German Shepherd Training: Guide for New Owners (with Pictures)

German Shepherds are synonymous with loyalty, intelligence, and athleticism.

They are the second most popular breed in the states, so thousands of families already know how fun German Shepherd training can be.

Naturally a little sensitive, Veterinarians state they are one of the breeds most sensitive to pain, so these big dogs need gentle handling! A good understanding of positive reinforcement techniques is essential to raising and training a German Shepherd.

As with all dogs, it is important to treat your puppy like an individual; not all puppies will behave in the same way, just like not all people do!

German Shepherd Puppy Training

German Shepherd Training

As your German Shepherd puppy grows to become a strong, large dog, it is really important to ensure he has been well socialized with a variety of people, dogs, and other animals!

Socializing will help to ensure their sensitive nature is buffered by the confidence that comes with having experienced these things at a young age.

Their original job was a working role to help a shepherd protect the flock, so you should know your dog will generally enjoy chasing things, and being alert in their environment.

This breed tend to be family orientated and like to be close to their owners. When you start German Shepherd training, this is something you really want to nurture and encourage. A trusting relationship is key to any dog/human relationship.

Your puppy needs to know he can come to you when he is feeling insecure or respond to any requests you make of him! Using positive reinforcement techniques helps build trusting relationships and reduces the chance of him showing undesirable behaviors later on in life.

Their natural desire to be busy and active has led this breed being a crucial team member in many police departments, army regiments, and search and rescue teams! They excel at being challenged mentally and physically, so any new parent needs to be ready to keep up.

Potty Training A German Shepherd Puppy

Potty training a large breed puppy is one of the first things you will want to start with. Big puppies have the potential to create lots of mess! You also won’t be able to pick up your puppy up as they get big quickly!

It will be important to make sure you are taking your German Shepherd puppy out regularly to avoid having accidents indoors. Although they might be a large breed and grow quickly, puppies still don’t have good control of their bladder.

Remember to take your puppy out after:

  • Waking up – immediately!
  • Eating – as this will stimulate their digestive system
  • Playing for any period of time (before and after)

German Shepherds are spirited pets, so don’t be surprised if they initially look like they are more interested in playing in the garden than relieving themselves!

Each time you take your pup to the garden, wait them out, and supervise them so that they go to the toilet!

Once he has completely finished, you should instantly reward him. For a German Shepherd, throwing a favorite toy or having some fuss with you will be a great reward (tapping into either their desire to chase things, or bonding with you)!

Remember that this breed is very sensitive to any form of punishment.

Avoid telling your puppy off if they do have a mishap – they will only learn that you are scary to be around when there’s toilet evidence and will usually hide to go potty instead. If there is a mishap, simply tidy it up with a biological cleaning agent (to remove the smell of urea or any other organic matter).

Train A German Shepherd Puppy Not To Bite

German Shepherd Puppy Biting
German Shepherd Puppy Biting

German Shepherd Puppies are an active breed with lots of energy and tenacity! It is very important that every puppy learns not to bite or mouth at people’s skin.

Unfortunately, as German Shepherds are used in the police force, people presume they are generally aggressive, so ensuring good mouth manners is essential.

Most puppies will mouth when they are over-tired, hungry, or need the toilet. Getting your puppy into a routine of sleeping, meals spread across the day and plenty of toilet breaks will reduce their mouthing.

When interacting, always make sure you have got some toys onto which to direct his attention to should he start trying to play with your hands. Most mouthing is some form of play or exploration!

It’s a good idea to hide any discomfort you are in if your pup does catch you, the squeaking noise is very exciting and encourages more mouthing.

If the dog is persistent in wanting to play with hands, withdraw all your attention (leave the room if necessary) and wait 10-20 seconds before re-engaging. It can get repetitive, but it’s important to be consistent.

At a young age, your puppy will also be growing new teeth, providing lots of toys to chew on is essential to help relieve any discomfort.

German Shepherds are prone to wanting to be in amongst the family activities, so ensuring your dog is getting enough sleep can be a challenge. This is where crate training can be beneficial (see tips below)!

Crate Training A German Shepherd Puppy

German Shepherd Dog In A Crate

Providing your German Shepherd puppy with a place to call their own in the form of a crate is a great idea. It gives them a cozy place in which to withdraw to when they’re sleepy, want some time out, or want somewhere to settle with a nice chew.

It is important not to shut your pup in the crate straight away, gradually build up the time they spend in it over days and weeks.

If you want to crate your dog overnight, a good idea is to have the crate next to you so they feel supported and not alone. This dog is a very people-orientated breed, so it is important to ensure they are taught to spend time alone gradually.

Create positive associations with going in the crate by leaving ‘surprise’ treats in there to find when they’re off playing elsewhere.

You can also feed them their meals in the crate. An easy way to build up the time they can spend in the crate is by feeding their meals in food enrichment toys such as Kongs!

Over time you can extend the period they spend in the crate between finishing eating and being let out. This teaches him to learn to cope with the door being closed gradually! Avoid your puppy becoming distressed if they do, wait for a few seconds of quiet, and let them out.

Training Your German Shepherd To Come (Recall)

German Shepherd Running Back
German Shepherd Dog Running Towards Their Owner

Teaching recall is very important as it allows you to confidently let your large puppy off-leash in the dog park or on the beach.

You should start by saying their recall cue (e.g. come, let’s go, back) and then present their favorite toy and drag it across the ground! Teaching a recall with toy play reinforces the connection with you and taps into their natural tendency to enjoy chasing things. Repeat this twice each day for 10-minutes for 7 to 10 days.

Make sure you have got a toy that he can grab hold of easily without catching your fingers. A good handling length for you and a big target for him is ideal!

After the first week, start saying the cue further away from him. Wait for him to bound back towards you before then presenting his toy and encouraging a chase and tug game.

When you notice your puppy spontaneously running towards you, say their cue as they are doing so and reward in exactly the same way.

It is really important to only use the cue when you are 99% sure your dog is going to be able to come. There is no point in asking them to come back to when they are mid-play with another dog early on.

Gradually build up the distractions you train in, try:

  1. In the house
  2. In the garden
  3. In the garden with children running around, or lots of toys!
  4. Out on a walk with nothing going on
  5. On a walk with people/dogs in the distance
  6. Closer and closer to people/dogs
  7. Recalling during breaks in play with other dogs
  8. Away from playing!

Practice…Practice…Practice, keep it fun and always reward for coming back to you.

How To Leash Train A German Shepherd

German Shepherd Holding Leash

Leash training a German Shepherd is a crucial skill for them to learn. An adult can weigh as much as 90lb so polite leash skills are a really good idea.

You are aiming to train your puppy to never to pull on the lead by teaching:

  1. Good things happen when I stay close to my mum/dad
  2. If I pull on the leash, I don’t get to go further forward

As soon as you place your puppy on a harness and leash, start rewarding him for being close to you (and not pulling). Spending time next to you needs to reflect a really good place to be, with nice food rewards.

Try not to walk too far to start with. Practice just having the lead on and rewarding for being next to you. Over repeated sessions, you can build up the distances you travel!

Puppies learn to pull because it works. If I pull this way slightly, mum/dad usually follow.

If your puppy does pull the lead taught, the best thing to teach them is that nothing happens. You stand still, and they don’t go any further. Once the lead goes slack again and they’ve given you some eye contact, you can reward this and then start walking and rewarding once again!

You can start German Shepherd puppy training at 8 weeks old and build their leash etiquette at home and in the garden.

Once he is ready to go out into the real world, you can continue your training in this more distracting environment. It will take plenty of time, patience, and consistency, but it is a skill well worth investing in!

How To Train A German Shepherd Puppy To Sit & Stay

German Shepherd Puppy Sitting
German Shepherd Puppy Sitting

Germans Shepherds love learning new things and are said to be the third most intelligent dog breed.

Sitting is a great alternative to jumping up. As some German Shepherds can reach 5ft when on their back legs, it is a good idea to teach them something else to do.

How To Teach Sit:

  1. Take a piece of food and hide it in your hand,
  2. Allow him to sniff at the food
  3. Move your hand back slowly over his head
  4. At this point, his bottom will hit the floor- as soon as it does, reward him!

Once they’ve got the idea of this, and you’ve repeated it for several days, you can start saying ‘sit’ just before you start moving your hand. Over several sessions they’ll learn sit easily.

Train Your GSD To Stay

Now it is time to build up for how long they can stay sitting for!

This can be tricky with any dog, but particularly with a breed who is as busy as a German Shepherd puppy. This means you need to progress slowly through the training, and reward very regularly.

To start stay, get your dog into a sit, and then say ‘stay’ clearly, before taking a slight movement backwards. Go back to your puppy and reward them for staying put!

The basic premise is we say ‘stay’ and gradually increase how much movement/distance we have from the puppy and reward them for staying put!

Try:

  • Half a step
  • 1 step away
  • 2 steps away
  • 2 steps away and turn yourself in a circle quickly
  • 3 steps away and jump up and down once
  • 4 steps away and a star jump!

If at any point your dog comes out of the stay, just go back a couple of steps for a session or two and reward them for not budging.

Once they can do this with you at home, try practicing in the park or woods! It is important with all training to teach them that the same rules apply in different environments.

Training Summary

When you start training a german shepherd, as a priority, the things you teach should be:

  1. Potty training
  2. Not to bite
  3. Recall
  4. Loose leash walking

The other skills are very useful but can be taught at a later point if you need to prioritize; being a parent is hard work!

As much as German Shepherds are smart, much like other puppies, they are easily distracted. Keep all training sessions short and positive!

Each training session should last no more than a couple of minutes before having a little rest. Individuals will learn at different rates, so as long as you’re seeing improvement in the skill you’re trying to teach, you’re going in the right direction!

To help implement the training, learning of new skills, and socializing with other puppies and people, it’s a good idea to enroll your pup onto a positive reinforcement puppy school.

This will help him meet other dogs and people in a positive, controlled environment, and help build his confidence, whilst learning new skills too!

Just got a German Shepherd puppy? Need some training advice? Feel free to ask a question below.

John Woods Headshot
John Woods is the Founder of All Things Dogs and leads our editorial team as our Editor in Chief. A member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, he has been a dog lover since he was 13 years old. John is parent to Nala, a working lab retriever. John has also volunteered at multiple animal shelters, where he gained firsthand experience of rehabilitation and force-free positive reinforcement training methods.

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