James Livingood has been a dog sitter for several years. He has written numerous articles and a book about the topic because he loves dogs.
Some dog breeds are more difficult to train than others. One example of a trainable yet sometimes challenging breed is the German Shepherd. This breed tends to bond more closely with one individual instead of a group of individuals. In addition, puppies can be prone to play biting. This can lead to a lot of problems once the puppy grows up into a full-fledged dog. Here are some tips to help you train your German Shepherd.
6 Tips for Training Your German Shepherd
It's important to train your German Shepherd carefully at a young age. They are a highly intelligent but sometimes willful breed, so laying a solid foundation is a must. Here are six tips to keep in mind during the training process.
1. Provide a Daily Outlet for Your Dog’s Energy
German Shepherds have a lot of energy that needs to be worked through. The biggest thing you can do to help them behave is to give them a productive outlet for their energy. This can include walks, slow bike rides, and other adventures.
2. Follow Through on Commands
Many dog owners will issue a command to their dog, then abandon the effort when the dog doesn’t comply. That doesn’t reinforce positive behavior, and it only reinforces that you should be ignored. Giving a simple command and following it through helps put gravity to each command. If you require the dog to “come here,” then you need to stand there for as long as it takes. When they finally listen, you can give them praise and adoration. Be careful not to overuse commands, as you will be required to follow through on each one. That can mean a lot of time and patience when new commands are being trained.
3. Don’t Reward Bad Behaviors
Chewing on items may be cute as a puppy, but don’t reward your dog for doing so. Bad behaviors need to be rooted out when the dog is young, so they do not escalate when the dog reaches maturity. In addition, having a dog jump up may be cute, but can be a huge pain when the dog weighs a lot more. The best route is to set ground rules for the life of the dog, not just for puppy stages.
4. Don’t Blame the Dog
Dogs love to please humans, but they simply do not have our level of intellect. It’s up to each and every dog owner to show their canine how to operate in a human world. That means that if a dog has a bad quirk, it’s up to the owner to find a way to help them through that quirk or to re-direct that quirk to a positive experience. For example, if a dog loves to chew, getting them the proper toys to chew may go a long way.
5. Stop Interacting When They Misbehave
If a dog is pulling on a leash, the best way to stop them from doing that is to stop moving. That means they will have to wait patiently to move again. Simply put, if there is tension on the leash, stop moving. In addition, if they are jumping up on people, have the person turn their body away from the dog. The best way to train good behavior is sometimes to not reward bad behavior.
6. Adapt (Because They Will!)
German Shepherds are smart dogs and will adapt over time. They may learn that barking when about to be fed speeds things up. If they start doing bad things, again, the best thing to do is to not reward their bad behavior. Instead, wait until the barking stops, and then you can set down the food. Figuring out your dog’s odd quirks can help you in figuring out how to better train your dog.
Developmental Stages of German Shepherd Puppies
Puppies grow into dogs, but it doesn't happen overnight. Below, the breed's four main stages of development are described in some detail.
Stage 1: Newborn/Neonatal (0–2 Weeks)
German Shepherds are considered newborns for up to two weeks. During that time they are blind, deaf, and have no teeth. They require their mother to provide help. Their mother not only provides food, but also licks the newborns clean. Most of their time is spent sleeping during this phase. The average litter size is around eight newborns, but can be as many as 15!
Stage 2: Transition (2–4 Weeks)
In this stage, their eyes being to open and they grunt softly. They also stand during this time and can even play with their littermates. They are still drinking milk from their mother during this time.
Stage 3: Social Stage (4–8 weeks)
During this third stage, puppies are weaned off their mother's milk. They begin to eat soft and mushy food. In addition, they are more playful with their littermates and start to have their teeth grow in. Puppies also being to bond with others. However, if a scary event happens during this time, they may create a fear response.
Stage 4: Humans (60+ days old)
It's at this point that trainers come in and help the dog become accustomed to the human world. This might mean additional socialization, puppy classes, regular walks, and more. Puppies will get to meet their new human families and learn what is/isn't a toy. From this stage until being one, can be the most important in their life. An owner who is consistent and willing to work can build a fantastic bond. Once that bond is created, they will have an amazing dog for many years to come!
Because German Shepherds are so intelligent and trainable, they are often employed as working dogs by military and law enforcement.
Interesting Facts About German Shepherds
- In the book, The Intelligence of Dogs, the breed is listed as the third most intelligent dog, behind Border Collies and Poodles.
- German Shepherds are purpose-driven dogs and need a regular outlet for their energy.
- They can become over-protective of their family/bonded “pack,” which can lead to strong territorial instincts.
- While most associate the breed with police dogs, they were also used as messenger dogs and guard dogs during World War II.
- German Shepherds may scare more easily than other types of dogs, but they are superior when displaying defensive behavior.
- Shows such as Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart elevated the breed's notoriety and made them more popular as household pets.
- Most German Shepherds used by police are renowned for their scent work, ability to detect explosives and narcotics, and aid in search and rescue efforts.
More Training Tips
© 2018 James Livingood
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House Training A German Shepherd Puppy
What’s the right German Shepherd potty training age? That’s one of the first questions owners have when it comes to housebreaking a puppy.
Puppies can control their body functions when they are 20 days of age, so they are ready for potty training from the moment you bring them home.
As such, it should be on top of your list of things to do.
Waiting a day or two might result in the little one deciding that it’s all right to do their business inside.
Once a puppy forms a habit, it’s twice as hard to undo it. So, let’s see how you housebreak a German Shepherd puppy.
#1 Choose a spot
You have one job before you bring your German Shepherd puppy home.
That’s to decide where you’re going to take Puffy to do his business while you’re housebreaking him.
It might be in the yard or the grass in front of your house, but you must make your mind.
Consistency is critical if you want to form the right habits in your puppy.
Changing the stop will confuse your puppy and make accidents in the house more likely.
#2 Learn about your puppy’s limitations
Young puppies have small bladders. That means that they can’t hold it very long even if they desperately want to.
So, expect a small puppy to make a mess if you leave him for more than a couple of hours.
Puppies between 8 and 16 weeks can hold their bladder up to two hours. That means that you have to take the puppy to its spot every hour.
Puppies over three months can control their bladder for around four hours, so you’ll have to take them every two hours.
#3 Use crate training
Some owners consider crate training to be cruel. However, crates are an excellent way to teach your puppy to hold his bladder and bowels.
By nature, puppies don’t eliminate in their living space. That’s a lesson they learn from their mothers.
So, when puppies think about their crate as a den, they are not going to make a mess in it unless necessary.
However, for this strategy to work, you have to get the right crate. If your crate is too big, your puppy is going to use a part of it as a toilet.
So, you need a crate that is big enough for your puppy to turn around, stand, and lay down comfortably.
#4 Establish a schedule
Do you know what I love about German Shepherd puppies when it comes to housebreaking? Their toilet habits are quite reliable.
What I mean is that your puppy will need to do his business around 10-20 minutes after eating.
So, if you establish a feeding schedule, you’ll be able to predict when your German Shepherd puppy will need the bathroom.
#5 Take your puppy regularly outside
The key to house training your German Shepherd puppy is to take it out of the house to do his business frequently.
By frequently, I mean right after they wake up in the morning, after napping, after playing, and after drinking and eating.
Usually, puppies can sleep around seven hours at night without needing a bathroom break. However, accidents still could happen.
If they do, you should take your puppy outside more often. That’s because when your pooch gets comfortable soiling the crate, he is going to do it again and again.
#6 Choose a command
When you take your German Shepherd puppy to pee and poop outside, you’re going to need a command word to remind them to do their business.
For example, you can use “go potty” or another phrase, which doesn’t come often in conversations.
Use the same command every time you take your puppy outside to potty just before the little one does his business.
In time, your puppy is going to associate the word with the action, which will make your job easy in bad weather.
#7 Always reward
To house train your German Shepherd puppies, you must remember to praise and reward them.
You must do it immediately after they have finished peeing or pooping. Don’t do it when you get back in the house.
Moreover, you must remember that puppies get easily distracted by new smells and sounds.
So, it might take a while for your little guy to finish doing his business.
#8 Read your puppy’s body language
Besides, establishing a feeding routine and taking your puppy frequently outside, there is one more vital element to house training a German Shepherd puppy.
You have to learn to read your puppy’s body language.
Puppies can’t talk, but they can show you very clearly that they are uncomfortable.
If you don’t learn to recognize the signs that your puppy has to go, you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself.
- Walking strangely
- Licking their rears
- A sudden shift in their activity or behavior
- Pawing at the door
- Going to a previously used spot in the house
But what should you do if you have ignored these signs and you catch your puppy in the act?
The correct action would be to say “outside,” for example, and take your puppy immediately to the designated spot.
#9 Keep calm
Does it seem like your puppy is taking forever to do their business? Well, it happens.
You mustn’t try to rush your pooch or distract them with encouragement.
The German Shepherd puppy might feel too anxious to finish their business, and then they’ll do in the house.
In addition to this, you mustn’t punish, scold, or yells at your pet while they’re doing their business.
All you’re going to accomplish is make your puppy afraid of a completely natural body function. That will lead to a myriad of behavior problems and inappropriate urination.
#10 Avoid typical housebreaking mistakes
House training a German Shepherd puppy takes time and effort. Naturally, you might make some mistakes along the way. But here are the main ones you must avoid:
- Overfeeding your puppy during the day or feeding them too close to bedtime
- Leaving your puppy alone for too long in a crate or unsupervised
- Giving your puppy too many treats
- Not cleaning any accident well to remove the smell
- Ignoring any signs that your puppy has to go
- Allowing your puppy too much access to new spaces around the house before you have housebroken them
By this point, a lot of owners ask me, “How long does house training a German Shepherd puppy take?”
My answer is always the same – however long it takes.
House training a German Shepherd puppy depends on how old is your puppy, how dedicated you are to the training, and the puppy’s personality.
Some puppies take to training so well that they are housebroken in a couple of weeks.
Others might take as long as a month or more. Just be patient and never yell or punish your puppy for having an accident in the house.
Training Your German Shepherd Dog- Do’s and Don’ts
If you’re looking for tips on training your GSD dog, we’ve got you covered.
Below, we’ll peek at some basic training strategy do’s and don’ts for these wonderful family dogs.
You can also apply them to other herding breeds!
If they don’t use their brains they become bored, and that leads to mischief. Bored German Shepherds are still clever German Shepherds. Highly-intelligent dogs, when left to their own devices, can wreak havoc in a home.
They may work out how to open bins or doors, how to access forbidden items. They may harm themselves. They will certainly make a mess.
I’ve had training clients whose German Shepherds learned to escape steel crates. They could find their way into secured food bins and refrigerators, and open cupboards all over the house to ease their boredom.
Even my own managed to open the front door of a pet sitter’s home. And to go for an unsupervised stroll around the neighborhood.
German Shepherd training will challenge your dog’s brain, reducing boredom, and will burn off some of that energy!
From 9 Months to 24 Months
Dogs of different breeds and sizes mature at different ages, and while one year of age is commonly considered the end of puppyhood in general, a German Shepherd Dog may not reach an adult level of maturity before the age of two or three (and males tend to reach this stage later than females). So continuing to work on impulse control, improve obedience skills, and advance to training in more focused activities like tracking, scent work, protection work, agility, and herding—all of which (and more) are capabilities of this breed—must continue throughout this period and then be reinforced as your GSD reaches adulthood.
Keep in mind that this is a breed that thrives on constant and consistent work and training, and loves to have a job—or many jobs!—to do. If you can provide your GSD with outlets for their intelligence and versatility, both you and your dog will reap the rewards.
Yasmine S. Ali, MD, is a cardiologist and writer based in Tennessee, where she lives with three Canine Good Citizens, including an AKC-registered German Shepherd Dog.