Whether you have been interacting with them for some years now, or just brought one home a few days ago, I’m sure you will agree with me that German Shepherds are a pleasure to have around. They are medium-to-large sized dogs and can live up to about 13 years. These working-class furry colleagues were bred for two purposes; guarding and herding.
However, they also make perfect sniffer dogs and do well in search and rescue, and that’s why you might have seen them severally on the big screen or walking down the road with the military police brigade. But with all this fame, are German Shepherds Easy to Train?
Well, the fact is that the German Shepherd is one easy-to-train dog breed. They are among the brightest and most intelligent dogs, only after the Border Collie and the Poodle breeds. This is according to the “The Intelligence of Dogs“, a book published in 1994 by Stanley Coren, a professor of canine psychology, University of British Columbia.
Why German Shepherds Are Easy To Train
To understand why these dogs are easier to train, let’s go back to their roots. Their original purpose was to help German farmers in herding and guarding their livestock against threats. They were expected to gather the herd in a specific way and watch over them from threats, something that takes intelligence, obedience, hyper-alertness, courage, and the ability to react fast to excel in. In other words, what makes them a breeze to train is their inbred traits. Here are their major inborn qualities.
German Shepherds Are Intelligent
If you are one dog lover who has interacted with many dog breeds, you will agree with me that some breeds are smarter than others. Now, the German Shepherd is among the smartest dog breeds you can ever bring to your home. Their high level of intelligence makes them quick learners, meaning that they are likely to respond to your commands correctly faster than other breeds.
According to the book published by Stanley Coren, the German Shepherds will understand new commands in fewer than 5 repetitions and obey the first command at least 95% of the times, something that most German shepherd trainers and top researchers have ascertained to be a valid description by the professor.
Their high level of intelligence is what gives them the ability to make quick and right decisions on their own when herding and responding to attacks from threats. They are kind of dogs that want to keep their high level of intelligence in practice. They like to keep their minds busy and are always looking for such an opportunity- you just need to give them the idea!
German Shepherds Bond Closely With Their Human Friends
If you have ever been a stranger to any German shepherd dog, you are in a better position to attest that these super-smart dogs are at times stand-offish around unfamiliar faces. Some may not be aggressive to strangers but they will try their best to make it known to them that they don’t want them to get inside or any closer to their territory.
When it comes to their loved ones, however, German Shepherds will “wear another face”. They form a very close bond with their very own and are ever ready to put their life on the line to protect their loved ones in case of danger.
The close bond allows them to stay tuned in to their human trainers. In fact, at times, German Shepherds will read your mind and know what you are intending to do even before you do it. That’s why most of the time they will respond to what you want them to do even before you ask for it.
German Shepherds Always Want To Please
One thing that sets GSDs apart from other dogs is that they are always eager to please. They are adorable dogs that love to keep their human partners happy and feeling proud of having them around. Therefore, they are always striving to do all that they can in every challenge you pose them to just see you happy and prove to you that they are the best. Therefore, when training them to respond to your commands, the German Shepherd dogs will try their best to try and grasp what you want them to do in just a few tries.
They Are One Curious Breed
Being great watchdogs, GSDs are naturally curious. They like inspecting everything in their surroundings to see if there is any threat. But this isn’t the only area where they display their curiosity; the German shepherds are the kind of dogs that want to learn as much as they can when there is the opportunity. That’s why you will see them try to lend a helping paw when doing some of the jobs at home and in the garden. Their high level of curiosity is a great plus since it gives their minds the readiness needed to welcome new lessons.
German Shepherds Are Really Brave Dogs
As stated earlier, German Shepherds were bred for farmers to help defend their cattle from the preying foxes. Therefore, courage is one thing that really thrives in their genes. They don’t shy off from battlefields, and Rin-Tin-Tin is a perfect case in point. He is an iconic German Shepherd dog who went on to star in as many as 27 Hollywood movies. While you may find it a little hard to figure out the role of bravery in training, the fact is that it is as important as any other quality.
Here is the thing- you don’t want to train your dog to respond to your commands only when they are in a comfortable and calm environment, right? Here is where courage comes in. It lets them obey your commands even in challenging and the most frightening and distractive settings. It affords them the much-needed confidence in such conditions.
Also, their high level of confidence allows them to take the daily minor mistakes they make in training in their strides, something that helps them to stay more focused in their training without taking to heart the petty errors they have done in the past.
The Perfect Age To Begin Training Your German Shepherd
If you are intending to train your German Shepherd, you might be wondering whether your dog is of the ideal age for training. Well, it’s a common question by dog folks who want to make their interactions way better with their canines. So, when exactly is the right time to begin the training program?
As of current, there is no consensus on the perfect age to start your German Shepherd training. However, more than a few professional dog trainers believe that it’s good to start training your GSD pup as early as 8 weeks old. This is because it is at the age of 7 weeks that your GSD pup’s temperament solidifies. Therefore, training your puppy when it is at the age of 8 weeks means that their core innate personality that is needed in the training is already developed fully. Embarking them on training at an early age means that you will also have a longer time to interact with your trained colleague bearing in mind they only live for about a decade.
However, in case your German Shepherd is past the puppy stage, or maybe you just adopted untrained one, there is still some hope- these dogs are very smart, adaptable, and will learn to respond to your commands easily no matter their age.
The Training Process For Your German Shepherd
Although a GSD of any age can excel in training, you have to consider their age to determine the best approach to use for training them. In other words, the method that you are going to use to train a puppy isn’t the same you would apply in the case of an adult.
Training Your German Shepherd Puppy
So you chose to manipulate the behavior of your German Shepherd at an early stage- very well! Ensure that the small-pawed friend hits the age of 8 weeks before you get started. Here are a few things to guide you in the training.
Show Them It’s Alright To Be Handled Everywhere
Your little GSD isn’t going to remain a pup for a long time. At their young age, this is the perfect time to show them that there is nothing wrong with touching their paws, ears, tail, and so on. This will give you an easy time when you need to trim their nails, clean their ears, and groom them once they have grown fully. Instilling this in their mind at an early stage will also make it easier for you in the future when taking their temperature and will give your vet ample time when they are working on them.
Begin With The Basic Cues
At this early stage, you should consider teaching them how to respond to some basic cues. Some of the commands you may train at this time include “stand”, “sit”, “heel”, and other simple commands. Although GSD puppies are very natty, your little colleague may not understand these commands their first time- patience is key at this point.
Take The Training Everywhere You Can
If you have taught your pup to obey a few basic commands in one area, let’s say in the kitchen, you might be surprised to see them not respond to them when outside the kitchen. Therefore, you have to train them in different places- beginning right from scratch in every new venue. But don’t get discouraged- their level of intelligence means that your puppy will need fewer repetitions than most other breeds.
Reinforcement And Rewards Are Key
Although your GSD puppy may still excel in training without the rewards, using treats to reinforce the correct response will be a good way to let your commands sink deeper in their heads. It’s pretty simple to get the logic behind this- dogs respond to what you do more than what you say!
Potty Training Is Good At This Stage
You don’t want your GSD to relieve themselves anywhere once they grow older. Doing a potty training for your pooch will be nice at an early stage. You should ensure that you take him for potty time to the designated area after eating, sleeping, and playing.
Puppies that are 2 months old will want to relieve themselves after every 2-3 hours, and then after an additional hour for every month they add in their age. When they are 1/2-year old and beyond, this time sticks to between 6-8 months. In case there is an accident that you didn’t see happen, it’s too late for punishment. For effective correction, you have to time when they are in the act and then redirect them to the designated place. If you punish them later, they may fail to connect the reason for the punishment, something that may make you lose their trust.
It’s Time To “Kill” The Jumping Behavior
Jumping on people is innate in most dogs. Of course, you might not have an issue with the behavior when they are still very young. However, months later, this can be a bothering that is hard to stop. Therefore, it’s good you train your puppy to avoid jumping right at their small age. The best way is to ignore your pup totally once they jump on you. It’s until they have all their four paws on the ground that you can greet them. If they repeat the mistake, ignore them again and this time watch them from the corner of your eye.
No Many Trainers At This Stage
When training your dog the basics, having one member of the family do the work will be good. This is because consistency is critical at this stage. However, once your puppy is now good with the basics, other members of the family can come in. After all, you don’t want to have a German shepherd that will grow up to only obey the trainer and ignore the rest of the members of the family.
It’s Time To Discourage Chewing
Chewing is something that all dogs are born with. Obviously, you don’t want to come home one day to find that your pooch chewed your shoes, carpets, toys, and other valuable possessions. You can find a way to make the little one understand that you don’t encourage the behavior. For instance, you can use distractions or a bitter spray to discourage the behavior.
Keep Your Cool
You don’t want to train your young German Shepherd to fear you, you want him to obey your cues for better communication in the future. Therefore, ensure that you don’t yell at your puppy. Being a clever breed, GSD puppies will sense your anger and frustration in the tone of your voice. When you feel that you are beginning to lose your patience, it will be wise to reschedule the training for a later time when you are all fresh and okay. However, ensure that you close the training in a happy note.
Training Your Adult German Shepherd
If you are dealing with an adult German Shepherd, you will need to use a different approach to teach them new tricks and commands. Here are some of the training guides for your big furry companion.
Begin From The Scratch
If your dog doesn’t know how to respond to simple commands, then basic cues should form the foundation for your training. Here, you can train them commands such as “sit”, “stand”, “heel”, “stay” and others that you would have used if they were puppies.
Don’t Forget The Importance Of Motivators
Here, you can use food, toys, and praises as motivators. They send a strong message to the dog that they have performed well. However, you have to understand that timing is important. Ensure that your reward follows the right behavior immediately to make them understand why they are getting the reward.
Keep The Sessions Short
For more effective training, it’s good to keep the sessions as short as 20 minutes for adult dogs and shorter for the puppies. Dogs aren’t as smart as you and have a short attention span. It is better to have several training sessions than a long and “boring” one.
You Can Introduce A Clicker
For faster learning, you may need to bring in a clicker. At first, you should consider matching the sound of the clicker with a nice treat for several times to let them understand that the clicker sound means something positive. After you have already conditioned them, you can now remove the treats and use the sound of the clicker.
Common Mistakes When Training German Shepherds
Although GSDs are clever dogs, it’s not always that they will get your commands as quickly as you are expecting. Here are some of the common mistakes that most dog folks commit when training their canines.
One thing you must understand before you start training your dog is that learning new tricks and commands takes time for dogs. Therefore, if your dog seems not to get your commands, don’t become harsh. Reacting harshly will make your dog more frustrated, stressed, and may even begin to lose the trust they have for you.
Whether you are training a German Shepherd or any other breed, it’s important to keep using the same words to mean the same command. Observing consistency will help avoid confusing your dog and ensure that you don’t reinforce undesired behavior.
Using Long Commands
Although German Shepherds are smart, you can’t compare their level of intelligence to that of a mature human. In fact, the most intelligent dogs have the same level of smartness as a 2-year old child. This is according to top scientists. Therefore, you should keep the cues as short as possible. Using one-word commands is the most effective method. For instance, instead of saying “Go to your kennel” you can use “Kennel” to mean the same thing. This way is better for dogs to understand.
Keeping Your Dog Put
Although chances are that your German Shepherd will spend most of their time at home with your family, there are a few times that you will have them accompany you to a public setting where they will meet strangers and other dogs. To ensure that they don’t become aggressive to new faces, taking them out often will be good.
Combining Correction and Reinforcement Methods
Science claims that using positive reinforcement methods is more effective for training than punishment, something that professional dog trainers confirm to be true. It becomes even worse when you combine the two methods. Using the two keeps the dog confused about whether he is going to get a reward or get punished, something that makes most of them prefer not doing anything.
Too Many Treats
Although treats are a great motivator for use in dog training, you simply don’t want a dog that will only respond to earn a snack from you, unless you are getting the whole thing wrong. Instead, consider using other reinforcement methods like toys, praises, and play.
So you have just told your German Shepherd to “sit” but he didn’t. You go ahead and repeat the same command for 3 times before he sits the fourth time. Then you are happy that he finally got it and even go ahead to reinforce the behavior. Wait a minute, you just taught him to respond after you repeat the word “sit” four times. To him, the cue is “Sit, Sit, Sit, Sit” and he will always be waiting for you to mention it four times for him to act accordingly.
Calling Your Dog For Punishment
Since German Shepherds are very smart, you should always be careful about how you deal with them. For instance, if your dog knows that he should come once you call, ensure that you never call him to punish him. If you do this, he may always associate your call with punishment and might not come when you call in the future.
Although German Shepherds are quite easier to train than most dog breeds, it’s important to understand that training takes time and determination for every dog no matter the age. Therefore, be patient with your furry friends and they will know to respond to your commands correctly with time.