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German Shepherd Training And Activities – Keeping Clever Dogs Entertained

German Shepherd Training And Activities – Keeping Clever Dogs Entertained

German Shepherds have long held a place of prestige and affection among dog breeds. In fact, German Shepherds are almost always cited as one of the top ten most popular dog breeds in surveys by the Kennel Club and American Kennel Club.

Today, their specific set of talents and their tendency to be highly trainable has led them to surpass their original breed intention to become one of the most widely-used working breeds in a variety of sport and work.

A full description of the breed, including temperament, lifestyle requirements, and health profile can be found here. ( But, in order to have a clear picture going into our recommendations for approaching German Shepherd training, let’s briefly visit their history as a breed.

The usefulness of dogs to sheep farmers in protecting flocks from predators dates as far back as the domestication of sheep itself. Starting around the mid-19th century, German farmers paired dogs that were particularly adept as shepherds together to breed and preserve specific traits.

These traits included intelligence, alertness, speed, strength and a keen sense of smell.

Why German Shepherd Training is Critical

All of the traits that make these such lovable and impressive dogs make it critical for an owner to have a basic concept of German Shepherd training.

For example, highly-intelligent dogs, when left to their own devices, can wreak havoc in a home. I’ve had training clients whose GSD learned to escape steel crates, 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 to go for an unsupervised stroll around the neighborhood.

Additionally, dogs that are speedy and athletic like GSDs need significant amounts of exercise as well. Pent-up energy leads to major destructive tendencies, including chewing through doors and walls and digging holes in your yard.

And that keen sense of smell? Let’s just say I know from personal experience that a GSD’s sniffer can’t ignore the temptation of a steak thawing on the counter on the opposite side of the house.

Now, before we scare you off from the breed completely – it’s important to understand that a well-trained shepherd who gets plenty of exercise and mental stimulation gives the breed the reputation that lands them in the list of favorites around the world. Ask anyone who has owned one, and you’ll hear more stories of pure affection, impress, and loyalty than the horror stories of one untrained.

German Shepherd Training Tips

Here are a few general tips to guide your German Shepherd Dog training:

1. Start right away with your German Shepherd puppy training.

2. Raise a well-rounded, emotionally stable shepherd by ensuring proper socialization throughout puppyhood and adolescence.

3. Stick to positive reinforcement training techniques. German Shepherds were selected for being fearless, which is a behavioral trait that can clash with compulsion, shock collar, or punishment-based training.

Studies have shown that dogs with underlying aggression tendencies can be made much worse using these aversive training techniques. (

Therefore, we always recommend using positive training methods.

German Shepherd Obedience Training

Your initial German Shepherd training should focus on basic obedience. Start with teaching her about her new home and routine, being gentle with people, and potty training.

Then move into training for safety, like crate training, leash training, and coming when you call.

An additional trained behavior I found useful with my own German Shepherd training includes the cue to “leave it” with respect to ignoring other animals, people, and items on the ground. Due to their high alertness, strong scenting talents, and protective nature, GSDs often need to be reassured when it’s time to be “off-duty” and relaxed.

Everything moving forward is a continuation of these training basics by adding distractions and practicing in lots of different places

German Shepherd Leash Training

There are two very significant factors that make leash training your German Shepherd Dog absolutely critical: their size and their stubbornness.

This is not a small breed! And with proportionately large and powerful chests, their forward-pull strength will leave most humans in their dust.

Couple that with a dog bred to be fearlessly curious or protective (also known as stubborn!) and you end up with an owner that’s very likely to be dragged headfirst down the sidewalk after a neighborhood cat (again, I’m speaking from personal experience).

I highly recommend trying out the PetSafe Easy Walk Harness in conjunction with regular leash-training.

The Easy Walk Harness is uniquely designed similarly to a horse lead. It slightly cinches at the dog’s shoulders – their fulcrum of power – to slow them down or turn them one direction or another with much less effort than traditional collar leashes or chest harnesses.

Furthermore, follow expert trainer Pippa Mattinson’s detailed instructions on leash training larger dogs here. (

Ongoing Training

A lot of dog owners tend to phase out training after they’ve completed puppy class or basic obedience.

It’s very important that this doesn’t become the case if you own a German Shepherd. Here’s why:

GSDs go through a pretty significant adolescence anywhere from 6 to 18 months of age, during which additional socialization and ongoing training is critical.

A lack of ongoing German Shepherd training can potentially lead to the development of some of these characteristic behavioral problems:

· Overprotective tendencies toward owner and family members from strangers

· Aggression

· Barrier Aggression (barking at, lunging, pacing, and attacking people or animals on the other side of a fence, window, or door)

· Incessant nervous or excited whining and barking

· Leash-pulling

· Nipping and biting characteristic of herding breeds

· Separation anxiety

Games & Activities for Keeping Clever Dogs Enriched

Intelligent, energetic dogs like German Shepherds benefit significantly from mental stimulation in addition to ongoing training and exercise.

Those that don’t often end up exhibiting one of these signs of boredom: Digging excessively in the back yard.

  • Your neighbors complaining that he barks all day while you’re gone.

  • Chewing on anything and everything in the house.

  • Getting into the trash constantly, dragging out everything across the house.

  • Gaining weight.

  • Following you around constantly when you are home.

Rotating toys, using puzzle feeders, and implementing clever enrichment to break up their routine are all great ways to ensure your GSD is getting enough mental stimulation.

For more information and specific tips on mental stimulation for your GSD, you can click here (link to mental stimulation for dogs article).

A Note About German Shepherd Military Training

As you probably know, German Shepherds and their similar cousin, the Belgian Malinois, are the most common breeds utilized in police and military K9 units. All of the temperament characteristics we’ve mentioned in this article make them superstars in tracking suspects, locating missing persons, explosive and drug detection, and even attack.

It’s very important to note that the training techniques utilized for these types of work should be left to professionals in those fields.

Dabbling with targeted aggression is a very dangerous activity, and it could lead to serious injury of people and dogs and could ultimately result in removal of your dog.

Good German Shepherd Dog Training Leads to GREAT Companions

All in all, the loyal and intelligent German Shepherd Dog is a global favorite breed for a reason. By following these German Shepherd training tips and techniques and socializing them regularly, these dogs can be a stellar example of man’s best friend.

We love hearing stories about great dogs – so be sure to let us know if you have a favorite story to share about your German Shepherd!

Liz London is a certified dog trainer through the Certifying Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT-KA) & the Karen Pryor Academy (Dog Trainer Foundations Certification) with regular continuing education courses from the top animal trainers from all over the world, including Michele Pouliot, director of training for the Guide Dogs for the Blind. She has trained zoo animals, search & rescue canines, gundogs, and helped people raise happy, healthy, and well-behaved canine companions for over ten years.


Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors Meghan E. Herron, Frances S. Shofer, Ilana R. Reisner. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2009.

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