Are you the proud owner of a German Shepherd puppy? If so, you’ve just added a beautiful new member to your family!
Few other dog breeds possess the grace, intelligence, and athleticism of the German Shepherd. It’s no wonder they’ve been bred and trained for military and police operations since World War I.
Most likely, you’re not interested in training your German Shepherd puppy for the military. You simply want a well-behaved dog that’s obedient and loyal to you.
But how do you know where to start? What makes German Shepherds different than other large dog breeds? And with so much information out there, how can you know where to turn for the best puppy training advice?
In this all-inclusive guide, we’ll reveal everything you need to know about how to train a German Shepherd puppy.
Understanding the German Shepherd
Before you can understand the basics of training a German Shepherd puppy, you first need to understand the breed.
One of the things that probably drew you to the breed was its majestic beauty. And while German Shepherds are beautiful animals, their value goes far beyond their appearance.
German Shepherds rank as one of the top three most intelligent dog breeds.
What does this equate to in real-world terms? It means that most German Shepherds learn a new command in fewer than five repetitions. They also obey the first command 95% of the time or better!
It’s no wonder German Shepherds are highly valued as guard dogs. They’re also the breed of choice for K9 police units and search-and-rescue operations. A trained Shepherd’s nose is at least 10,000 times more powerful than the human nose. It can even discern the difference between identical twins!
What does all this mean for you and your new puppy? Simply put, your German Shepherd is a very intelligent animal that needs regular mental stimulation. And because they’re bred to be working dogs, they thrive in an environment that allows ample exercise.
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You need to ensure your Shepherd receives enough physical and mental exercise to keep him happy. If he doesn’t have a suitable outlet for his energy, he could become bored, agitated, or even aggressive.
In short, training your German Shepherd puppy will require time, energy, and patience. The results, however, will be more than worth it!
How to Train a German Shepherd Puppy
Now that you know more about the breed, let’s discuss how to train a German Shepherd puppy.
Training a Shepherd is a win-win situation. The dog wants to be busy, and training gives him something to do. The result? You get a dog that’s obedient and polite, and your dog gets the stimulation he craves.
How do you achieve this perfect balance? The key lies in establishing trust.
The first part of any training program is to show your dog that you’re a good leader. Rather than asserting your role as the “alpha,” your goal should be to win your dog’s trust and get him to look to you for guidance.
How do you establish an environment of trust? Be sure to use the following:
- Single, clear commands
- Non-threatening body language
- Firm but calm tone of voice
- Consistency in all aspects of training
- Rewards (praise, pats, treats) for good behavior
By establishing yourself as the benevolent “leader of the pack,” your puppy will learn to rely on you for direction.
One of the most important aspects of earning your dog’s trust is to be consistent with your training. If he’s allowed to sleep on the bed one night but not the next, he’ll quickly become confused and frustrated.
Different families establish different rules about begging, licking, and jumping on furniture. It doesn’t matter what you decide is acceptable within your own house.
The key is to be consistent in what you do and don’t allow.
The Power of Positive Reinforcement
Many traditional training theories revolve around harsh intimidation techniques. These include shock collars, choke collars, aggressive dominance, and “showing the dog who’s boss.”
Of course, each owner needs to make his own decision about how to train his dog. However, we can say with confidence that aggressive and dominating training methods are not the best way to train a German Shepherd puppy.
Obedience is something you should earn, not demand. This results from consistent training and positive reinforcement, not fear tactics.
By rewarding your puppy with praise or a treat when he does something right, you’ll motivate him to repeat the action in the future. On the other hand, yelling or physical punishment will scare your dog and teach him that he can’t trust you.
SEE ALSO: 5 Best Dog Training Treats
German Shepherd Puppy Training
Here are a few important things you do not want to do:
- Don’t expect your puppy to magically know what “no” means.
- Don’t expect your puppy to know a command you haven’t taught him.
- Don’t nag your dog by incessantly repeating commands. The only thing you’ll teach him is to ignore you.
- Don’t yell at your dog. A raised voice never improves the situation.
- Don’t confine or punish your dog because you haven’t trained him to behave.
- Don’t isolate your dog. He needs social interaction.
- Don’t reward undesired behaviors. Ignore them and focus on positive reinforcement.
- Don’t blame your dog. You are the trainer!
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Crate Training Your German Shepherd
The word “crate” sounds scary or even cruel to some dog owners. But think about it for a moment.
Where do wild dogs live? In dens. What do domestic dogs often do? They seek out cozy shelters for themselves, such as under a table or a bed.
Your puppy instinctively craves a location where he feels secure. A crate, when properly used, is the perfect solution. It gives your dog a small, safe environment where he can rest and sleep.
SEE ALSO: The Ultimate Guide to Crate Training a Puppy at Night
A crate is also an invaluable tool in the housebreaking process. Because a dog wants to keep his sleeping quarters clean, he’ll be reluctant to go to the bathroom inside his crate.
The crate can also give you, the owner, a break when you need it. After all, you can’t supervise your puppy 24 hours a day. So whenever you need to leave the house or attend to other things, a crate is the perfect place to secure your dog.
One important note: Never use the crate as a form of punishment. It’s your dog’s safe haven, so don’t take that away from him!
With that said, let’s outline how to crate train a German Shepherd puppy:
- Choose a crate that will be large enough for your puppy when he’s full-grown. He should be able to lie down, stand, turn around, and stretch out without touching the sides or ceiling.
- Create a cozy environment by placing a blanket, doggy bed, or favorite toys inside the crate. In the beginning, you may need to use treats to encourage your puppy to enter the crate. He’ll soon learn that it’s a safe place.
- Shut the door and allow him to stay in the crate for about 10 minutes. If he whines or cries, sit beside the crate and speak softly to calm him down.
- After 10 minutes, let him out and reward him with a treat. After an hour or two, repeat the process, this time leaving him in the crate for 20 minutes.
- Gradually add to the time he’s inside the crate, working up to an hour at a time. When your puppy is very young, his small bladder won’t tolerate extended times in the crate. As a rule of thumb, add one to your puppy’s age (in months). For example, if your puppy is two months old, he should be in the crate no more than three hours at a time.
SEE ALSO: The 5 Best Crates for Large Dogs
Housebreaking Your German Shepherd Puppy
Housebreaking goes hand in hand with crate training.
As soon as you release your puppy from his crate, you should take him to the yard or designated peeing area. Chances are he’ll do his business immediately since it’s unlikely he peed or pooped inside the crate.
You should also take your puppy to use the bathroom within 10 minutes of completing a meal or drinking water.
German Shepherds are very intelligent and will catch onto this routine in no time. Soon they’ll adopt this schedule on their own, perhaps by whining or scratching at the door to alert you that they need to go out.
Once you reach this stage, you’ve succeeded in housebreaking your puppy!
SEE ALSO: Are German Shepherds Good with Kids?
Basic Commands Every Puppy Should Learn
There are many different dog commands you may want to teach your German Shepherd.
For now, though, let’s start with the three most basic commands.
#1 – How to Train a German Shepherd Puppy to Sit
- Find a quiet place with no distractions.
- Face your puppy and let him sniff the treat in your hand. Don’t feed him yet; you’re merely getting his attention.
- Hold the treat above his nose at a high level. As you move your arm into position, say “Sit” in a clear, affirmative voice.
- The goal is for your dog to lift his head, look at the treat, and naturally move to a seated position. Once he does, reward him with the treat and lots of praise.
Continue the process until your puppy follows the command without errors. Gradually replace the treat with praise only, as too many treats could lead to unwanted weight gain!
#2 – How to Train a German Shepherd Puppy to Stay
- Place a treat in his bed, crate, or the area you want him to stay.
- While he’s eating, tell him to sit. Reward obedience with praise or another treat.
- Take one step back and give the command “Stay.” If he listens, reward him. If he moves, patiently bring him back and try again.
- Each time you tell him to stay, take another step back. Your goal should be to take 10 steps backward without him moving towards you.
Repeat these steps until your puppy understands what’s required of him. A great way to introduce this is to place his bed in the living room and have him stay there while you watch TV.
#3 – How to Train a German Shepherd Puppy to Come
- Start in a fenced-in yard or, if that’s not available, another room in your house.
- Hold your arms straight out to the sides, so you’re shaped like a “T.” As you move your arms into position, say the command “Come.”
- When your puppy obeys, reward him with a treat and a pat on the head.
It’s good to incorporate the arm gesture with this command, in case your dog is far away from you. Even if he’s down the street and can’t hear your command, he’ll be able to see it from a distance.
Discouraging Unwanted Behaviors
The easiest way to discourage unwanted behaviors is by ignoring them.
This may seem counterintuitive at first. But think of it this way: Most unwanted behaviors are your dog’s way of getting your attention. If you ignore the behavior, the dog doesn’t get the reward he seeks (your attention).
Let’s say your puppy jumps on you whenever you enter the house. Rather than reaching down to pet him (rewarding the behavior), turn your back on him and walk into another room. Once he has all four paws on the ground, then greet him.
You can use this process to break your puppy of almost any unwanted behaviors.
Final Thoughts on Training Your German Shepherd Puppy
Because of their many wonderful qualities, German Shepherds are among the most popular dog breeds in the world. In fact, there are over 3.5 million of them in the U.S. alone!
As a responsible owner, you want your puppy to grow up to be a loyal, well-behaved member of your family. By following these suggestions on training a German Shepherd puppy, that’s exactly what you’ll get!
For more tips and advice, please peruse our full collection of training and behavior posts.
Forrest is a lover of dogs, the wild outdoors, deep mysterious conversations… and coffee. He is the owner of several websites, including Canine Weekly. He resides in Austin, Texas.