this article I’ll discuss the rules, commands, and common queries about German Shepherd training so that you can teach your GSD to be calm, cool, and collected.
Important Rules For German Shepherd Training
There are different methods you can employ to train your German Shepherd. Some of which make use of techniques considered to be inhumane. And so as someone who isn’t in favor of such techniques, I follow a set of rules that most trainers agree upon. These rules are as follows:
Avoid Punishment. While it may sometimes seem to produce desired results, training by means of punishment isn’t ideal. This is as making use of pain or fear for training will cause your German Shepherd stress, lead to anxiety issues, and ultimately affect your relationship.
Use Positive Reinforcement. Instead of punishment, train your German Shepherd by making use of rewards and positive reinforcement. The concept is quite simple, reward your GSD for doing a desired behavior. That way, it will learn to associate such behavior with a positive experience and will thus be inclined to repeat it. Keep in mind that the opposite of reward is not punishment, but no reward. So be sure to stick to rule 1.
Reward Immediately. It is important that you reward your German Shepherd immediately the second it does a desired act. This is to make sure that it will understand exactly what it’s being rewarded for and make the necessary connection.
Choose The Proper Motivators. Your German Shepherd has preferences and so it may respond differently to different types of rewards. Some German Shepherds for example, may prefer a specific kind of food, whereas others may prefer praise or petting. Thus, a key part of training lies within the reward or motivator you choose. The stronger the motivator, the smoother the training.
Be Consistent. Consistency is key in German Shepherd training. You have to be consistent not only in terms of keeping a training schedule, but also when it comes to the rules and reward system that you follow. So maintain the same commands throughout training, and try your best to only reward desired behavior. Failure to do so, may lead to confusion.
Be Patient. Training is not an easy process and it will take some time before your dog will fully grasp what you’re teaching. So you have to be patient and understanding. I guarantee that your German Shepherd will make mistakes along the way, and so it’s up to you to keep your cool. That said, you don’t have to rush training, and should you ever feel tired or frustrated, feel free to take a break.
Keep Sessions Short. Training is mentally exhausting so it’s best to keep training sessions only between 5 to 10 minutes. Any longer and you risk your German Shepherd either losing interest or motivation.
Use Simple Commands. Your German Shepherd will have a harder time understanding and remembering long words. So stick with the basics. Don’t for example command “take a seat” when you can simply use “sit”.
Train In Different Environments. When starting out, it’s best to start in an environment that’s rid of distractions so you can get your German Shepherd’s full attention. However, once your GSD has begun mastering the training, you can then gradually transfer to environments with more distractions. That way, you can get your dog to obey you even in distracting situations.
Gradual Progression Is Key. You have to understand that results come gradually. And thus, don’t expect your dog to for example maintain a sitting position when it just learned the command. So don’t force it and by all means take it slow. Only move on to a different level of training once your dog has repeatedly succeeded in following your commands.
The 7 Basic Commands
Focus. The focus command is a fundamental command in dog training. This is as its very point is to get your German Shepherd’s full focus and attention. That of which you need should you desire to teach your dog anything.
To teach this, first, hold a treat to your German Shepherd’s nose. Then while saying “focus”, draw the treat back towards your eyes while keeping eye contact with your dog. If they maintain eye contact, reward them with the treat. Repeat this process over and over while increasing eye contact duration. When your GSD finally gets the hang of it, you can then try doing it with your finger instead of a treat.
Sit. This command is used to tell your dog to sit so you can control your dog’s impulsive actions. For example, instead of jumping on people, you could command your dog to sit politely instead.
To teach your dog how to sit, we again start by holding a treat to your dog’s nose. After that, we say the command, “sit,” as we slowly move the treat up and back. Doing so will make your dog look up while also causing its rear to go down. Once its rear touches the floor, give it a reward.
Down. This command is a progression of the sit command. As such both commands have the same purpose of controlling your dog but the down command is primarily used to let your dog stay in one place for a prolonged period.
To teach this, have your dog start in a sitting position. Then, we again hold a treat to its nose. Then while saying “down,” we move the treat to the floor. If your dog stands, slide the treat to a spot that makes your dog uncomfortable. If your dog bows, hold the treat still and wait for your dog to get tired and eventually drop its rear to lie down. When it does, reward it by releasing the treat.
Stay. The stay teaches your German Shepherd to remain in place without moving. To teach it, begin with the sitting position and by holding a treat to your dog’s nose. Then while giving the command “stay,” take a few steps away. If your dog stays, walk back towards your dog and reward it with a treat. If it doesn’t, say “no,” then slowly move away once more.
Come. This recall command is one of the most useful commands to teach your dog. With it, you can call on your dog as needed. Throught, you can easily recall your German Shepherd when going on walks or when it suddenly starts chasing another animal.
One way to teach the come command is by using a leash. Command your dog to “come” while pulling slightly on the leash. When your dog does come, reward it with a treat. Once your dog gets the hang of it, you can progress to off-leash training.
Drop It. The drop it command is used when you need your dog to release an unwanted item in its mouth. To teach this command, begin by giving your dog an object, be it a ball or a toy. Then, as usual, hold a treat to your dog’s nose, cite the command, then reward when the dog drops the object.
Leave It. The leave it command is used when you don’t want your dog to eat or approach things you don’t want it to have. To teach it, put a treat on the ground. Then, in an authoritative manner, tell your dog to “leave it.” If your dog moves towards the treat, say “no,” and cover the treat with your hand. Repeat this process until your dog stops moving towards the treat for at least a second. When it does, praise your dog verbally, and reward with a different treat.
Are German Shepherds Easy To Train?
As intelligent and obedient dogs, German Shepherds are generally easy to train. They’re quick learners and great listeners so they will follow your commands. That said, every German Shepherd is different and the difficulty of training may vary for each individual.
What Is The Best Age To Start Training A German Shepherd?
You can start training your German Shepherd at around 6 to 8 weeks old. But keep in mind that at this age your puppy will have a short attention span, so it’s best to start with only the basic commands. That said, starting this early will provide you the opportunity to mold your GSD’s behavior and develop your relationship.
How Long Does It Take To Fully Train A German Shepherd?
There are different factors that come into play when it comes to the duration of training. So, a safe answer would be to say that it takes how long it needs to take, or perhaps that training actually never ends. But if you started early you could expect your German Shepherd to execute the basic commands at around 4 months of age. Then from that point on you move to more complex and specialized training such as impulse control or agility. So again, it takes as long is needs to take.
Should You Train Your German Shepherd?
Well, it is by no means mandatory. But there are definitely benefits in training a German Shepherd, and not just for your dog, but for you as well.
Having better control of your German Shepherd’s impulses will help keep your dog calm and prevent it from getting into dangerous situations. But not only that, it also helps keep your German Shepherd from becoming dangerous as it learns to stay in control when interacting with different people or pets. So with training, your dog will learn how to act appropriately, making it easier for you to manage its different interactions.
Another benefit is the strengthening of the relationship between you and your dog. As you spend time training your GSD, you learn to understand, respect, and trust each other. Your German Shepherd will learn to trust your judgement as its owner, and you will come to trust your dog’s capabilities.
So should you train your German Shepherd? I’d say yes.
German Shepherd training could be quite a challenge. There are multiple factors that come to play and so you may at some point feel like giving up on it. I won’t blame you, as it is after all a slow grind. But while it may be tedious, you will at the end provide your German Shepherd a better life and become a better owner yourself. So, I’d say it’s worth it.
That said, if it ever presents too much of a challenge, don’t hesitate to ask professionals for help and enroll your GSD to training classes.
Volhard, Joachim, and Wendy Volhard. Dog Training for Dummies. 3rd ed., Wiley, 2015.
Sundance, Kyra. Dog Training 101: Step-by-Step Instructions for Raising a Happy Well-Behaved Dog. Rockport Publishers, 2017.