Training a German Shepherd can be broken down into two basic steps:
- Reward the dog’s positive behaviors.
- Stop the dog’s negative behaviors.
Sounds easy enough, but how on earth do you actually do those things? Raising a German Shepherd from puppy to an adult dog can have its challenges if you don’t know the proper techniques of reward and punishment.
Basics of training
For a dog, a reward could be as simple as praise or petting from you, his master. You don’t have to run to the cabinet for a treat every time he does something you are pleased with.
Punishment is a loose term that simply means showing your dog when you disapprove of her behavior. A stern tone of voice or withholding food until the dog exhibits good behavior are enough to constitute punishment.
When training your German Shepherd and teaching voice commands, experts recommend that you remember two key points.
First, be consistent. Dogs’ brains aren’t nearly as developed as humans’. They cannot detect nuances in meaning. They do not recognize sarcasm. You must speak to your dog, in the same way, using the same words each time you give a command. This is the only way to be certain that she understands your desires.
Your dog must see you as her alpha leader; therefore, you must be consistent during training, even when you are tired or just don’t feel like enforcing the rules. Letting one bad behavior slide may set your dog back days or weeks in her training.
Second, keep things simple. Dogs aren’t likely to recognize a long string of words as much as they will tone of voice. So, while praising your dog with, “Whosagoodgirl?Youare.Yesyouare!” may get her excited, she’s most likely responding to your excitement rather than your words.
This can get especially confusing if you have children in your home whom you will also be praising. If the dog thinks you are speaking to her, she could get excited without cause and be confused as to what she did to make you so happy. You’re better off with a simple, “Good girl, Sheba!”
We’ll go into more detail about both of these guidelines in later chapters.
German Shepherds’ natural personalities
German Shepherds are some of the most trainable dogs because they are naturally confidence and loyalty. With these traits comes a high level of responsibility to your dog. You must set clear guidelines for him so that he can perform at his optimal level for you and your family and so that he will be as happy and healthy as possible.
German Shepherds have a reputation for being fierce, aggressive guard dogs. The truth behind this widely held belief is that some owners train their German Shepherds to be this way and encourage natural instincts to be aggressive. The typical German Shepherd is inclined to be watch dogs, guard dogs or service dogs. In all of these cases, they should be well trained so that they do not hurt you or someone else.
A German Shepherd should never be trained to attack. First of all, this training would most likely require you to be violent toward the dog. Second, training a dog to attack could cause the dog to become out of control, causing him to either attack you or become unresponsive to verbal commands.
For this reason, it is necessary to consider the breed as well as the dog’s individual temperament when training him for a specific purpose. Some German Shepherds are well suited for protection purposes, while others have an excellent personality to be service dogs. Even if you are just choosing a German Shepherd as a family pet because you like the breed, sufficient obedience training and socialization are still strongly recommended.
Dogs have similar emotions as people, although much less sophisticated. They feel happy, sad and confused just like we do. With that said, it is important to remember that dogs are not furry, four-legged people. Their brains were developed for survival, not analytical thinking. This is an attractive quality when you consider that dogs don’t hold on to hard feelings the way people do, thereby never seeking revenge or withholding affection.
Dogs also don’t have the capacity to fake emotions, so you’ll always know where you stand with him during training. If you know your dog well enough, it will be plain to you whether your dog does not understand your commands or if he is being willfully defiant.
You cannot reason with your German Shepherd or bargain with him. He cannot read your mind or tell when you are in a bad mood – despite what anyone tells you. Your dog’s behavior is learned based on past experiences. Use this to your advantage to teach him, over and over again, exactly how you want him to behave!
Why train your German Shepherd?
There are many important reasons to train your German Shepherd:
- This breed evolved from wolves, which are natural hunters. You don’t want your German Shepherd’s wolf instincts to kick in every time the neighbor’s cat runs by.
- German Shepherds are medium to large dogs when full grown – muscular and heavy. Even the mildest tempered dog could hurt someone by accident if not trained properly.
- Your dog can be trained for a multitude of functional purposes, from barking when a stranger is at the door to opening the fridge for a person with a physical disability. Use his desire to please for your benefit.
Commands that work
Dogs are largely non-verbal. Although they are highly intelligent, your training needs to be as non-verbal as possible, so eliminating words like “to” and “the” can speed up your training. For example, say “Bed,” instead of “Go to your bed.” More than likely, your dog will not respond to the meaning of your words but to the associations and memories connected to, what is to him, this strange sound.
Why German Shepherds are Easy to Train
German Shepherds are ideal working dogs and respond extremely well to training. The breed has been cultivated for well over 100 years for working purposes based on inherent characteristics found in the forerunners of German Shepherds.
History of the breed
The German Shepherd breed has existed in some form since 1889. A German Captain, Max von Stephanitz, took a liking to one working dog and began to standardize the German Shepherd breed. Stephanitz liked the dog because he saw a great potential for working jobs such as sheep herding. The dog’s physical prowess and visible intelligence won the captain over.
This beginning gave the German Shepherd its reputation for being a smart and functional dog – a true man’s best friend. Surprisingly, although many people today admire the distinctive look of a German Shepherd, beauty was not considered at all when these dogs were being standardized. The development of the German Shepherd’s strong, lean body and attentive appearance was simply a byproduct of the breed’s development.
The German Army used the dogs during World War I for various purposes. When American soldiers returned home from war, they talked about the loyalty and intelligence of these dogs. Some of them even brought German Shepherds home with them. Therefore, the breed became vastly popular for a time.
Characteristics of the ideal German Shepherd
A well-bred German Shepherd has many desirable characteristics:
- Appearance. Although they weren’t bred to be good looking, German Shepherds have, over time, developed a well-balanced body from front to back and ample muscle mass for working.
- Just looking at a German Shepherd should give you the impression that she is strong – a probable reason for their popularity as watch dogs.
- Personality. By nature, German Shepherds are pack animals. They are also fearless and confident, yet a good German Shepherd should not be overzealous. The breed standard says that this dog should know when to be outgoing and when to be observant. Because German Shepherds are working dogs, the timidity of character should not be tolerated.
- Size. German Shepherds are considered medium-sized dogs, which makes them large enough for herding and other outdoor jobs, but also small enough that they can rest unobtrusively under a table or by a chair as a service dog. Males are between 24 and 26 inches at the shoulder, while females are slightly smaller at 22 to 24 inches.
- Expression. A German Shepherd should have a thoughtful, intense expression most of the time. The dark, deep-set eyes should tell you that your dog is constantly aware of his surroundings, as should the pointed ears which are almost always raised at attention.
- Coat and color. The ideal German Shepherd has a double coat. A softer inner coat is designed to hold in the dog’s body heat while the thick, coarse outer coat protects it from the elements. This breed varies widely in color, but any pattern of black, dark brown, golden, or yellow is common.
All of these qualities make German Shepherds easy to train. They are workable dogs that can be a major asset to you in any way you choose to use them.
The First Steps in Training Your German Shepherd
Training your German Shepherd to respond to voice commands won’t be accomplished in a day, but if you train her slowly and consistently, you’ll end up with a dog that will do anything to please you.
Types of motivation
Motivation from your dog has to exist for training to work. Creating this motivation is your job. Find out as soon as possible what your dog responds best to. Here are some of the most effective rewards for most dogs:
Treats – Treats are good to use when your dog is learning something brand new because the food is a basic need that almost all dogs will respond to. Small treats are best. Choose treats that are too large and he could ignore your commands because he is satisfied with his large treat. Also, remember that a dog that has just eaten a meal is less likely to be interested in treats, so plan to train your dog between meals.
Praise – Again, understand that your German Shepherd will not understand your words of praise. However, he will see you making eye contact with him and hear the tone of your voice change – even subtly – as you verbally reward him. You can switch between verbal praise and treats in the beginning stages of learning any new task or command. This way, he will see all types of rewards equally.
Petting – Petting almost always calms your dog and shows her that she has your attention. A brief pat on the head, rub on the belly or scratch behind the ears will satisfy your dog that she has made you happy and also make her more willing to complete the command the next time. After an intense training session, take a few minutes to play with your dog, expecting nothing of her. Toss a ball or wrestle playfully to show her you are happy with her performance.
If you intend to use positive reinforcement to train your dog on basic and advanced commands, knowing what she likes best will help the training process go smoother. Combining rewards, such as a “Good boy!” while giving your dog a treat is usually more effective than giving only one type of reward.
Positive reinforcement revolves around one principle: catching your dog in the act of doing something that pleases you and rewarding her for it. When this happens repeatedly, your German Shepherd will begin to pick up on the repetition and repeat those behaviors more often.
Timing is everything
When you are training your German Shepherd, remember that he does not have an extreme ability to link the behavior to the reward unless you give the reward quickly. Give the command and reward him as soon as he exhibits the behavior you’re asking. Otherwise, he won’t equate the reward with the act. You should be prepared with treats nearby when you give a new command. Don’t run to the fridge and expect him to sit there and remember what he did right!
Similarly, don’t withhold the reward until the dog performs several new skills. Each one should be rewarded separately. Eventually, when your dog has mastered all of the voice commands you desire, you can then ask him to do several tasks without rewarding each one individually.
To be successful training your German Shepherd, keep your training sessions short. Most puppies can only focus on training for about 5 to 10 minutes multiple times a day. This will give your puppy the opportunity to let the dog be successful each time. He’ll be more interested the next time you get ready to train if he knows you’re happy with him every time you finish.
When to train
The first 2 to 6 months during a German Shepherd puppy’s life is the optimal time to begin the first stages of training. This will include socialization, obedience, and basic command training.
Socialization means that your dog learns normal human behavior. They learn during this time what is a threat and what isn’t. Letting your dog ride in cars, meet new people and see different animals will give him a much broader view of the world. If done correctly, socialization will give your dog many positive experiences to draw from when you begin training, and it will keep less interested in distractions.
Obedience training will teach your German Shepherd what makes you pleased with him. If you already have an obedient dog, advanced voice commands will be much easier to teach. Obedience training should be something that your dog enjoys. And by constantly reinforcing good behavior, you’ll minimize negative behavior.
Basic command training isn’t about doing tricks. It’s about necessary behaviors you need your dog to know. For example, you’ll absolutely want to train your dog to stop barking on command so that he does not terrorize the neighbors or the mail person. Similarly, your dog should always come when you call him. Basic commands can be taught easily during the 2 to 6 month window.
Using simple commands
Use simple commands when training your dog. As discussed earlier, we know that dogs do not process language as we do. Rather than putting together sentences, use a one- to two-word command, and use the same one every time. Rather than, “Baby, do you need to go outside?” Just say, “Out?” every time. Don’t say “Let’s go outside!” one time and “Do you have to tinkle?” the next. Your dog will respond to the tone of your voice – question or exclamations especially – but not the actual words.
If you want him to know what you’re saying, keep it simple. Here are some simple commands that may replace longer sentences:
- Instead of “Can you sit down, please?” say “Sit.”
- Instead of “I didn’t say you could go yet.” say “Wait.”
- Instead of “Are you ready to go?” say “Let’s go!”
- Instead of “Can you come over here?” say “Come.”
- Instead of “I’m so proud of you!” say “Good boy!” or “Good girl!”
Dogs and children
You should never leave children unattended with your new puppy. Children usually love animals and show them so aggressively. They encourage dogs to chase them, and they hit harder than they should. They do not usually respect the dog’s space; therefore, they should be trained right along with your dog.
Showing her who’s boss
German Shepherds are pack animals. Bringing one into your home is a huge responsibility because you have to show her that YOU are the alpha leader. Each step of the training process should show your dog that you are calm and in control at all times.
Don’t give commands half-heartedly. The more assertive you are, the easier teaching each new command will be. Be firm in every demand or don’t ask at all. If the alpha wants the dog to do something then he or she must say so with the full intent of the dog following through. You can’t let something go one time and then expect perfect behavior all other times.
Choose one person to be the alpha leader for your dog. The alpha cannot switch from one person to another, so whoever it needs to be someone who will be spending the most time with the dog. This will keep her from being confused and behaving badly because she doesn’t know who is in control.
Becoming the alpha leader does not mean that you have to be mean to your dog. Hitting your dog, yelling at her or withholding food are not ways to teach your dog that you are her superior. These behaviors will only cause the dog to fear you and possibly to act badly because of that fear.
Bringing your dog home
You should bring your dog home alone when you first pick him up. If you have other dogs, leave them at home. The car is no place for your new dog to meet his new friends. Plus, some dogs react adversely or fearfully to car rides.
Bring a blanket or other soft item that you plan to the dog keep with you when you pick up your German Shepherd. This item will comfort him as it absorbs his smell. You can also wrap him in it if he seems to want to cuddle.
When you get home, put the blanket in the house before the dog goes in. Greet him at the door with it so he recognizes it. Let your dog explore the area where he will be living – the kitchen, utility room or the yard. If you plan to use a kennel, have that prepared so that he can examine that, too.
Depending on the temperament of other dogs you have in the house, you may want to leash them before meeting the new dog. You’ll definitely want to have the new dog on a leash since you don’t know his personality as well. Expect that one dog will express dominance. That’s to be expected. Your job is to facilitate the meeting. Taking them for a walk together the day you bring your new dog home is a really good way to get them acquainted.
The following guidelines are tips for giving basic obedience training commands.
Teaching your dog to sit can allow you to calm him down when you have guests or when you want to feed him without having the food dish knocked out of your hand.
Stand in front of your dog and hold out a treat so that he can smell it. You can even show it to him if you need to get his attention. Hold the treat above his nose high enough that he can’t grab it. As he looks up, move your hand up or back to make him look at the treat. His back end will naturally go down. Say, “Sit,” as you do this until his back end is on the ground.
No one will be happy to be greeted by a powerful dog jumping on them when they enter your home. Dogs can even injure children or elderly people by jumping on them. Your dog wants to get closer to your face – the area from which all verbal praise and happy expressions come from.
Training your dog not to jump is an easy process for most owners and pets. Start by walking in the door and letting your dog meet you. If he jumps up, don’t give him any attention. If he keeps jumping, walk away from him completely, into another room perhaps. When he stops jumping, give him a treat. You might have to go outside and come back in a few times. Keep some treats by the door so you can reinforce his good behavior every time you walk in.
“Stay” is possibly the most important command your German Shepherd will learn. If he is trained well enough, you can command him to stay no matter what temptation he encounters.
The best place to train your dog to stay is her bed, wherever that may be. A good place could also be beside your chair or by the door, depending on what is most convenient for your dog and your home.
Start this training by putting some treats wherever you decide the dog will stay. When he eats the treat, at first tell him to sit then verbally praise him for sitting. Step away and give your “stay” command. If he stays there, reward him again. If not, have him come back to his “stay” place and start over.
You can take another step back if he seems to be accepting the command. Within the first training session, you can work up to 10 steps away from your dog.
The goal of obedience training
There are some basic guidelines for each of these commands. First of all, give your dog the treat immediately after he does what you want so that he will associate the two.
Repeat the pattern a few times until the dog completes the command successfully every time. Stop before he gets tired of the game – because he will see training as a game.
As he gets better at the command, give verbal praise as well as treats. After all, you won’t always be walking around with treats in your pocket. Your dog needs to know that verbal praise is just as good as a bite to eat.
German Shepherds as Guard Dogs
German Shepherds are natural guard dogs and can be trained to work as a lookout. They instinctively want to listen to their owners and please them. While they have a loyal, kind spirit toward their families – their pack, as they see them – German Shepherds have a threatening look.
German Shepherds are territorial and protective, and they are untrusting of strangers. They are also durable animals with thick fur and strong bodies, which makes them ideal for varying climates and for the (unlikely) event that they would have to defend their home or their master.
The word Schutzhund is…no surprise…German, and it means “protection dog.” Training German Shepherds to work is not the path that each dog from this breed is cut out for. Schutzhund is as much a test as it training – a test to determine if the dog is truly a good fit for this type of work. It will test the following qualities in the dog:
- How trainable the dog is
- The level of intelligence the dog has
- How courageous the dog may be
- The dog’s desire to work
- Determination level of the dog
- The dog’s likelihood of bonding with a handler
- Protective instincts of the dog
- The dog’s sense of smell
Schutzhund is also a fun sport for several breeds including German Shepherds which tests the skills of the dog and the trainer. Along with basic obedience, any dog that will be trained to be a working dog should ideal go through Schutzhund training, too. It fosters responsibility and concentration in your dog along with physical trains such as agility, strength, and endurance.
Guard dog duties
It should never be your intention to train your dog to bite or attack. This is cruel to the animal, and it could result in the dog hurting or killing you, a family member or another person. Training your dog to be violent could also result in your dog being mandatorily euthanized because of his actions. Regular obedience and Schutzhund training prepare your dog for the following guard dog tasks.
Barking at strangers is one guard dog behavior that should be encouraged when you are at home. This can warn you of a possible intruder’s presence or intimidate people from entering your home without explicit permission. Your dog should be trained well enough that when you are alerted to the stranger being present, you should be able to give a command such as “Hush,” “Quiet,” or “Enough” to make him stop barking.
If you plan to take your dog out in public – to the park, for example – the goal is for him to be aware that this is a social situation. He should be trained to ignore friendly strangers or inattentive people who pass by, not to simply bark at everyone.
The idea behind training your German Shepherd to be a guard dog is to make him keenly aware of anyone or anything unfamiliar. To do this, you should by rewarding him when he notices unfamiliar people and situations. If he knows a “Speak” command, use this whenever he alerts to something potentially threatening in or around your home.
You can even take this training a step further by having a few people that your dog doesn’t know pretend to try getting into your property. When the dog barks, the person should make eye contact with the dog and run away. Praise the dog, but do not allow him to chase the person, even just to the edge of the yard or to the road. When the person is out of sight, give him the stop barking command. This may seem like an extreme way of training, but if the dog’s sole purpose is to protect your property and your family, it’s well worth trying.
To show your dog where the boundaries of your – and his – territory are, walk him around the edges of it several times. Don’t allow him to react to anyone outside of your property and never allow him to chase people or other animals.
German Shepherds as Service Dogs
Service dogs are considered to be dogs that help people do specific daily tasks. We immediately think of seeing eye dogs, sometimes called guide dogs, but there are much more jobs a dog can do for her human which make the person’s life easier. A service dog can make it possible for a person with a severe disability to go to school, hold a job, or live alone.
What makes a good service dog?
Not every dog is right for service dog work. Typically, the breeds that are trained for this type of work are Golden Retrievers and Labradors. Recently, Standard Poodles, Doberman Pinschers, Australian Shepherds, Boxers, Australian Cattle Dogs, Border Collies and, yes, German Shepherds are all being used more frequently as service dogs as well.
These breeds have a few things in common. First, they are all medium-sized animals that are not so small that they could get hurt in heavy foot traffic, but they are not so large that they are obtrusive in small spaces such as elevators. Next, they are all stout breeds that are strong enough to support part of a person’s weight or help them with weight-bearing tasks. Also, they are highly intelligent, trainable dogs who enjoy human companionship.
With these things in mind, it’s also important to figure in the dog’s individual personality and temperament. German Shepherds are often seen as aggressive animals – too aggressive to be service animals – but the fact is that many are quite docile and make excellent guide dogs and other service animals.
In addition to the traits already mentioned – size, strength, intelligence, temperament – a dog’s health must also be a factor when he is being considered for a guide dog position. One training company admits that only 1 out of every 10 dogs it tests meets all these requirements and is qualified to go through training in the first place.
Even if a dog meets all of these criteria, he must show a desire to learn and the skills necessary to complete guide dog training. A strong work ethic is the main trait that makes German Shepherds well qualified to be service dogs.
German Shepherds’ usefulness as service dogs
Actually, one of the first well-known service dogs was Morris Frank’s German Shepherd named Buddy, a seeing eye dog from Switzerland. In 1929 the pair grabbed America’s attention and shined a spotlight on the breed’s suitability for service.
A training facility opened in New Jersey recognized the intelligence and strong work ethic inherent in German Shepherds for not just seeing eye dogs, but for all service dog jobs. Some breeders recognized the need for animals that would best suit these specific purposes, so they began tailoring their breeding stock to meet not only breed specifications but temperament ideals as well.
Types of service dogs
Dogs are trained for many different daily tasks. While they cannot do everything for a disabled person, service dogs can be trained to make many tasks easier. They can also be taught to make the person more aware of his or her surroundings.
Hearing dogs – Hearing dogs can be trained to alert their owners to 3 to 5 different sounds: a doorbell, a baby crying, an alarm clock, a phone ringing or a knock at the door are all examples of sounds that might evoke a response from these dogs. Hearing dogs are usually trained to make physical contact with their owner when they hear these sounds. They will then lead the person to the sound.
Diabetic alert dogs – Severe diabetics may not recognize the symptoms of hyperglycemia (extremely high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (extremely low blood sugar) soon enough to correct the condition with food or insulin. Diabetic alert dogs will warn a diabetic if his or her blood sugar goes above 160 or below 80.
People put off a slightly different scent when blood sugar levels are at extremes. These dogs are trained to notice these differences and alert the person before he or she passes out or gets very ill.
Medical assist dogs – Medical assist dogs can be trained for a variety of disabilities. Most can perform 4 to 5 different areas of service. Some of these jobs may include picking up items and bringing them to the person, opening doors, or helping the person rise and stand from sitting or from a wheelchair. These dogs are strong and dependable.
Mobility dogs – Closely related to medical assist dogs, mobility dogs are trained for the sole purpose of helping disabled owners to move around. They can handle up to 5 areas of service, including bracing the person while walking or pressing handicap access buttons on doors.
PTSD dogs – Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome can be experienced by anyone who has been through a stressful emotional and/or physical situation.
PTSD dogs are trained to monitor their owners’ mood and emotions. If the owner seems to be withdrawing from social interaction, becoming depressed or leaning toward an episode such as an anxiety attack, the dog will immediately respond by showering the person with attention and physical contact.
Use of PTSD dogs is shown to calm patients down quickly. Although it isn’t clear why PTSD dogs are so effective, it’s probably for the same reason that service animals are taken to hospitals and nursing homes – pets foster a feeling of warmth, love, and loyalty that the majority of people respond to.
How to Teach Commands
Finally, we find ourselves at the crux of training a German Shepherd. How do you train your dog to respond to nothing but verbal commands, and which commands do you teach?
Why verbal commands?
While dogs do not understand language, the sound of your voice will become a cue for him to listen and respond to you. Verbal commands give you and your dog a way to communicate through your tone of voice and facial expression. “Good boy” and “Quiet” should not have the same tone or expression. Your dog will quickly learn what makes you happy and when you are serious about a command.
Hand signals do sometimes accompany verbal commands. Hand signals are convenient when working with a dog in an environment that requires silence. Police dogs, for example, may be trained to respond to either voice commands or hand signals.
Hand signals may be employed as your dog ages and her hearing begins to decline. The drawback to hand signals is that you still first have to get the dog’s attention, most likely by a vocal command anyway; however, using the two types of commands together will further ensure that your dog understands you completely.
A well-trained dog is a happy, confident dog because she knows exactly what to do almost all the time. Stress for dogs mainly stems from being confused and feeling threatened. When you eliminate those two scenarios, your German Shepherd will thrive. She trusts you and wants to please you, so training her with verbal commands will make both of your lives easier!
What the right commands can do
Dogs have earned the title of man’s best friend for good reason – it’s in their nature to desire companionship and to enthusiastically please you, their pack leader.
Your trained German Shepherd will watch you closely and before you know it, she may even begin to pick up on your wishes before you speak them. Just to be sure, though, learn the commands below and how to train your dog to respond to them.
The 14 essential verbal commands
Here is a list of the basic verbal commands your German Shepherd should know. The list is not exhaustive, of course. You may have a specific job you want your dog to do that doesn’t appear on this list – getting the paper off the stoop, bringing you his leash when he has to go outside, or closing the door behind you when your hands are full, for example.
Once you have trained your German Shepherd to do these 14 things, you can probably train him to do any specific job or trick as well.
We’ve already covered a few of these:
- Don’t jump – Teach your dog when he should stay on all fours so that he will not hurt anyone by jumping on them.
- Sit – No matter where your dog is in relation to you, he should respond to your sit command. This command can be given if your dog is on-leash or off-leash. Some trainers recommend combining the “Sit” command with a hand motion, such as an upturned palm being raised a few inches.
- Stay – When you command your dog to stay, he should remain in the exact spot where you gave the command. “Sit” and “Stay” are often used together. Telling your dog to sit and stay often alerts him that it’s not ok to relax completely (then you’d say “Down” – keep reading!). He can rest, but he should still be paying attention to you.
- Quiet – Even dogs that aren’t specifically trained to be guard dogs will bark…it’s what they do. Every dog should have a “Quiet” command in case you need to talk on the phone or if you have company.
Here are a few more essential commands your dog should know:
- Come – When you tell your dog to come, expect him to report to a designated spot every time. For example, you could want him to stand directly facing you. You could also combine “Come” with “Heel,” so that when you say “Come” you pat one leg or the other (same leg every time) so that the dog positions his shoulder even with your knee, facing the same direction as you.
- Down – Decide beforehand if “Down” will mean “relaxed down” (a resting position) or if it will be “working down” (where the dog is on his belly, but his head is still up, eyes alert). A well-trained German Shepherd should obey the “Down” command even from a standing position (without sitting first), whether or not he is on a leash.
- Out (and In) – It’s kind of cheating to put these commands together, but there’s a really good reason! Most people feel accomplished when they train their dog to go out on command, but what about when you’re ready for him to come back in? Teaching your dog “Out” and “In” could also come in handy if you’re taking him somewhere in the car. To avoid having to pick up your heavy dog and put him in your vehicle, simply point to the ground and say “Out.” When it’s time to go home, say “In” and point his place in the car.
- Leave it – If you don’t want your dog to investigate something, this command could work as “Leave it alone.” If you mean for him not to pick up something, even a favorite toy, it could mean “Leave it there.” Either way, he knows he’s not supposed to go after the thing that has caught his interest.
- Let go – Ever played fetch with a dog that didn’t want to give the stick back? It’s no fun wrestling something out of your dog’s mouth. It’s one thing if the item is a useless stick or his toy, but what if it’s your daughter’s favorite baby doll? Telling your dog “Let go” should command him to drop the item immediately.
- Kennel – Kennel or crate training is a whole other topic from obedience training, but your dog should know that when you say “Kennel,” it means that he’s getting some rest in his personal space. Kennels should never be used for punishment, so your dog shouldn’t resist going in there.
- No – “No” can be an all-purpose command that stops your dog from whatever he’s doing at that moment. If you call him to you – and away from his bad behavior – and then tell him “No,” he probably won’t understand what he’s done wrong. Don’t be afraid to be forceful with your “No,” either. He’ll understand by your tone that you are displeased. This command can be softer if he’s closer to you or louder if he’s farther away.
- Speak – Find a trigger such as a doorbell or a barking dog sound on the internet that makes your dog bark. Say “Speak” when he barks. Let him continue for a few moments, then praise him or give him a treat. You may also want to give the “Quiet” command once he stops to reinforce both commands. When your dog will bark on command, you can use his imposing looks and threaten bark to protect yourself and your family.
- Eat – We’ve all seen a picture or a video of a dog with a wiener balanced on his nose, refusing to flip it up and devour it in one bite until his master gives him permission. This isn’t just a party trick, although it is very impressive since food is one of your dog’s most basic temptations. Teach your dog to sit while you prepare his food somewhere that is comfortable for you, not him – on a counter or a table, perhaps. Give him the “Stay” command even when you place his food bowl on the floor near him. He should only eat when you give the command, “Eat.” This will keep him from jumping up on you or knocking the bowl out of your hand.
- OK – “OK” can be the command that tells your dog that everything is fine or that he can relax. You are, after all, his alpha leader, so he will look to you in most cases to know if a situation is dangerous or benign.
- Guard – An optional “essential” command, “Guard” can be used to direct your watchdog to search for anything unfamiliar. She should become alert and watchful, but she should not bark unless she sees something potentially threatening. Once you feel like the threat of danger is gone, you can tell him “OK” so he will know that he doesn’t have to be on high alert any more.
A final word on vocal commands
Even after your dog knows all his commands well, practice with him. This will keep him familiar with even the lesser-used commands that he knows such as “Speak.”
Incorporate this practice into playtime by switching up a game of fetch with a few simple commands like “Sit,” “Down,” and “Come.” Do so with enthusiasm so that your dog knows you are having fun, too.
Above All, Respect
Everything concerning your German Shepherd’s training progress has to do with one thing: RESPECT. Your dog must respect you before she will be willing to do anything you ask of her, and you also must respect her in order to show her that you are a worthy leader.
Why YOU should train your dog
We’ve mentioned a few times now that your dog will see you as the alpha of her “pack.” This relates directly to her training. Many dog owners are under the impression that the dog needs all the training, so they dump it off at obedience school and return expecting a different dog.
The truth is that training is about building a relationship with your dog. It’s about trial and error, seeing what works for both of you. Your dog isn’t like a computer that needs to be worked on and then returned to you better than new. She will respond much better to commands if you are the one who has taught her from the beginning.
Many training facilities, therefore, offer master-dog classes where you learn together. Plus, you’ll probably be in a class with other humans and dogs, so your dog will be socialized as well!
Challenges of training a German Shepherd
German Shepherd dogs are naturally dominant creatures that will not respect you just because you’re a human. If you don’t assert yourself as the alpha, your dog will be more than willing to fill that spot, sleeping wherever he likes, barking at will and even making messes in your home. You will have to be unfailing in your training rituals day after day to gain your dog’s respect.
Ignorance is different from disobedience. Before you punish your dog for undesirable behavior, give him the benefit of the doubt by teaching him what you want him to do while ignoring the inappropriate behaviors, at least until you’re sure that he understands what you expect.
If your dog still disobeys commands, it most likely means that he either still does not understand, or it means that he does not respect you as his boss.
Here is a simple list of ways you can assert dominance over your dog without hitting, yelling, or punishing:
Never let your dog walk in front of you. Either let him walk beside you or behind you. This applies to leaving the house or getting out of the car as well. Never let him feel like he is leading you.
Make certain areas of your home or yard off limits to the dog. Doing this shows him that YOU are the master of the whole property. Don’t let him jump on the furniture or on your bed, either. Letting him do this just once will teach him it’s ok next time.
Make your dog wait for things. As the alpha, you should get what you want first. For example, eat before you feed your dog. Set your belongings down and get settled before showering him with attention. Just because he brings a toy to you doesn’t mean you have to play with him. Making him wait just a minute or two will show him that you are in control.
Some training tips
Just to follow up, let’s discuss a few things you can do to sabotage your vocal command training.
If you change the word you are using for a command, from “Quiet” to “Hush,” for example, your dog will not understand what you mean. What you perceive as disobedience may be confusion on her part.
Don’t train where there are distractions. Once your dog is fully trained, she should do everything you ask in a crowded, noisy space even without a lead on. In the beginning, though, train someplace quiet so that your dog can pay you her full attention and clearly understand your commands.
Nip disobedience in the bud. Don’t let your dog get away with something because you think she didn’t hear you or she is having too much fun to stop what she’s doing and obey you. If she gets away with something once, she’ll try again.
To conclude, let’s recap some of the most important tips for training your German Shepherd.
First, be constant in your training methods. Your dog will respond to you consistently if you are consistent in your demands. Always praise your dog for good behaviors, and always scold him if he willfully disobeys you.
German Shepherds are natural learners, but you have to remember that they are still animals. Don’t expect miraculous results after your first training session. Also, don’t expect your dog to know what you want before you have trained him.
We discussed keeping your training sessions short. Likewise, commands should be short to promote understanding.
Even if your dog knows a command well, review it with him often anyway to make sure he doesn’t forget it.