- Training Methods for German Shepherds
- 14 Basic Commands for German Shepherds
- Proper Manners for German Shepherds
- Behavior Modification for German Shepherds
Training a puppy may seem like a daunting task. A little education for yourself and your puppy can go a long way. By reading this guide you are taking the most important step! You’ll learn different ways to train your puppy, different commands to teach him, and what proper manners he should have.
Keep in mind, I am not a licensed dog trainer or a veterinarian, so it’s in your best interest to consult a professional for serious issues involved in training your German Shepherd.
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Training Methods for German Shepherds
If you buy a German Shepherd puppy, there are 3 things you want to teach him right away. Housebreaking, crate training, and leash training are all major training methods to teach your pup how to be a well-behaved German Shepherd.
Housebreaking a puppy can be extremely stressful for a new dog owner. Potty time every 20 minutes? Yikes. But it must be done and it will reap great rewards. The best way for a puppy to learn where he is supposed to do his business is by automatically taking him to that place before he gives any signals. Take your puppy outside every 20 minutes that he is awake. If you avoid giving him the opportunity to have an accident in the house, you won’t get so stressed about cleaning up messes.
I personally do not recommend teaching your German Shepherd puppy to use a puppy pad before teaching him to go outside. The puppy pad will only confuse him when you transition to going potty outside. He’ll think, “But I thought I’m supposed to pee here? Why is it changing?” Dogs like a consistent routine. Creating a routine of potty time gives your puppy comfort in knowing he has an opportunity to relieve himself when the need arises.
2. Crate Training
Crate Training is essential for providing your German Shepherd puppy a safe place of his own for sleeping, playing, or housing. You want the crate to feel like a den, so you should never use the crate as punishment.
When would you need to use a crate?
- When you’re not home and need to keep him safely contained.
- At night when he needs a comfortable place to sleep.
- When it’s nap time and you need to know he’s not going to wake up and get into trouble.
- When you have company at the house and your puppy wants a familiar spot away from commotion.
Crate training can start out rather frustrating. The first few times you place your German Shepherd puppy in the crate, he may cry and beg to be let out. Be strong. He will get used to being in the crate and will eventually realize it’s a cozy place for him to sleep.
Place him in the crate for nap time during the day before putting him in there overnight. Shorter spans of time in the crate will get him used to it sooner. Otherwise, if his first experience in a crate is through an entire night, he’ll cry all night long and keep you awake. Both you and your puppy will be tired and cranky the next day.
Keep in mind that all members of the household must follow the same crate training rules. Set a standard that if no one is home the puppy must be in the crate with a blanket and a toy. He must be in the crate for nap time. Perhaps you prefer him to be in the crate during your dinner time. Whatever the set rules may be, everyone must follow them. If one person doesn’t follow these rules, the puppy will get confused and his crate training will regress.
3. Leash Training
Leash training means your German Shepherd puppy should walk on a leash at your pace. He shouldn’t pull on the leash and he should stop walking when you give a “Stop” command. You’ll have to begin teaching leash training right away since you’ll be taking him outside on a leash for potty breaks. Your puppy needs to be comfortable with wearing a collar and walking with a leash tethered to a human, while walking at the human’s pace.
The proper equipment for leash training includes a collar, a leash, and a treat pouch. Pretty simple, right? The best collar for a pup younger than 6 months old is a nylon buckle collar, 3/4” wide, and adjusted so that you can fit only 2 fingers between the collar and the puppy’s neck. This will allow him plenty of room to breath without being too loose to slip out of the collar.
After your puppy is 6 months old, you can switch to a different type of collar for better control. A martingale collar or training collar work well for making corrections while training or walking. Introduce these types of collars gently. They tighten as the dog pulls on the leash, so begin working with the collars while practicing commands in the house. Don’t take him for a walk right away. He may get stressed out by the tightening sensation. Be careful not to correct too hard on the leash when your puppy is wearing a training collar. He may not expect it and become fearful of training. Being gentle with the training collar does not pose any risk to your dog.
As for a leash, you’ll want one between 4 and 6 feet long. Primal Pet Gear makes a heavy-duty leash with two fleece-lined handles so your hands and wrists don’t get cut or sore from rough nylon.
RoyalCare makes a handy food-grade silicone treat pouch with a magnetic closure. Cary kibble or small treats while training or walking to reward your puppy for proper pace during leash training sessions. He’ll associate the reward with the behavior.
If your German Shepherd puppy pulls on the leash, stop walking and wait for him to stop pulling. It may take a few minutes. Be persistent and patient. Don’t continue walking until he stops pulling or else he will think that if he’s persistent enough, you’ll give into his pulling. Wait for your puppy to return to your side, give him a treat, and praise him. Then give a Forward command and continue walking with a verbal praise.
If you allow your puppy to pull at a young age, he’ll grow up thinking that pulling is acceptable behavior. And when he’s a full-grown 60 to 80-pound dog, he will pull you around if he’s not corrected at a young age. An 8-week-old puppy may not seem to pull very much, but keep an eye on his pace and praise him every time he’s walking at your pace.
The Reward-Based training method proves extremely successful for German Shepherds. They’re classic food-motivated dogs who are eager to please with hopes of a treat in their near future. Some treats are high in fat, so be sure to check the nutrition label for healthy treat options. Or if your German Shepherd eats dry kibble, you can use that as a reward. Kibble is often lower in fat and calories than treats and therefore a healthier option for rewarding.
In addition to treats, give your German Shepherd verbal and physical praise. Compliments, hugs, and kisses also show your pup that he’s done something good. Alternating forms of praise prevents your pup from becoming dependent on treats.
5. Positive Reinforcement
The Positive Reinforcement training method uses constructive correction to show your German Shepherd which behaviors are undesirable and what he should do instead to receive praise. As a breed who is eager to please, Positive Reinforcement provides a way for your puppy to make you happy. Let’s say you catch your German Shepherd puppy chewing on your shoe. To handle the situation using Positive Reinforcement, take the shoe from him while giving a stern “No” command. Immediately give him one of his favorite toys while praising him with a high-pitched “Good boy!” and a pat on the back. Your puppy will realize which object receives praise.
This training method is useful for teaching basic commands as well. If you’re teaching your puppy “Down” and he walks away instead, correct him with a stern “No” and move his body into a down position, then praise with a treat or “Good boy!”
6. Nothing In Life Is Free
The Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF) training method teaches your German Shepherd that there is a give-and-take in life. If your dog wants a treat, he must first Sit and Shake. If he wants to go outside, he must first Sit and patiently wait for you to attach his leash. NILIF teaches your German Shepherd that you are the master, and he must barter with you for the things he wants.
Teaching with this method is fairly simple. All you have to do is teach your dog to Sit before you give him a treat, for example. Do not give him that treat until he sits still for at least 5 seconds. By doing so, you are teaching him patience.
Use your creative freedom with this training method! You decide what you want your dog to do before he receives a reward or attention. Maybe you want him to “roll over” before he gets a bowl of food. Or maybe you need him to Sit before jumping into the car so you can situate his seat belt. NILIF works to your advantage so that your German Shepherd remembers you are the alpha master.
14 Basic Commands for German Shepherds
When teaching your German Shepherd basic commands (especially as a puppy), you must remember 5 key factors.
- Begin practicing commands in a quiet room in the house with ample space to move. Keep background noise to a minimum so your puppy can concentrate on your instructions. Train in the same room every time with the same leash and collar so he clearly understands that it’s time to focus.
- Keep commands short and simple. They’re easier for your puppy to understand when commands are only one or two words. Avoid filler words such as “and,” “the,” or “on.” For example, use the command “Kennel” instead of “go to your kennel.” That single word is enough for the puppy to associate with going to his kennel.
- Make a clear designation between word or action associations. Using multiple words or hand movements for one command will confuse your puppy. For example, saying “Forward” and sweeping your hand in a forward motion is a clear designation to walk forward. However, if you say “Let’s go” the next time you want him to walk forward, he will not know what to do. You’ve become inconsistent and therefore confused your puppy.
- Keep training sessions short (about 30 minutes per day) and cut them shorter if your puppy shows signs of frustration. If he doesn’t seem to be grasping your instructions and begins balking, give him a break and commence training the next day. If you force your puppy to practice commands while he’s frustrated, he will begin to associate obedience with aggression or fear.
- As a puppy, your German Shepherd needs to know only basic commands. I will discuss each of them later in this article. Basic commands are sufficient for teaching him how to be a proper, well-mannered, intelligent German Shepherd. He may learn advanced obedience commands after he is 6 months or 1 year old. Advanced commands may be useful in tricking training, agility, or working situations with commands such as Fetch, Jump, or Speak.
Overall, your German Shepherd puppy is very intelligent. He will most likely learn a command after 20 to 30 repetitions over 3 to 4 training sessions. Some puppies may pick up commands sooner and some may take more time. Remember to be patient, kind, and consistent and your puppy is likely to learn faster.
Basic commands can include any of the following 14. You are not required to teach all of these commands. Dogs have the ability to understand approximately 50 different commands, so your German Shepherd puppy will have no problem learning all 14.
Sit is an easy command to learn. Sitting is one of the most basic actions a puppy will make. An easy way to teach him to Sit when you’re not in an active training session is to praise him any time he’s sitting. Let’s say he’s sitting in the kitchen while watching you cook dinner. Give him a treat and say “Sit! Good sit!” in a high-pitched voice. He’ll begin to associate that position with the word “sit.”
While in a training session, begin with your puppy in a standing position and hold a treat in your hand, enclosed so your puppy cannot take it. Hold your hand in front of his nose and move your hand up and back over the puppy’s head so that he moves into a sitting position. As soon as his bottom is touching the ground say “Sit! Good sit!” and give him the treat. If he refuses to sit, use your other hand to push his bottom down until he’s sitting, then give him the treat and praise.
Down is learned best when the puppy starts in a sitting position. You have a few options to entice your puppy to lie down. Firstly, you could hold a treat in your hand and move your hand closer to the ground. As your puppy follows the treat with his nose, he will naturally lie down. Secondly, grasp the leash close to the collar and pull straight downwards so that your puppy lies down. And thirdly, as your puppy is sitting, gently pull his front paws forward along the floor until he is in the lying down position. Once your puppy is in the Down position, praise him with a treat and a “Good down!”
Come is a useful command for getting your puppy’s attention, bringing him to you in a dangerous situation, or calling him inside if he is loose in the yard. To teach the Come command, have your puppy Sit or Stand a few feet away from you. Gently pull on the leash to coax him to walk toward you. As he is walking toward you, say “Come!” in a high-pitched voice and praise him with a treat when he is in front of you. Progress with the command by having your puppy begin farther away and eventually off-leash. Praise your puppy each time he comes to you obediently.
Stay is the command asking your German Shepherd to remain where he is. You can use this command in a variety of situations, such as getting ready to go on a walk. You attach the leash to his collar, ask him to Sit at the door and then Stay while you open the door. You don’t want your German Shepherd to run out the door as soon as you open it. That’s asking for injury from an ill-behaved dog. Asking your German Shepherd to Stay and then calmly walk out the door creates a safe atmosphere.
To teach the Stay command, have your German Shepherd Sit beside you. Without letting go of the leash, take a step away from your dog while holding up your hand, palm facing the dog. Your hand should resemble a stop sign, like a signal for your dog to stay put. After taking a step away from you dog, hold your position for 5 seconds. If your dog moves before the end of those 5 seconds, return to your dog, ask him to Sit again, and repeat the process. He should understand what you want after a few repetitions, but be sure not to overwhelm or frustrate him. Progress with the Stay command by taking 2, 3, or more steps away from your dog. Eventually you will be able to walk out of the room while your dog Sits and Stays.
Forward transitions your dog from a Sit, Stand, or Down position into a forward walk. As mentioned earlier, Forward works well when you’re getting ready to walk your dog outside. At the door, you can ask him to Sit, Stay, and then Forward instead of allowing him to run uncontrollably out the door. You can ask your German Shepherd to walk Forward in any walking situation.
To teach the Forward command, leash your German Shepherd and ask him to Sit beside you. Hold the leash in the hand closest to your dog. If you dog is sitting on your left side, hold the leash in your left hand. In the opposite hand, make a sweeping motion from back to front to signal your German Shepherd to move forward while taking a step and vocalizing the command.
6. Park/Go Potty
Park/Go Potty is the command to signal to your dog that he is in an appropriate place to urinate and defecate. Choose a designated area of your yard for your dog to use as a bathroom. Walk him to that place every time and vocalize the command – whether you choose “park” or “go potty” or a variation of these. Praise him after he’s done his business.
Easy is a command useful while walking on a loose leash. If your German Shepherd is pulling too hard on the leash, give the Easy command, stop walking, and wait until he stops pulling. Once he’s returned to your side, give the Forward command and continue walking. Repeat as necessary.
Shake/Paw is a fun command that correlates with NILIF. If your German Shepherd wants a treat, you can ask him to shake “hands” first. It’s a simple way to make a trade. A trick for a treat!
Teaching the Shake or Paw command is easy. Have your dog Sit. While vocalizing the command, pick up his paw and hold it for a moment like you’re shaking hands. Give him a treat and praise him. Repeat this process and sure enough (as a food-motivated puppy) he’ll pick up on the command fairly quickly.
Heel is a useful command when you’re walking with your German Shepherd off leash but you want him to remain at your side. This command could be useful for hiking in the woods if another dog walks by, for example.
To teach Heel, walk with your dog on a leash after mastering loose leash walking. When he walks at your side, vocalize the Heel command and praise him. After he seems to understand, walk with him off leash and say, “(Name), Heel!” Perhaps attempt this in the house so he doesn’t run away. If your dog returns to your side and walks at your pace, great! If not, attach his leash and practice more.
10. Leave it
Leave it signals to your dog that he is paying attention to something that should not. Whether he’s sniffing food scraps in the trash can or sniffing animal droppings while on a walk, Leave It gets your dog’s attention back to the task at hand.
To teach Leave It, watch for your German Shepherd to sniff or pick up something that does not belong to him. Vocalize a stern Leave It to get his attention away from the object. Praise him when he ignores the object.
Okay let’s your German Shepherd know that he is free to move. Let’s say you are grooming your dog while he is standing patiently. You’re finished grooming and your dog may go play. Say “Okay!” and your dog knows you’re finished and he is free!
To teach this command, ask him to Sit or Stand and Stay for a few minutes. When he obeys the Stay command correctly, say Okay! and throw a toy for him.
Stand is a useful command for grooming or allowing people to pet your German Shepherd. To teach the command, start with your dog in a sitting position and hold a treat in your hand in front of his nose. Take a step back, enticing him to stand up, while vocalizing the Stand command. When he stands up, give him the treat and praise him. Practice this a few times, then do the same action without a treat in your hand. If he stands, give him a treat from your opposite hand and praise him.
This goes along with teaching your German Shepherd to enjoy being in his crate. Once he learns to enjoy sleeping there, you can teach him a command to go there when told. While putting him in his crate, vocalize the Crate command (or whichever word you choose) and praise him once he is inside.
No is the command that signals your German Shepherd is doing something incorrect. Whether he is chewing on a shoe or performing a command incorrectly, it is pertinent to redirect his actions to something desirable. Take the shoe, correct with a stern No, provide a proper toy, and praise, for example.
Proper Manners for German Shepherds
German Shepherds are naturally energetic dogs. They must be well-exercised or else they’ll be hyperactive and ill-mannered. Additionally, teaching the No command is useful for moments when their manners slip and they need a reminder to behave.
Household manners for a German Shepherd will vary depending on what the homeowner allows. You may or may not allow your dog on the furniture, for example. If not, give him a stern No if he jumps on the couch. Other household manners might include chewing on designated toys only or avoiding rough play with other dogs.
Car manners are extremely important for the safety of you, your dog, and other drivers. Teaching your dog to sit still while you drive avoids him jumping on your lap or between seats and causing an accident. You may be interested in using a seatbelt and harness to not only keep your dog seated but also to keep you dog from being ejected from the vehicle in an accident.
Manners around unfamiliar people and animals show that your German Shepherd is well-trained. When introducing your dog to new people and animals, he should not bark or jump but remain calm and in a sitting position. This will allow for people to pet your dog. As an energetic breed, you may need to be persistent with a “no jumping” rule. Ask him to Sit repeatedly as necessary.
Loose leash manners, as discussed earlier, should include your German Shepherd walking at your pace on a leash. He should not pull or walk in a sporadic pattern to sniff everything he wants. He should walk in a straight line beside you.
Grooming manners teach your German Shepherd to stand still when asked. He needs to be comfortable with being touched all over his body for the purposes of brushing, bathing, nail clipping, tooth brushing, ear cleaning, and veterinary visits. Start this from an early age as they are all important for your dog’s health.
Social manners are important to begin at a young age so your German Shepherd does not become aggressive to unfamiliar dogs as he gets older. Unsocialized dogs can grow progressively anxious, fearful, and aggressive because they don’t understand how to act around unfamiliar dogs or people. When your German Shepherd is a puppy, visit with friends and family and introduce your puppy. Visit people with friendly, well-trained dogs and praise your puppy for good behavior. Be aware of cowering, lip licking, yawning, tail tucking, down ears, or stiff muscles as these are all signs of anxiety. Reassure your puppy and remove him from the situation so he doesn’t become overwhelmed.
Do not take your puppy to a dog park for socialization. Dog parks are full of unattended and ill-trained dogs with owners who don’t monitor them sufficiently. You run the risk of getting into an altercation with an unsupervised dog and getting blamed for injuries simply because you have a German Shepherd (whether you are at fault or not). You also run the risk of your German Shepherd picking up illnesses such as worms or kennel cough from dogs without adequate veterinary care. Too many people let their ill-mannered dogs run wild in dog parks while they pay no attention. Dog parks are never a good idea.
Behavior Modification for German Shepherds
The consistent correction of undesirable behavior prevents bad behavior from developing as your dog grows older. As discussed earlier, giving a stern No signifies that you don’t like their behavior. But you must immediately redirect their attention and reward them for acting correctly.
Keep in mind that training a German Shepherd never stops. Even when you don’t realize you’re training, you’re reinforcing commands, manners, and behaviors. Stay consistent with what you say, how you say it, and how you react to obedience and behavior. Short refresher sessions keep obedience training and commands fresh in your dog’s mind.
If you have any questions about training methods or equipment, leave a comment and I’d be happy to answer them!