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Do you know how to bond with a German Shepherd to create an unbreakable attachment for life?
A highly bonded German Shepherd is not only a joy to own, but your connection will have a positive lasting impact on the quality of your life together.
If you don’t know how to bond with your dog you could just hope for the best in your relationship and wing it.
You could walk away knowing easy tried-and-true steps that help your German Shepherd pick you as their person.
How can you beat that?
So, let’s get to work!
Building an Unbreakable Bond with Your German Shepherd
Building a bond with your German Shepherd should be relaxed, pressure-free, consistent and never overwhelm or stress them. Your German Shepherd has evolved to not only want to be around you but to trust you completely.
Without pressure and by allowing your GSD the security he needs, he will begin to bond naturally.
While bonding with a young German Shepherd puppy is generally easier, even older GSDs can learn to attach to their owners with time and patience.
Rescued or Adopted German Shepherds
If you’ve rescued or adopted a German Shepherd with an unknown history their fear and stress may make bonding more difficult. Rest assured, there are still many ways to show them that you will provide the comfort and dependability they deserve.
A fearful dog takes much longer to bond and requires more work, but the end results are well worth your commitment and effort.
Young German Shepherd Puppies
Young puppies, on the other hand, provide more of a clean slate to bond with you if they’ve been previously reared in a healthy environment. You’ll still need to follow the steps below to learn how to bond with a German Shepherd, but the time it takes and the work you put in will seem easier and come with less frustration to both you and your puppy.
Given a foundation of trust, a strong companionship grows into a lifelong friendship.
How long does it take for a German Shepherd to bond?
A German Shepherd puppy that was bred and reared in a healthy environment will bond quickly, generally in a few weeks or months, once they are settled in their new home. A German Shepherd that is adopted or rescued takes longer to form a bond. This time is generally 6 months to a few years. But, a traumatized German Shepherd could take even longer to find secure attachment with its owner.
The relationship between an owner and a German Shepherd begins as soon as the dog joins the family. Once the GSD is settled in the home, forming a bond is paramount to increase the strength of the relationship.
There are also times in a German Shepherd’s life when they form attachments with their person more quickly. You can take advantage of these phases to reinforce and nourish your bond with them.
When do German Shepherds bond with their person?
German Shepherd puppies begin to bond with people during a critical stage of attachment at 4 to 12-weeks-old. This is the primary and general habituation and socialization period for puppies. Their exposure during this time will have a lasting effect on how they relate to not only their family but other people. Puppies who aren’t socialized appropriately to people during this essential stage often grow up to have difficulties bonding with people.
However, German Shepherds can form new bonds with people at any stage and age of their life with the right bonding exercises. Even older German Shepherds or puppies over 1-year-old can bond with a new owner.
The Chain of Bonding
Sometimes, German Shepherd bonding works in a longer chain.
For example, German Shepherd police and military dogs are working dogs who are specially trained. Their first human contact is the breeder. Second, their caretaker spends about 6 months socializing with them and working on basic commands. The German Shepherd now moves into a K-9 training center to gain specific skills for their intended jobs.
Finally, once completely trained the German Shepherd now begins their work with their new owner or handler. In a case like this, the GSD has spent their time with different people and in various living situations. But all of the people have established a bond with the German Shepherd.
The closest, and generally the deepest and most significant, bond forms with the last person in the chain. However, the GSD doesn’t forget the relationship they once had with their previous owners.
OK, I know what you’re thinking…
Can a German Shepherd bond with two people at once, then?
Keep reading and you’ll find out.
Does a German Shepherd only bond with one person?
No, German Shepherds don’t only bond with one person. A German Shepherd can bond with each member of the family in different ways. But, they will form a stronger working bond with one individual who they look to for direction and cues over other people. German Shepherds bond with people during the time they spend together on a one-to-one basis.
Essentially, a German Shepherd needs to have confidence in their handler’s abilities as a leader and feel secure that their handler is committed to their welfare.
It is the interactions between the leader and the GSD that strengthen and help form the bond.
Creating a strong bond between an owner and a German Shepherd doesn’t only involve caring for the dog’s basic needs, but requires a deeper understanding of a GSD’s innate drives and behavior.
This is where the knowledge of knowing how a German Shepherd’s mind works and having a strong foundation in dog training comes into play. How an owner responds to situations influences the bonding process during the first few months of their relationship.
Creating a healthy environment in which the owner offers their German Shepherd the confidence and security they need will enable the dog to develop trust in their owners.
How to Bond with a German Shepherd: Easy 10-Step Beginner’s Guide
While this list is not an exhaustive explanation of how to bond with your German Shepherd, it is a balanced start to creating a life-long attachment. It’s also a useful checklist to see how you can bond better with your German Shepherd.
Focus on what works for you and your dog, and don’t get too caught up with doing all the bonding activities and exercises on the list.
1. Stay calm, even if frustrated
The greatest gift you can give your dog to start off on the right track is emotional stability.
Being patient with them, even during frustrating moments
Staying calm, despite their unwanted behavior
Having compassion because they have to learn how to be a dog in a human-centered world
You can show your GSD this emotional stability by taking the time to show your dog what you want him to do. And then waiting on him to figure it out — without pressure.
Don’t rush to punish undesired behavior.
To strengthen your bond with a GSD, stay calm and explain (through your training and actions) what he should do instead of the unwanted behavior.
If you cue your dog to “come”, pause and take a deep breath, rather than say “come” five more times while raising your voice and becoming annoyed with them. Your GSD may just need you to stay calm while he figures out what you want. If he doesn’t perform the behavior you want, it’s not because he’s being stubborn or dominating you.
Are they in a stressful environment?
Too many distractions around?
Not enough positive reinforcement?
Remain patient and take a step back to figure out what your German Shepherd needs from you to understand what you want. And give it to them.
Without an explanation of what you expect or an alternative your dog can do instead, your GSD could become confused and frustrated. This could shut down the bonding process altogether.
2. Focus on positive reinforcement
Focusing on reinforcing good behaviors helps give your dog confidence. This confidence allows your GSD to begin to develop the faith and security they need in you.
Take into consideration your German Shepherd’s:
Cognitive (thinking) style
Your German Shepherd isn’t a robot — allow him the time to think through his actions and respond. Not all dogs learn at the same pace, and pressuring your dog to hurry up to bond with you will only slow down the entire attachment process.
This is exactly what you DON’T want!
Instead, catch your German Shepherd in the act of good behavior and reinforce this behavior using treats, praise, affection, or praise.
Do you see your dog lying next to you quietly on the floor? Give them a small bit of a tasty treat, without fuss so they stay calm.
Is your puppy playing with the toy you want? Then, go over to him and engage him in play if he’s comfortable with you.
On walks, does your German Shepherd check in with you by turning to look to see where you’re at? This is a brilliant opportunity to reach into your pocket for a tasty morsel of treat.
Seek out the good your dog does and reward them. Remember, German Shepherds repeat behaviors they get rewarded for.
3. Develop solid communication skills
Developing solid communication by learning and reading your German Shepherd’s body language and responding accordingly. This helps comfort and provides security to your dog in their new home.
If your German Shepherd shows signs of fear or anxiety when another dog is near, diffuse the situation by leading your dog away or dealing with it in a way that promotes yourself as responsible.
This reinforces your position as a strong and understanding handler in the eyes of your dog. Your GSD learns to trust you and, as a result, strengthens the bond with you.
Good observation and communication on your part will help teach you the language of your German Shepherd.
You can watch for these signs of communication in your German Shepherd:
Once you know their language, you understand what your GSD feels and avoids problems that might arise if his needs aren’t met.
Try to read your dog’s body language and signals so that you address his needs before they become anxious and worried.
4. Practice bonding on your daily walks
There are walks, and there are super walks!
You know it’s unquestionably important to have a dog that knows how to walk nicely on a leash.
However, it’s also important to allow a German Shepherd to have time to explore its surroundings. Dogs see their surroundings with their noses and are amazing at processing information through sniffing.
You can help your dog associate you with fun and fulfilling things by using your walks as a bonding activity.
How to walk a German Shepherd to build your bond
Don’t worry about hurrying along on your walk simply to get from point A to point B. In a relaxed manner walk casually, letting your German Shepherd stop and sniff all the fascinating smells on your adventure. This is fun and also a great way for a stressed-out puppy or newly-adopted German Shepherd to de-stress.
Always carry a bag of highly-scented soft treats with you because crunchy biscuits aren’t always exciting enough to keep your German Shepherd’s attention. As your dog turns to give a check-in with you, offer them a soft treat and praise for a reward.
Use a long line for a stronger bonding experience
A simple way to ensure walks are more bonding and enriching for your dog is to use a comfortable long-line leash. A long line is a training leash that gives your dog more freedom to run back and forth.
Steps for using the long line:
First, find an area where it’s safe and away from traffic, like a park or field
Attach the long line to their harness, using a line that’s at least 20 feet long
While they’re on the long line, allow them to sniff and roam at their own pace and leisure
It’s more relaxing and natural for your dog to move on a long line, as opposed to being held closely on your regular walking leash.
The long line walk also creates more opportunities for connection. You might notice that your German Shepherd chooses to keep an eye on you, check in with you of their own will, or even run over to ask you for play or petting.
Take a new route
Another way to build attachment is to let your dog decide the route. When it’s safe, let him lead you on new sniffing adventures and see where your dog takes you. It’s not only a fun thing to do, it lets you develop trust with your dog.
German Shepherds love routine, but they also need to tap into their natural desires to explore.
If your new German Shepherd ever appears fearful and tries to get away from another dog or person it’s best to turn the other way. Don’t pull or force a scared German Shepherd towards people, dogs, or objects that frighten them.
Instead, find a new trail or place to walk that isn’t heavily traveled. This way, your GSD learns to build trust in you and sees you as a person who protects them.
5. Create structure and routine
Remember how I mentioned that German Shepherds love walking because it’s part of a routine?
German Shepherds love routines! And, they’re good for you, too!
Dogs like to know what to expect in their daily life with their family. Structure and routine help give them confidence because they’re predictable.
Your GSD appreciates doing things in the same order each morning and evening since they like to know what to expect. Following the same pattern is conforming to GSDs.
Do you get up at the same time every day?
Are their meals served during the same times?
Do they expect their walks at a scheduled time?
GSDs are creatures of habit. Ensure your companion has a consistent, stable routine so they continue to have faith and respect you as their owner.
Keep in mind that the types of daily events that you take for granted (such as when to eat dinner, go to bed, or when to wake up) all have to be learned when you bring your German Shepherd dog home.
6. Enrich their lives through play
Owners bond with their German Shepherds through not only routine activities but also play. Play produces overwhelmingly positive emotions in dogs (source).
So, you can imagine how the art of bonding with your GSD is discovering what activities they enjoy doing with you.
Observing and interacting with them during play and enrichment helps you learn so much about your Shepherd’s personality:
Does he like to sniff and smell the games?
Is he more apt to investigate new puzzles?
What’s his favorite game — tug, catch, nose work?
During play, your dog is provided with resources of emotional value, such as your attention, connection, and even safety. Research shows that owner engagement with their dog is critical for the dog-human relationship (source).
I could go on and on about the importance of enriching your dog’s life through play and games, but here’s what you need to know.
Occupy them during the day
German Shepherds get bored if left alone all day and will find ways to reduce their boredom (think eating furniture).
Offer them options that keep them out of mischief that won’t stress either of you out. Leave enriching activities and toys for your dog to enjoy while you’re out, such as a food-filled Kong Chew Toy.
This way, when you return home, you’ll have a happier and more contented dog that is less prone to separation anxiety and boredom.
Engage them in social play
Social play is playing with your GSD for fun — simply for the enjoyment, you take in each other. There’s no specific behavioral goal (such as “tug on this with me” or “bring back the ball”).
It’s all about interacting with your Shepherd in a way that is fun for the both of you.
Using social play is a time of:
offering affection without asking for commands or on cue
and just goofing around
As you engage with your GSD in this way you also build the relationship while learning about each other. Your puppy learns what level of energy you enjoy and how to keep her mouth soft for your skin.
And you learn more about your puppy’s likes and dislikes, what really riles him up, what is boring for him.
Believe it or not…
During social play, you’re also learning how to read your German Shepherd’s body language and signs of comfort with your interactions.
Enrichment games, puzzles, and activities
Enrichment for your GSD keeps your dog’s mind sharp and builds communication through specific one-on-one play. Enrichment is a necessity for intelligent German Shepherds to give them an outlet for their natural mental stamina.
Games that enrich your dog’s mind can stop inappropriate behaviors from developing and strengthen the bond between you two. As you work through solving games and figuring out solutions to puzzles together your GSD is rewarded with a food treat and your praise.
And your German Shepherd’s brain is highly tuned to your social cues to help them play the game. Not to mention, your praise for their hard work on the game is deeply valued as a social reward that aids in your connection (source).
What type of puzzle or game your dog likes to play depends on its unique personality.
Trained German Shepherds enjoy stronger bonds and more satisfying relationships with their owners. The bonds formed while training your German Shepherd puppy or rescue can last a lifetime.
Only use positive reinforcement training. This means you give your dog a reward when they perform a cue correctly.
Some rewards are:
Food-based and treats
Your words of praise
Pets and affection
Playing a game with their favorite toy
Using an aversive style of training (force or punishment) can traumatize your GSD and severely damage your bond.
A good confidence-building training session means that he’ll look to you for guidance. The more energy you focus on building positive training methods, the less time you’ll spend resolving unwanted behaviors.
A teacher who correctly nourishes a safe relationship during training helps their student to fulfill their potential and grow in confidence. Teaching commands is important to your dog’s safety.
And training is a wonderful bonding tool for you and your German Shepherd!
Training your German Shepherd as a bonding exercise
There are plenty of owners who train their dogs on their own. If you’re confident in your ability to train your GSD, go for it!
But, what do you do if you aren’t confident about how to start training your puppy?
Where can you turn to get a positive experience that allows you to train from the comfort of your own home?
Bonding with your German Shepherd using training couldn’t be easier and more fun. Simply enroll in this online dog training program so that you give both of you the best chase to get it right! 💡
8. Tether them to you
When you first bring your German Shepherd puppy or rescue home it’s very helpful to tether them to you so they go everywhere you go.
During this early acclimation and bonding phase tethering your dog to you with a lightweight leash clipped to your waist belt helps avoid your new GSD getting into trouble. So many bad things happen in the first few days or weeks it’s best to supervise your dog when they’re not kenneled or in a 100% German Shepherd-proof area.
Sadly, many times a fearful dog will dig under a fence to run away out of stress, or your puppy will have an accident because you let them wander around unsupervised.
But tethering your dog to you allows you to supervise them, keep them safe, and gain an extra boost in bonding to you!
This comfortable waist leash is a wonderful tool to have for tethering since it allows your hands to stay free while keeping your dog close.
When your puppy goes outside to potty or is in the yard make sure you have them on a secure long line leash to keep them safe.
It doesn’t matter if you have a fenced yard or not.
Fences aren’t guaranteed to keep a determined German Shepherd from jumping them, or digging under them to go explore, not to mention your dog might not know a come command yet.
As your dog begins to learn their routine and rules you can increase the distance of the tether by attaching a longer line, both indoors and out in the yard.
If you can’t watch your dog on the tether, then give your dog their own private space that’s comfortable. Sometimes, your dog might need alone time to relax or decompress from hard play.
9. Bond through brushing
Some owners might find grooming and brushing their dogs mundane.
But brushing your German Shepherd is actually an excellent way to bond with them!
A quick brushing session not only maintains your German Shepherd’s coat but also helps you two grow closer. If your dog is hesitant at first, use gentle encouragement and affection to put them at ease.
Don’t force them if they seem overly anxious.
Brushing your dog’s fur creates and reinforces your proximity to your dog. Every day you spend touching and brushing your puppy, you create a deeper bond and build their confidence in you.
For this bonding activity use a gentle brush that allows you closer, more natural contact.
Instead of grooming your GSD with a metal comb or tool, use this soothing grooming glove. 🧤 Your puppy might not even realize you’re brushing them because it’s such a gentle experience.
A few minutes at a time each day followed by a treat reward can really help improve the feelings of attachment between you and your dog.
10. Establishing rules to help them succeed
German Shepherds want, need, and love rules.
But, your dog doesn’t come to you knowing all the rules of your house. It’s your job to teach them how to succeed by developing rules to help them succeed in your family.
Rules help make life predictable, less confusing, and less stressful. But, dogs don’t understand exceptions to rules so have everyone in your family on board with the same rules.
Shepherds thrive when they know where the boundaries are. When you spend time supporting consistent boundaries with positive training and rewards you also build up their trust in you as a leader.
Consider the following examples of rules for your GSD:
If you don’t want your dog on the sofa, teach him that rule so he steers clear of trouble — ensure your whole family is on board.
Maybe you don’t want your dog to bark out the front window at passers-by, so you teach him to instead come to you and you reward him. Instead of leaving him to bark at the window.
If there are rooms that are off-limits to them, place a baby gate in the doorway. Don’t expect them to just know not to enter.
Encourage your GSD to be an active participant in your family’s day-to-day life and routine. A German Shepherd that is shut away for most of the day and doesn’t have much interaction with the family is left without guidance from its owner.
A dog that harbors feelings of isolation will experience confusion as it’s prevented from bonding with its owner. Understand the bonding process doesn’t happen overnight.
But, it does grow stronger in response to your participation in the relationship and the time spent with your family.
Signs of a Strong Bond
There’s no mistaking a German Shepherd who feels a real emotional connection with you. From their happy greetings to following you around the house, this is how you’ll know if your German Shepherd is bonded to you.
When they’re attached to you, German Shepherds:
Keeping tabs on where you are when they’re off-leash
Making a big effort to find you when they want to engage in play
A desire to be near you, even following you to the bathroom
A high level of focus on you by frequently looking at you
A love for physical interaction, such as petting and grooming
Strong ability to understand when your dog communicates their needs, wants, and interests
It’s best to schedule your bonding times each day so you don’t forget.
Use the schedule below to help you fit in spending time with your German Shepherd.
German Shepherd Bonding Schedule
You can help improve the bond more quickly by spending at least 30 minutes of focused, one-on-one time together each day.
This time doesn’t include walks, although walking is also a bonding exercise. Your bonding time should be focused and centered on learning your GSD’s likes and dislikes and creating an environment that takes into account their unique disposition.
Here’s what a German Shepherd bonding schedule might look like.
Dog’s Energy Level
Highest energy level (usually puppies)
Puzzle game, Dog-led walk
Training, Work on recall using long line leash
High energy (adult dogs)
Kong feeder, Brushing
Puzzle game, Dog-led walk
Medium energy (senior dogs)
Training, Stuffed Kong
Aim for including at least 2 bonding activities each day, but preferably more.
In fact, there’s even proven science behind getting a German Shepherd to bond with you.
Here is what you need to know about how to feel more attached to your GSD.
German Shepherd Attachment
German Shepherd attachment has an evolutionary component: It aids in their survival.
The desire to make a strong emotional bond with particular people is a basic component of the GSD’s nature. So, a German Shepherd not only wants to bond with a person, but they must strive to achieve attachment to survive in this modern world.
German Shepherd attachment falls into 4 main categories:
Proximity Maintenance — “Whom do you like to be with?”
Safe Haven — “Who provides you with comfort?”
Secure Base — “Who is always there for you?”
Separation Distress — “Whom do you miss the most when they leave?”
Each of these categories of attachment helps to strengthen the bond with a German Shepherd by allowing them to increase dependence on their person.
This dependence further allows the dog to have confidence in their environment to:
This learning experience shapes a German Shepherd’s beliefs and expectations of their owner, confidence in their world, and openness to express their needs.
The Foundation of Attachment to Your GSD
Proximity maintenance, also known as proximity seeking, is a biological drive for your dog to seek closeness to a protective person.
The goal of this drive is to feel safe, secure, and protected.
Proximity seeking promotes attachment behaviors, especially when your GSD is:
The owner needs to be tuned in to the signals of their GSD to respond in an accurate and timely fashion.
The quality of your caregiving is key to forming a secure attachment with your dog.
Your Role as Your Dog’s Secure Base
An owner must be able to be a secure fixture when their dog needs them.
When their dog feels insecure and aroused their owner must appease their insecurities so their dog can relax in their environment again.
The dog’s owner must focus on their behavior and be interested in their GSD’s mind so they can respond by meeting the dog’s needs. This gives messages about the owner’s availability to not only meet their dog’s needs but also offer relaxation.
If the owner’s responses are predictable and accurate, then:
The dog isn’t overwhelmed by anxiety or dangers
Faith in the attachment figure (the owner) is strengthened
The owner becomes a source of security in the dog’s eyes
The dog learns to trust and to wait for their needs to be satisfied. A GSD can then use this proximity attachment figure as a secure base that can be relied upon, called upon, and returned to in times of stress.
Essentially, your GSD is forming an attachment to seek:
In return, the owner bonds with their German Shepherd. This is about a sense of commitment, concern, responsibility, and love for the dog.
You should know the fundamental elements to create an attachment between you and your GSD.
Powerful Factors in German Shepherd Bonding
German Shepherd owners that are in tune with their dogs see the world from their dog’s point of view.
They treat the dog with understanding, responding positively to their needs and feelings.
Their responses –which reduce anxiety, help the dog to manage their behavior, and prevent behavior problems — provide a scaffold for future experiences. In return, a GSD is able to manage their behavior more appropriately and without undue stress.
Focus on opportunities to build this foundation of attachment and bonding by:
Being available — helping your dog to trust you
Responding sensitively — helping your dog to manage their behavior and feelings
Accepting your GSD for their uniqueness — builds confidence
German Shepherds need to grow up knowing they have a secure place within the family. A place where they belong and have responsibilities in relation to other family members.
Feeling a part of the family is an important base for emotional growth.
Your Relationship with Your German Shepherd
Why is it so important to be bonded to your German Shepherd?
Because it leads to a happier, healthier life together with a companion who will always be on your side.
If you do everything I’ve outlined above, you and your German Shepherd will become closer and have a stronger bond that develops through playing, training, exercising, and living together.
They’ll love you unconditionally and your dog will give back to you tenfold what you give to him!
Imagine the relationship you’ll build with your German Shepherd when you have patience and compassion, show your dog what you want from him, and enrich his life the way he does yours.
Take the time to learn how to bond with your German Shepherd and he’ll reward you with a lifetime of love!
Want more fun ways to bond with your dog and stimulate their minds?
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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