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Disciplining your German Shepherd can make or break your future relationship with your dog.
But, many owners simply don’t know the appropriate way to correct their dog and wind up frustrated, stressed, and confused.
So, how do you discipline a German Shepherd without ruining your bond with him?
Especially a mischief-making puppy!
By the time you finish reading this post, you’ll know exactly what to do to discipline a German Shepherd puppy just like the professionals, and…
What NOT to do!
Disciplining A German Shepherd Puppy
To discipline a German Shepherd, first, create an environment that sets them up for success by making sure the area is dog-proof. If your dog has unwanted nipping and biting or destructive chewing, redirect the bad behavior by distracting your puppy and offering them a more interesting chew toy. Focus on positive reinforcement by rewarding good behaviors with treats, toys, play, or praise and affection. If redirecting them doesn’t work, consider a short time-out to calm them down.
Never use physical punishment, yelling, or leave your puppy in an environment where they can get into trouble without supervision.
When disciplining a German Shepherd, punishment has been shown to instill fear and distrust in your puppy (source).
It breaks down the attachment and bond you have built with him.
When there are so many positive options to discipline your German Shepherd, why resort to old-school techniques of harsh punishments, yelling or reprimanding?
Instead, here are the most effective tips on how to discipline a German Shepherd, even puppies.
Helpful Tips on How to Discipline a German Shepherd
Use distractions when your German Shepherd is in the middle of a bad behavior
Redirect their attention to a more desirable behavior
Reward positive behavior with treats, affection, games, or playtime
Use short, but effective, calming timeouts
Ignore behavior that is demanding, for example, excessive barking, jumping, or pawing
Never use physical punishment, fear, yelling, or intimidate your GSD
Don’t rub your German Shepherd’s nose in his accidents
Don’t encourage your GSDs bad behavior by laughing or giggling at their antics
Don’t punish unwanted behavior after-the-fact
If you want to learn how to discipline your German Shepherd then this guide is exactly what you need. Especially if you want to know how to keep a strong bond with your companion.
Are you making mistakes by punishing your German Shepherd inappropriately?
Do you know the most important times when disciplining your German Shepherd puppy is most effective?
Read on to find out.
Three Key Times When Disciplining Your German Shepherd Puppy is Most Successful
Using the wrong methods of punishing your GSD can make matters dangerously more serious. But, knowing the two key times when disciplining your German Shepherd is most successful will give you a headstart to stop behavior problems from worsening.
The 3 key times when disciplining your German Shepherd is most successful
When you introduce your German Shepherd to your home and set up the environment to prevent bad behavior from occurring.
During the early training when your dog is still a puppy and learning is the most important and quickest.
As your German Shepherd is in the act of the unwanted behavior and you react appropriately to discipline them.
Let’s take a quick look at how these 3 times produce the most success when disciplining your German Shepherd puppy.
Preventing Bad Behaviors
Prevention is the best strategy for managing your dog’s behavior.
But some owners tend to blame their dog for their bad behavior when, in fact, the environment set up by the owner leaves the puppy or adult to get into trouble easily.
Let’s take a look at these common examples of bad behaviors, and what you could do to prevent them in the first place.
Your puppy chews all the couch cushions. Why not place your puppy in a safe room with a partition gate?
You know your German Shepherd likes to chew your expensive shoes.Do you have chew toys that are enticing to him and keep them nearby?
Your dog soils on the carpet when you’re not looking.Have you thought about keeping your puppy tethered to you to watch him closely?
Many times, when you think your German Shepherd needs discipline, what he actually needs is an environment that sets them up for success, instead of punishment and failure.
Look around your house and consider how you can make your space safer for your German Shepherd. Avoiding punishment and discipline is a proactive step in the right direction.
Early positive training
When your German Shepherd puppy comes to you at around 8 weeks old you have a clean slate to train your dog. During these early years, it’s crucial to teach your dog what the rules of the house are — including behavior that is acceptable and unacceptable.
Your GSD is learning the foundation behaviors and training for their future life with you. Now is the time to:
Don’t overlook your dog’s early training for their future foundation with you. Brain training your German Shepherd’s mind can teach them early skills to problem-solve and make better choices.
All while keeping them entertained and out of trouble!
Caught in the act
Catching your German Shepherd puppy while in the act of committing an unwanted behavior and your following actions are pivotal to establishing your expectations and leadership.
When this happens, do NOT yell “NO!” at them.
Instead, use the actions outlined below which can save you stress and teach you to communicate with your puppy more fairly. The discipline and correction you make while your GSD pup is caught in the act help your dog relate the unwanted behavior to a positive behavior that you show them.
Missing the moment
Discipling a German Shepherd must happen in the moment of their behavior or shortly thereafter.
Because your dog only has about a 2-minute short-term memory (source).
But, don’t worry. Your dog’s long-term memory of the commands you teach them is much longer. When the information is valuable enough to help them survive, your dog has the ability to remember it for a much longer time.
Your German Shepherd’s memory can remember past complex events involving you, even if longer than 2 minutes ago using their associated memories. This means they can remember connections between their behavior, the commands you give, and the situation where it occurred (source).
Yet, discipline must occur while your dog is doing the behavior in order to be most beneficial for your German Shepherd (source).
Trustworthy Leader vs. Being the Alpha
German Shepherds are highly intelligent and very receptive to training. But they can also seem stubborn or assertive as they grow into adolescents.
While some people will tell you to “establish yourself as the alpha” this is far from what the facts of science tell you to do!
Do NOT think you need to show your German Shepherd you’re boss by dominating him.
In a year-long study of dog owners who used confrontation or aversive methods to train their aggressive pets, veterinary researchers found that most of these animals continued to be aggressive…
Unless their training techniques changed.
“Alpha Theory” doesn’t work for German Shepherds.
What does work, then?
Developing a strong bond, being consistent, and maintaining reachable expectations.
Here’s how you can learn to control a German Shepherd the right way — without “being the alpha” and ruining your relationship.
Does your German Shepherd act out on purpose?
German Shepherds do not act out on purpose to make you mad or spite you. While some people may tell you there are times when your dog consciously or subconsciously acts out on purpose with their poor behavior, this is untrue. This idea can lead to the wrong type of discipline or incorrect punishment and break your good communication with your dog.
Your German Shepherd’s motives
Your German Shepherd actually has only one motive, proven by science:
German Shepherds do what works for them.
So, they don’t:
Think about how to get back at you for a previous reprimand
Misbehave to spite you
Show bad behavior with any type of ulterior motive towards you
Here is what you need to know about your German Shepherd’s mind and its behavior.
These two foundations in dog training will help you discipline your puppy more easily:
Behaviors that are rewarded get repeated
Behaviors that are ignored get extinguished
Any trainer who thinks your dog has a vendetta against you should be a red flag for you to run away quickly! There is no such evidence of this.
Dogs are simply not trying to take over the pack or be in charge. Dogs are learning how to interact by assessing what works and what doesn’t with each interaction.
Don’t get caught up in believing your German Shepherd is misbehaving just to spite you. They aren’t.
How to Discipline a German Shepherd in 5 Easy Steps
There is a 5-step solution to disciplining your German Shepherd puppy that isn’t difficult to apply but does take patience and consistency. The secret to a well-behaved dog is making good behaviors worthwhile to him. This means the good behavior needs to be more enticing than participating in any bad behaviors. You can do this through a positive interruption, redirection, beneficial behavior reward, timeouts, and ignoring attention-seeking.
Disciplining a German Shepherd is a simple process
Positive interruption of their unwanted behavior.
Redirecting them to more appropriate behavior.
Rewarding them for choosing the beneficial behavior.
Using short timeouts, only if the previous steps don’t work.
Ignoring attention-seeking behavior to help extinguish it.
When possible focus on the first three steps of discipline: interruption, redirection, and rewards.
The last two steps, timeouts and ignoring the behavior, are for the occasions that lesser forms of discipline aren’t effective.
Owners who are able to observe their German Shepherds and understand them are more likely to have dogs that need less discipline than owners who only think of themselves and what their GSD should do for them.
Let’s focus on working through the process of knowing how to discipline a German Shepherd the right way.
1. Give a positive interruption cue to stop the behavior.
The first step when your German Shepherd is behaving badly is to use a positive interruption. What this means is that you’ll make a noise that gets their attention to look at you, but not a noise that scares them.
I suggest using the words “pop, pop” or “tick, tick” said in an upbeat tone. These words are very neutral and can be said quickly to gain your puppy’s attention.
You may choose to use a different word as your positive interruption cue, but if your dog looks scared then either say the word more upbeat or choose another word. You’re not trying to scare your dog to stop the behavior because that’s how you’ll ruin your bond and cause them anxiety.
Instead, you need to get their attention quickly so they stop the bad behavior.
Now, move on to the next step in the discipline process.
2. Redirect their attention to a behavior you want.
Now, here’s where you need to think more like your German Shepherd!
What does your German Shepherd find more enticing and valuable than the bad behavior?
It’s got to be really interesting and fun for them to want to stop and come investigate what you’re offering. I suggest tasty food chews or a squeaky toy to really grab their curiosity!
Try different chews, treats, and toys out to see how your dog responds. And remember to keep these items on you in your pocket or nearby to offer them a positive alternative.
Okay, here’s what helps to solidify the wanted behavior you choose…
The reward! ⭐
Once you’ve shown them what they’re missing out on in the previous step and they decide it’s worth their effort to investigate it, give it to them as their reward.
Now, you might be thinking, “But how is that going to help discipline my German Shepherd?”
Well, remember when I told you the basics of how dogs think?
And that dogs will continue to repeat behaviors that are rewarded?
As your puppy catches on to your redirects and the reward, they slowly begin to learn they get something that’s better than the unwanted behavior. And, you get to look like a fair leader who has their best interest at heart…
There might be times when your puppy is just out of control and wild. For those times, a short time-out might be in order.
What are examples of things that can be used for positive reinforcement?
To increase a German Shepherd’s behavior we need to apply reinforcement. This means something that your dog, in particular, finds reinforcing.
Ideas of positive reinforcement
Play with you or his dog friends
Your dog has to find the positive reinforcement motivation enough to reinforce their wanted behaviors.
4. Apply a short, but effective timeout if they continue acting out.
A timeout is your last resort for disciplining your German Shepherd. It’s not meant to be used daily.
If you find yourself placing your puppy into timeout more than a few times a week, then consider if you’re meeting your puppy’s basic needs. Chances are, you probably need to engage with your dog more and grow your bond with your German Shepherd
Once you’ve gone through the first 3 steps at least 2 times, a timeout may be used.
How to use a timeout
Have a safe area already set up for your puppy where there are no toys or things they can get into or tear.
DO NOT close the door as this will give your dog anxiety and fear. German Shepherds need to see you at almost all times.
Set a timer for only 1 to 2 minutes, no more.
Once your dog is not whining and has its timeout, let them out calmly and without a big fuss to join you again.
If your puppy is whining during the timeout, wait until at least 3 seconds for them to stay quiet before releasing them. This might not sound like a long time, but to a young puppy, it’s stressful to be kept away from you.
Count to 3 in your head once they’re not whining.
Then, slowly release them without fuss.
5. Ignoring behaviors that you want to stop.
Some unwanted behaviors should be ignored.
These are behaviors that are self-reinforcing, such as:
Barking to go outside, called demand barking
Pawing you for attention
Jumping up on you for petting or cuddles
You can choose to ignore these behaviors to help lessen or extinguish them. Your German Shepherd naturally stops demanding behaviors that aren’t rewarded.
This means that, together with positively reinforcing good behaviors, ignoring the bad behaviors helps give you the best system to discipline a German Shepherd puppy. ◀
Even if you were to tell your dog “no” or “stop” while he’s pawing you this is still considered attention. Albeit, negative attention, but nonetheless attention!
And, that’s exactly what your German Shepherd wants!
Instead, turn your body away from the pawing each time they attempt to paw. Or, get up quietly, without saying a word, and move to another area.
Ignore is a powerful statement from a leader.
Discipline Problems and Solutions
This is an example of what to do to discipline your German Shepherd for some common bad behaviors.
Use the table to see what your steps are to help train your puppy the right way.
Chewing the wrong thing
Pawing you for your attention
Nipping and biting during play
Jumping on visitors
Use a checklist, like this, to help decide how to discipline your German Shepherd the right way. Please scroll left/right to see the full table.
Knowing what to do to help your dog with misbehavior is half the battle. The other half is knowing what NOT to do so you don’t make the situation worse.
What NOT to Do When Disciplining a German Shepherd
Now that you know exactly how to discipline your German Shepherd puppy, here’s a list of what not to do.
Are you making any of these disciplining mistakes?
Do not use negative reinforcement
Negative reinforcement is causing discomfort or worse, pain, to your dog to get them to perform a behavior. One regularly overlooked example is pushing your dog’s bottom to the ground and only releasing them when they sit as you want.
Other common negative reinforcers include a choke chain and prong collar. Negative reinforcement is about turning off something negative, or uncomfortable, at the least, and painful at the worst.
But take note…
Negative reinforcement has been scientifically shown to lead to an increased risk of aggression of 2.9 times for aggression towards family members and a further 2.2 times towards unfamiliar people (source). 🚨
So, hands-off when training or disciplining your German Shepherd.
Just as when using negative reinforcement, physical corrections cause your dog anxiety and fear and lead to aggression.
When you got your dog you wanted him for life as your best friend and companion. Physical punishment hurts your dog and isn’t in either of your best interest.
If you find yourself about to engage in physical force for punishment with your German Shepherd, step away from your dog immediately. Ask someone for help. Call a friend or family member and tell them you need help with your dog.
Even withholding food, water, or shelter is cruel and must be avoided. Punishment doesn’t achieve the results you want. It’s a sign of not knowing what to do.
But, this guide has provided you with plenty of options to discipline your dog and there are tons of articles you can find to help withkeeping your German Shepherd entertained if he’s stressing you out.
If you find you can’t handle your dog, then reach out to dog trainers and dog behaviorists in your area quickly.
Don’t yell at or demean your dog
Yelling only serves to scare your dog into submission out of fear of punishment. Your dog’s ear is uniquely tuned to your voice and they can hear the difference in your pitch and tone (source).
You don’t need to yell in order to get them to hear you. And demeaning them by calling them names and speaking to them in a critical tone can cause fear and aggression in German Shepherds.
Not to mention, your continued shouting could stress your dog to the point they shut down and withdraw from you. They will no longer be the sweet, lively dog you dreamed about.
Some people still hold on to the old dominance theory idea that pushing a dog’s face into his potty accident will teach him to relieve himself indoors. Unfortunately, this type of training only makes his house training take longer since he begins to fear going potty anywhere.
So, instead, he begins to sneak off and hide to potty indoors to avoid punishment. And, he fears pottying in front of you even outdoors since he thinks he’ll receive a harsh correction.
Don’t let this scenario be you!
Preferably, always have your puppy tethered to you when potty training, never letting them out of your sight. When not tethered to you, place them in a puppy-proof area to prevent potty accidents.
Remember, the most effective stage of discipline is PREVENTION. This means creating an environment where accidents are less likely or WON’T be able to happen due to your constant care and watch.
Sometimes, German Shepherds can do the cutest things!
While it’s fine to have giggles and laughter with your GSD, it’s not okay if it happens during an unwanted behavior. If your puppy is chewing your expensive new shoes and you laugh or speak cutely to them you’ll have a harder time stopping his chewing other, even more precious, objects.
Or, what about when your tiny puppy sinks his little teeth into your hand in play and you laugh out loud?
Once he becomes bigger and stronger it won’t be funny!
If you frequently laugh when your puppy is in the act of bad behaviors then they come to expect you’ll find it amusing or funny and okay for them to continue to do.
The better option is to redirect your cute puppy to chew on the right things — bones or chew toys that don’t cost a fortune.
There are a few common factors in dogs that cause them to misbehave.
Even if you think your dog is trained and should know better, these are the top reasons they might have bad behaviors.
Underexercised (lack of meeting basic needs)
Improper training (but you think they “know” what to do or not do)
Not mentally stimulated (boredom)
Let’s briefly cover these issues so that you can help change them.
If you spend a lot of time with your puppy, then begin to leave him alone for long hours he may start to misbehave. This is especially true if you are busy and tend to leave him in a crate for far too many hours.
If you’re returning to work after working from home, then you’ll need to gradually work up to the amount of time your puppy can be left alone. Don’t just leave for work all day and expect your German Shepherd to be fine.
He’ll most likely get into trouble as he seeks to soothe himself from your absence. This could mean chewing inappropriate things, digging, or even excessive barking and howling.
An under-exercised dog is not getting his basic needs met. German Shepherds must have at least 2 hours of physical exercise per day.
This doesn’t include their mental stimulation, brain games, and teaching them a job to provide work for them around the house. (See – Fun Jobs for German Shepherds at Home for more ideas)
Before you leave the house give your dog a long walk with plenty of time to sniff. This helps to calm their energy and allow them time to rest while you’re out of the house.
Another leading cause of needing to discipline a German Shepherd is a lack of consistent training and discipline techniques. This means that sometimes you may discipline your German Shepherd for chewing, while other times you laugh and think it’s cute.
Do you make sure your puppy always has 4 paws on the floor to greet guests?
Or, do your guests encourage your dog to jump and lick them because it’s fun for them?
This is a confusing discipline technique for your puppy — sometimes they can get away with behavior and other times they can’t.
Stick to the rules of discipline and training and you’ll have quicker success training your German Shepherd.
If you haven’t spent time training your German Shepherd the right way, then you probably think they “know” what to do.
In actuality, you haven’t spent enough time using the 3 D’s of dog training.
These 3 D’s are:
You need to make sure your dog actually understands that “come” when called means wherever you are, and not just at home in a distraction-free area.
Is your German Shepherd getting at least 5 to 15 minutes a day of mental stimulation and brain training?
While many owners remember to obedience train their dog they overlook the importance of mentally stimulating gamesto reduce boredom.
Decreasing boredom is shown to give your dog a more enjoyable day, which lessens their desire to participate in unwanted behaviors, such as chewing and digging. Start with a few minutes a day using mind games to help keep their mental health in check.
Make sure you’re meeting the varied activities that your dog needs in order to thrive and live happily with you.
Need more help disciplining your German Shepherd the right way?
Disciplining your German Shepherd puppy is most effective when you focus on teaching your German Shepherd what to do, rather than punishing him for unwanted behaviors.
It’s important to know the difference between punishment and discipline (a.k.a. corrections) in order to maintain your bond with your GSD. The wrong type of punishment can cause irreparable harm to your companion, but discipline when used properly actually reinforces positive behavior. ✅
Know what to expect
Common training issues such as jumping, barking, and housetraining can be managed by controlling the environment and reinforcing acceptable responses.
Using discipline to train your German Shepherd doesn’t have to be unpredictable and stressful.
But wouldn’t it be a relief to know what to expect next with your new puppy?
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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