Considered as one of dogkind’s finest workers, the German Shepherd is a popular choice among dog enthusiasts. This large and agile dog is also known to be loyal, intelligent, and family-friendly. If you already have a puppy or thinking of getting one, then you’re on the right track. But you might ask yourself – can my puppy get to be that smart all on its own, or is there some training I have to do?
Again, the German Shepherd is known to be an intelligent companion and worker. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends early socialization, puppy training classes, and obedience training. But for the dog owner who cannot commit to these classes, are there other options?
How do I train my German Shepherd puppy?
Keep in mind that training a German Shepherd is a win-win situation – the dog likes being busy, and consistent training does just that.
The first step is to establish trust between you and your furry companion. Make sure your dog knows that you are a good leader and not just an ‘alpha’ trying to assert your dominance. You can follow these tips in order to establish a conducive training environment:
• Using a firm but calm tone of voice suggests you are there to teach and not to punish.
• Stick to non-threatening body language. Remember, your dog will likely emulate what you show him, and you definitely don’t want an aggressive dog.
• Consistent training is crucial – this way, your dog is more likely to retain information.
• A reward-based training is likely to yield good results. Traditional techniques like shock/choke collars, and simply “showing the dog who’s the boss” has been shown to be ineffective.
While owners may differ in training styles, a general motto to keep in mind is that obedience is earned, not demanded. Fear tactics and intimidation techniques will only result in a scared, anxious, and possibly aggressive dog.
Training Goal #1: Socializing your dog
This is best accomplished when your puppy is between 8 and 16 weeks of age. For all breeds, the critical socialization window closes between 12 and 16 weeks, at which time you have to train your puppy to socialize. Since German Shepherds are very protective guardians by nature, socialization techniques are extra important.
Being very observant, your puppy will pick up on your reactions and social cues around strangers. It’s best to expose your puppy to new, non-threatening situations to help him become more confident and less aggressive around strangers.
Aside from new situations, make sure to expose your puppy to other routines you want them to partake in even as adults. For example – the German Shepherd’s medium-length, double coat requires at least weekly brushing, and regular visits to the groomer. This early on, introduce your puppy to grooming tools like clippers and brushes, at the same time making it a fun experience for them.
Training Goal #2: Crate training
Puppies naturally crave a place where they feel comfortable and secure. Although the word ‘crate’ may sound cruel at first, if used right, it can be the perfect environment for your German Shepherd. The crate is also indispensable in housebreaking your dog. He would want to keep his sleeping area as clean as possible; therefore, he would more likely go to the bathroom outside.
The crate can also give you, the owner, a break when you need it. Admittedly, you will not be able to supervise your puppy 24/7. During times when you need to attend to other things, you can keep your dog secure inside a crate.
NEVER USE THE CRATE AS PUNISHMENT FOR YOUR DOG! Remember, this is his safe space.
Just a few tips on choosing a crate for your German Shepherd –
• Make sure the crate is large enough to accommodate your dog once he’s fully grown.
Your dog should be able to stretch out, stand, turn around, and lie down inside the crate.
• Create the coziest environment as possible using blankets, toys, and a doggy bed.
Your puppy might be hesitant to enter the crate at first, so you might need treats to lure him in.
• Once he’s inside, let your puppy stay for around 10 minutes.
If he starts to cry, stay beside him and try to comfort him. If he’s able to stay inside the crate for 10 minutes, reward him with a treat. Repeat the process after an hour, and leave him in the crate for longer periods of time. Start with 20 minutes, then do it on an hourly basis.
Remember, your puppy’s bladder doesn’t allow him to stay inside for long periods of time. Add one to your puppy’s age to estimate how long he can stay inside. For example, if your puppy is 3 months old, he cannot stay inside the crate for longer than 4 hours at a time.
Training Goal #3: Housetraining
Crate training is crucial for housetraining to work, but don’t worry – German Shepherds have a tendency to take to this quickly. Once you release your puppy from the crate, immediately take him to the yard or his designated bathroom. Since German Shepherds are very intelligent, your dog will adapt to this routine in no time.
Training Goal #4: Teaching your dog basic commands.
‘Sit’, ‘stay’, and ‘come’ are the 3 basic commands you can teach your puppy first. First, find a quiet place with no distractions. To teach your dog to sit –
• Let your puppy sniff the treat in your hand to get his attention, then hold the treat above his nose. As you move your arm into this position, say ‘Sit’ in a clear and affirmative voice.
• You want your dog to lift his head to look at the treat, causing him to move into a sitting position. If he does so, give him the treat as a reward.
Teaching your dog other commands is just a variation of the instructions above. For instance, if you want to teach your dog to stay, leave the treat in his bed or crate instead, or any place where you want him to stay. While he’s eating, tell him to ‘sit’, then ‘stay’; if he follows, give him another treat.
Some final words…
German Shepherds thrive on consistent work and training, so make sure to provide your dog with enough outlets for their energy and intelligence.