How soon should you start training?
Puppies can start training as soon as they arrive at your home and will benefit from regular training and refresher courses throughout their life.
You'll need some basic know-how to ensure a smooth transition from puppy to a socialized, well-trained dog, but with adequate time and consistency, you'll have a dog that is incredibly loyal, devoted, and eager to please.
If you have an older German Shepherd that is not behaving the way you want, we highly encourage you to try our professional guide, it's risk-free anyways!
If you want to help your German Shepherd develop into the trustworthy, protective, loyal, smart, and obedient dogs their instincts want them to be, the German Shepherd Owners Guide; From Pup, To Pal is written specifically with you in mind.
Training 101: Basics
It's vital to start training your puppy as soon as you bring them home. For German Shepherd puppies, it's never too early to start training. If you put it off, the longer you delay, the harder the training will be.
German Shepherd pups are known for developing bad habits if left on their own for too long. The older they get, the harder it will be to retrain their habits.
When you start out training your pup, you need to have a clear set of expectations in mind and remember that puppies will need time and consistency for training to cement. A seven to ten-week-old pup probably won't be fully housetrained or instantly obey your every command.
In general, set your expectations for the following age markers:
3 Months - Come, sit, walk on a leash, wait for a potty break 2-3 hours
6 Months - Shake, food and treat eating by command, wait for a potty break 4-4 ½ hours
12 Months - Basic commands, walk on a leash in crowded areas, come despite distractions, wait for a potty break 5 hours
Be the Leader
German Shepherds¹ are highly intelligent, loyal, and protective. These traits are wonderful as long as you know how to work with them. You must teach your dog that you are the leader of the pack.
Otherwise, their dominant tendency might evidence itself, and they might try and take over. Teaching your dog that you are the leader ensures that they will take their commands from you, rather than deciding what to do on their own.
Teaching your dog that you are the one in charge happens through training, as well as through more subtle hints including:
- Only let your dog each after you have.
- Always proceed with your dog through doorways.
- Set boundaries, including rooms to not enter.
- Speak to them in a firm tone.
- Never accept disobedience during their training. Refocus your pooch and repeat the command until they respond properly and can be rewarded accordingly.
Training 201: Training Methods
There are two predominant methods to use for successfully coaching a trained German Shepherd - the rewards system and a clicker.
German Shepherds thrive when you offer firm training and positive feedback. They are built to work and please, making them highly receptive to training. A clicker can be paired with a rewards-based training system that your dog will quickly associate with good behavior.
Using the Clicker
You can purchase a clicker from any pet supply store or online. These are basic tools that fit into your hand and produce a distinctive "click" noise when pressed. Using this tool effectively can help speed up the training for your German Shepherd pup.
Using a clicker works the same way for any task. You give your dog a command, and the instant they follow through, you click and offer them a treat. They start associating the click with correct behavior and will listen for it when training.
It's essential that you click as soon as the command is obeyed correctly. It should not be clicked for incorrect tries or poor behavior.
As with any reward system, you can opt to reduce clicking and instead use pats to reward good behavior as commands are learned.
Optionally, if you have sequence commands, using the clicker at the end of a sequence helps your dog attach the entire string of commands into one command.
Training 301: Basic Commands
All dogs need to learn a variety of basic commands to function properly in your family. These basic skills ensure a happy dog and a happy family that can live together in harmony.
Here are five basic commands to teach your dog and the method for training.
When training your dog to sit, you should gently push down on their hind quarter while saying the word "sit." As soon as their rear connects with the ground and they're in a sitting position, give them a treat to reinforce the behavior.
Repeat this process for several days. As they start to learn, move away from offering treats and instead offer a loving pat and affirming words such as "good boy" or "good girl."
This is the next command after your dog has learned to sit. Start by telling your dog to sit. When they are seated, tell them to "stay" and hold your hand out with your palm facing them. Walk backward several steps. If your dog stays put, offer a treat for their behavior.
Repeat this process and increase the distance you move away. Do this entire process slowly, so they aren't tempted to run after you, thinking you're playing a game of chase.
If your dog tries to follow when you slowly walk away, command them to sit and try again.
When teaching your dog to lie down, start with them in a sitting position. Use a treat to then get them all the way down by placing it in front of them and having them follow the treat to the ground.
Say the words:"lie down" a few times while they are following the treat to a lying down position. As soon as they are down, offer the treat. Repeat this process until they get the hang of it and, similar to training used for "sit," eventually move away from offering a treat and instead offer a pat and a "good boy."
Start with your dog in the sitting position for this next trick. Put your hand out like you're expecting something, say "shake," and then use your other hand to put your dog's paw into your hand.
When their paw is in your hand, offer them a treat. Repeat until they start offering their paw on their own. Finally, transition away from treats to pats for a job well done.
Training for this command is typically a two-person job. While a friend or family member holds your dog in place, you walk away at a distance. When you're several yards away, you command "come," and the person with your dog releases it.
As soon as your dog arrives, you offer them a treat. This may take some repetition, and it's best to start in a place that is distraction-free when first training your young German Shepherd.
Training 401: Command Variations
The commands above are basic versions any trained dog should know. Unfortunately, everyone else, including potential intruders, knows this too. Unless your dog is a trained protection dog, they may respond to the command of another person.
There are two ways to make your German Shepherd more impervious to the commands of strangers: hand signals and German commands.
Training your dog using English is always a good idea, so you and the dog can get a good handle on the commands.
Once your dog has learned the commands you've taught, you both can afford to take another step up the command ladder. If you want to teach your dog to respond to commands in German instead of English, begin using a combination of English commands and hand signals for each command.
Be sure each hand signal is distinct.
After you've practiced commands with the English and hand signal hybrid, start switching out English for German. Your German Shepherd will respond to the hand signal and associate the German word with the command.
Here are a few German words you'll need to know:
Sit = Sitz
Stay = Bleib
Lie Down = Plotz
Come = Hier
Training 501: Obedience School
As much training as you can do with your dog, sometimes additional training is needed for specific tasks, such as capabilities associated with protection dogs. German Shepherds make wonderful family protection dogs and when trained properly, they can learn to:
- Alert you to an intruder
- Identify friend from foe
- Act as your guardian
- Defend against an intruder
- Go on the offensive against an intruder
- Occupy an intruder until police arrive
Protection dog training is far more intensive than the regular commands we've discussed in this article but can be well worth the investment depending on how you want your dog to function in your family.
German Shepherds Breed: A Cut Above
Some things to know about the German Shepherd breed is they are loving, loyal, and hardworking dogs. They love to please, are eager to work, and will respond well to consistent, firm training. Over time, you'll be able to train them to do a variety of tasks and can even transition from English to German.
If desired, you can enroll them for specialist training so they can learn how to protect your family. Do these fantastic K9s sound like a dog you'd like to have around?
Jason M. Collins