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You know your German Shepherd is one of the smartest breeds.
You know they can listen to you when they want, but…
Sometimes they become distracted or just downright ignore you.
Even more frustrating, they always know when you’re out in public and go intentionally hard of hearing!
But, you can learn how to get your German Shepherd to listen to you by following these easy tips to get your dog’s attention once and for all.
Why is My German Shepherd Not Listening to Me?
You might wonder why your German Shepherd isn’t listening to you when you just KNOW you trained them right.
But, there are many reasons why.
For example, your dog might not be listening because:
They’re sick or ill and unable to work through it.
They’re in pain or too stressed.
They’re over-stimulated or lack impulse control (Hey, look… squirrel!).
You’ve asked them to perform a command that they actually don’t know.
The first thing you need to remember is you need to be able to communicate effectively with your dog. This is the number one way to practice proper listening skills and obedience.
Remember that German Shepherds don’t always understand the methods of communication that you may tend to use. So, it’s your job as their fair teacher to find a language that works for both of you.
Having Poor Communication Skills
There’s nothing worse than knowing your German Shepherd isn’t listening, but you keep repeating the same behavior.
Your dog will often learn to simply tune you out if you persist in poor communication skills.
Maybe you call their name over and over…
And you keep calling their name and expect them to come. That’s poor communication!
Instead, call their name and try luring them with a tasty treat, toy, or even by slapping your leg. Or, go to them and get their attention with the toy or treat.
When your dog doesn’t listen they’re letting you know they don’t’ understand you, whatever the reason. Maybe they’re not being stubborn, but need more training with better communication.
German Shepherds are adept at reading body language and are more prone to listen when you have a reward at hand.
This is where using positive reinforcement comes in!
Using Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement teaches your dog that good behavior, such as listening to you and paying attention, get them good things.
Like a squeaky toy you play with them or even a tasty bit of chicken.
If you resort to harsh punishments, hitting, kicking, or screaming at your dog you’ll only cause more damage. These types of punishment cause your dog stress and will prevent you from training them effectively.
If your training becomes so stressful you want to hurt your dog, step away from your training and call a dog trainer in to help you.
Teaching your GSD to listen to you can begin at any age — from a rambunctious puppy to an aging senior. German shepherds are intelligent dogs and are willing to work with the right motivation and rewards.
Your dog’s rate of improving their listening and communication skills depends highly on what you offer in exchange for their attention.
So, learn how to best grab your dog’s focus using positive reinforcement and…
Put their concentration and eyes back on you!
Learn What Motivates Your German Shepherd to Pay Attention
In order to have the most effective communication with your dog, begin by finding out what motivates your dog.
Most of the time, it’s going to probably be a tasty, delicious treat.
But it can also be another thing they find rewarding, like a favorite toy such as a ball or tug rope.
Most importantly, make sure these rewards are high in value to them. This means your dog would practically sell his soul to get them!
So, you should only give them to your dog on “special occasions”. Don’t leave the special toys around the house for play.
Only use them for training your dog to listen.
The same goes for the treats. Make these treats so special that your dog knows you mean business when you get them out for your training.
What are good rewards for a German Shepherd?
Always keep a stash of motivational rewards on hand for your training to motivate your dog to listen to you and pay attention.
Some good rewards for a German Shepherd that really improve your dog’s hearing are:
Tiny pieces of real, cooked chicken
Pea-sized bits of cheese (unless your dog has an issue with dairy products)
A special rope tug toy
A toy that crinkles or squeaks
The Ferrari of dog treats — freeze-dried liver
Food treats that are highly scented to get their nose really worked up
Be sure to choose a snack that is healthy for your dog!
Don’t forget that you can use a special toy if your dog isn’t food motivated.
Or even praise through your words and pets.
And always be sure to account for the extra calories your dog eats during training so you can reduce their regular meals a bit.
How to Get Your German Shepherd to Listen to You
Once you’ve picked your motivational reward for motivation, begin with your dog in an area free of distractions, such as indoors.
The less distracted your dog is at the start of your training, the more likely they’ll focus on you, and the better chance they’ll listen to you later on when other things try to grab their attention.
1. Capture Their Attention
Another dog training technique to get their attention is using the capture method to train your German Shepherd to listen.
It’s similar to teaching them a ‘look’ cue word, but works on catching, or capturing, the behavior more naturally.
Use these techniques to get a German Shepherd to pay attention to you.
STEP 1 Keep your special reward treat in your pocket or a treat pouch so they are quick to offer. Now, watch what your dog is doing around the house on its normal day.
STEP 2 This method is all about catching your dog at the exact moment when their focus is on you. So, don’t offer a treat to them until they turn to look at you for any reason.
STEP 3 When they turn to look at you, use a verbal command when you see the behavior to mark it..
STEP 4 Reward right away after the verbal command when they are looking at you. This teaches them to look back to you whenever the cue word is used.
STEP 5 Catching when your dog looks at you requires ninja-like reflexes, as they look quickly and you must time your cue word to their looking at you. Quickly mark the behavior with your verbal command and immediately reward them.
STEP 6 Spend time each day doing this method regularly to capture getting your German Shepherd’s attention. Over time, your dog should respond to the cue word to look at you and listen.
2. Train Them to Focus on You
Training your German Shepherd to focus on you takes a bit of patience, but pays off in the end.
For this training, you’ll use a command word to teach your dog to pay attention and focus on you.
Follow these steps to train them to focus on you.
STEP 1 Pick a special, high-value treat and start in a quiet area of your home.
STEP 2 Hold the treat where your German shepherd can see it in your hand, but out of reach of your dog.
STEP 3 Now, say your dog’s name once and only once. Don’t repeat their name or you’ll teach your dog to ignore you calling them. You’re waiting patiently for your dog’s eyes to look at your eyes — but, they’ll probably stare at your hand with the treat.
STEP 4 Next, use a cue word, such as ‘look’ or ‘focus’ as soon as your dog looks at your eyes. They will probably only look at your eyes for a split second at first, so be prepared to say your command cue exactly as they look at your eyes.
STEP 5 Reward your dog with the treat as soon as they look at you. Remember, you should reward them immediately, and not a second too late or you’ll reward them for looking away.
STEP 6 Repeat this scenario a few times a day, always with their super special treat in hand. Work up to your German Shepherd looking into your eyes in increasing times, such as 2-seconds, then 3-seconds, and so on in order for them to earn their reward.
STEP 7 Stay consistent with a reward for every time they ‘look’ at you in the beginning. With practice, you can begin to wean your dog off of the treat, but only after you’ve conditioned them to the command cue.
3. Get “SMART”
While giving rewards for not performing a command on cue might sound counterintuitive, it’s actually a useful training method for a plan called SMART x 50.
This approach is from a renowned animal behaviorist, Kathy Sdao, explained in her book Plenty in Life is Free. SMART stands for “See, Mark, and Reward Training.”
Being SMART helps you to become proactive about your dog’s training by seeing, marking, and rewarding behaviors you want to see more of.
Here’s how to get your German Shepherd to listen to you using the SMART way.
STEP 1 Gather 50 very small pieces of training treat at the beginning of each morning. Make sure they are healthy and broken into very tiny pieces since you have so many and keep them in your pocket or a treat bag.
STEP 2 Watch for times during the day when your dog is behaving appropriately. This means they are lying quietly, sitting calmly, playing alone with an approved toy, or otherwise being what you would call a “good dog.”
STEP 3 Don’t give them any commands, as a SMART reward isn’t about performing a command you ask. It’s about catching when your dog is being good and they least expect a treat.
STEP 4 When you see the good behavior, mark it (with a click of a clicker tool or a ‘yes’). This is the core of the program.
STEP 5 Continue to look for good behaviors you want your dog to repeat throughout the day. Work through the 50 tiny treats. Repeat for a week and see if your dog’s attention and listening has improved.
4. Use Playtime to Increase Attentiveness
Not all German Shepherd’s respond to tasty treats.
And, even if they do you might prefer to use a toy instead of a food motivator occasionally to keep training interesting and fun for both you and your dog.
Use the following steps to increase your dog’s attentiveness.
STEP 1 Pick a toy that is only used for this special training game so they focus on your cues more easily. Some toys that your dog may love are toys that squeak, crinkle, make noises of other kinds, or smells interesting.
STEP 2 Now, act energetically by jumping up and down, making unique noises, or slapping your hand against your leg. Your German Shepherd is much more likely to pay attention to you if you’re energetic and excited.
STEP 3 As your dog looks to you, begin to run away. German Shepherds have a high prey drive and love to chase. So, running in the opposite direction convinces your GSD to chase after you, especially if you have their favorite toy in your hand.
STEP 4 Now, reward your dog with their special toy when they catch up to you. Toss their toy for them and enjoy a bit of playtime with them. Keep the energy upbeat and positive. The playtime with the toy is the reward instead of a food treat and encourages your dog to stay near you.
STEP 5 Continue to play the catch-reward-play game throughout the day. Your German Shepherd will begin to form the habit of paying attention to you when you are consistent in your training and in your rewards.
STEP 6 Eventually, move on to using a cue word to get your dog’s attention, such as in the focus or capture methods.
5. Generalize in Different Scenarios
Is your German Shepherd refusing to come when called?
Do they stop listening to you when you’re outside? Maybe you’ve noticed that they have a selective hearing based on your location?
Then your German Shepherd isn’t paying attention to you because you haven’t taught them the appropriate listening skills.
Use these techniques to get your German Shepherd to listen to you in different situations and places.
STEP 1 When working on new commands begin indoors in a quiet, distraction-free area — like a bedroom.
STEP 2 Once they listen to you in the quiet area, challenge your GSD by moving to different rooms. Try a kitchen or living area when the TV is on.
STEP 3 Now add in more distractions. Have your family or friends around while you ask your dog to perform the command.
STEP 4 If they don’t listen, go back to the last area or environment they heard you in. For example, move back to the quiet bedroom if the TV on in the living room distracts them. Remember, you’re rewarding them with their special motivator (treat or toy) when they perform the behavior correctly for you.
STEP 5 Once your German Shepherd has mastered listening to you indoors, begin training in your backyard or front yard (Make sure your dog is on a long line for safety and easy recall.) Move on to places farther than your own yards or garden, such as the sidewalk or a park, when they’ve mastered the distractions of your yard.
Want More Help With Getting a German Shepherd to Listen to You?
Whether you have a puppy or an adult, you can train your German Shepherd to listen to you with the right steps.
With highly intelligent dogs like the German Sheperd, remember they can sometimes become bored or turn their attention to something else entirely as they lose interest in you.
💡Instead of becoming frustrated with your dog for not listening, use this easy brain training program to keep their smart minds active and engaged.
This comprehensive online training course teaches you how to meet the intelligence needs of your dog along with including fun games to teach your dog their basic obedience commands…
🐾 All while teaching them to listen to you!
Getting your German Shepherd to listen to what you say doesn’t have to be difficult when you know the right way to communicate with them.
Catherine Krasavin owns Shepherd Sense, a dog website aimed at German Shepherd owners and lovers. She has a Bachelor of Science degree, with Honors, and has been training dogs for over a decade. Catherine’s currently attending continuing education courses to keep up with the latest in animal science, as well as earning her diploma in dog training. She owns a plush coat German Shepherd who was awarded Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme Gold Award - the highest level of achievement.
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