German ShepherdsOur Top 10 Tips
Imposing, loyal, athletic, intelligent, and energetic are all good words to describe the German shepherd dog (GSD). Unfortunately, all too often other words pop to mind such as wilful, unruly, nervous, aggressive, and unpredictable. However, don’t be down-hearted because with the right guidance and appropriate training you can improve a German shepherd’s behaviour out of all recognition from their previous incarnation.
Training a dog with the intelligence, power, and agility of a German shepherd requires an understanding of the guidance they seek from an owner. Get this right and your reward will be an attentive dog that is a joyful companion to be proud of.
To get you started on the path to a responsive dog, here are Royvon’s top ten tips for training German shepherds.
#1: Know the GSD is a Working Dog
Your dog is descended from working dogs and as such has an insatiable appetite for exercise. When you meet his needs to run, chase, jump, and retrieve on a daily basis, you have a happy dog that is eager to please. This means he’s tuned in when it comes to training, rather than distracted and looking for trouble.
Know that boredom is the enemy when it comes to training. Your first task is to meet the dog’s need for physical activity. Take stock and see what adjustments you can make to schedule at least two, 45-minute active exercise sessions each day. If your work schedule doesn’t allow this, then consider using a dog walking service.
#2: The 3 C’s: Clear, Consistent, Cues
To train a GSD means a combination of exercise and mental stimulation. To be effective you need to stick to certain basic rules, which include the 3Cs:
- Clear: Have a clear set of commands that everyone uses. Remember, English is a foreign language to your dog so using “Down” and “Drop” for the same action will confuse him. Decide on command words and stick the list on the fridge door so the family know the correct cues to use.
- Consistent: Apply all house rules consistently. No feeding from the table means just that 7 days a week, with no exceptions at the weekend.
- Cues: Use the tone of voice to guide your dog and give verbal cues to mark good and bad behaviour. Let your know he’s about to make a wrong choice with a short, sharp, “Uh no”, followed by a happy “Good boy”, when he does as asked.
#3: Reward-based Training
Dominance theory is disproven. Yes German shepherds need a firm hand but alpha rolls and harsh punishment are liable to create a nervous, sub-servient dog that behaves unpredictably and resorts to aggression. Instead, train your dog by rewarding their good behaviour.
The rules are easy, you use a treat, praise, or play to reward the dog when he correctly carries out a command. Guide him with a disapproving “No”, when he makes the wrong decisions. This way he learns the way to earn goodies is to be a good boy and training becomes fun…This is the basis behind Royvon’s training techniques.
#4: Button Down the Basics
Teaching a rock solid “Sit”, “Stay”, “Come,” and “Look”, puts you in control in so many different situations. Don’t underestimate the power of “Look” to focus his attention on you, rather than a passing cyclist. This avoids a nasty confrontation and can make walks a pleasure again.
#5: Consider the GSD Character
Understand your GSD is intelligent but sensitive. When training, use compassion, kindness, and knowledge, to teach your dog how to behave. Engage your dog’s intelligence and motivate him with things he loves doing. For example, if he loves playing ball, use this is a reward for a command well done. Likewise, remember GSDs are capable of learning complex routines (think of what service dogs do!) as long as they are broken down into individual steps.
For example, provide mental stimulation by teaching your dog to put his toys away in a box. Teach one step at a time (Pick up and drop a ball, fetch and drop a ball, fetch and drop a ball into a box) only moving onto to the next step when he’s mastered the first.
#6: Don’t ‘Baby’ your GSD
A GSD feels most secure when he knows and understands the rules. He thrives on firm, consistent (that word again!) fair, leadership. To this end don’t treat him as a lapdog as it will confuse and unsettle him.
Know a happy dog looks for guidance and finds routine reassuring. Once again, write down the house rules and stick them to the fridge for all the family to use. Know that treating your dog to the occasional cuddle on the sofa will only confuse and unsettle him.
#7: Health Matters
GSDs are prone to joint disease and hip dysplasia. Protect the developing joints of a young dog by feeding a good quality diet that is designed for large breed growth. Also, avoid over strenuous exercise such as agility training until those bones have finished growing at around 12 – 18 months of age.
Know also that GSD are known for having a sensitive digestive system. If your GSD has regular faecal accidents, he might have guts issues. If this is the case feed an easy to digest diet that is low in cereals and soya, plus check in with your vet if the dog’s poop is soft or cowpat-like.
#8: Weighty Issues
GSDs are meant to be wedge-shaped with a lovely tucked up waistline. It’s all too easy for a GSD to pile on the pounds and lose that midriff definition. If this is the case watch out for hidden calories in training treats. Keep up the rewards but be sure to cut back on his meal-time kibble, and weigh out his ration at the beginning of the day and put some aside in a pot to use as training treats.
#9: Use the Right Tools for the Job
Perfection doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does the perfect recall. Be realistic and take the pressure off yourself by using the right tools for the job. For the non-responsive returner, attach a long line to his collar. That way he has the option to respond of his own free will, but if he’s too distracted you still have control.
Likewise, if your dog is over-reactive and behaves aggressively, consider using a muzzle. The peace of mind that he can do no harm will relieve your tension, which in turn helps the dog be more relaxed.
#10: Seek Professional Help
And finally, GSDs are strong, demanding dogs. If the training isn’t going to plan don’t be afraid to call in the professionals. It’s much better to get a plan put in place sooner rather than later, before bad habits become deeply entrenched and are hard