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Did you know that only 4% of owners take their dogs to training classes?
And you’d be right if you thought that owning a German Shepherd, maybe even for the first time, meant you should train your dog, too!
The only problem? Where to start?
But I’m ready to tell you exactly the best German Shepherd tips for owning a German Shepherd.
Don’t just take my word for it, see for yourself…
Owning a German Shepherd For the First Time
Think about this for a moment…
Living with a German Shepherd can be highly rewarding or very frustrating, depending on the place they hold in the family and your own ability to train them.
At heart, the German Shepherd is a pack animal and needs a role in your family, his pack (akc.org). The frustration begins with you not giving your dog the right training and setting rules to follow.
So instead, your dog creates their own entertainment for themselves.
Usually, to your disagreement…
Chewed shoes and scratched doors, anyone?
Owning a German Shepherd for the first time means you need to prepare for this breed. They will eventually become large, powerful dogs that require a confident handler.
While they won’t grow as large or hard to handle as a T-Rex, some days can feel that way if you’re not prepared. 🦖
Here are the most important first time German Shepherd owner tips for having a healthy, happy relationship.
1. Guide, don’t force.
After your dog has had time to settle into your home, start providing new socialization opportunities.
Introductions can take the form of petting, playing fetch, even just going for a walk, or exploring new objects and places together.
When meeting new people
Take meet and greets slowly to avoid developing stress and anxiety-related problems. Don’t force your dog to accept new people if they’re not interested.
Tell your visitors to not reach for your dog; let the dog come to the visitors on their own accord.
If they don’t go to the new person, the new person should just ignore the dog.
After the dog has met and sniffed the visitor, suggest to the visitor they softly touch the side of the dog’s neck or side of the shoulder, rather than the top of the head.
Patting the top of the dog’s head may cause stress in some dogs as this gesture might look like a dominance attempt. It can be a challenge to some dogs and frightening to others.
Meet all different types of people:
hairstyles of all types
wearing hats or not
men, women, and children
elderly, with walkers or canes
people in wheelchairs
bike and scooter riders
Ease them into meeting new dogs
Introducing new dogs should always stay a positive experience so your GSD doesn’t develop dog-related fear or aggression.
Here’s how to do dog introductions right:
Avoid any dogs you don’t know personally as having good behavior.
Only interact with dogs that are safe and you know for sure will have positive reactions to your new German Shepherd.
If your GSD doesn’t want to interact and meet a new dog, don’t force them! Forcing them will only make them develop stress and anxiety to new situations and animals.
It’s better to have a limited number of positive interactions than a lot of negative encounters. Think quality, not quantity, when socializing your German Shepherd.
Ideas for interesting new experiences
Remember, socialization and new opportunities isn’t just about people and animals. There’s tons of new things your dog needs to get comfortable with.
Let your puppy walk on different surface types, such as:
stone and brick flooring
Different surfaces help your dog feel a variety of textures so they don’t develop any aversions to certain floors or textures. Don’t force them to walk over any thing sharp or hazardous.
Use treats and positive encouragement when they investigate a new situation with confidence.
Especially expose them slowly to different weather conditions you’ll need to walk them in, like:
Train them early that thunder and rain are just parts of everyday life. And that no matter what you’ll keep them safe.
2. You get what you ask for.
The first few days offer you lots of opportunities to praise good behavior and establish yourself as a positive leader in your dog’s life.
One of the most important things to remember is…
Don’t punish your dog.
It’s too soon to discipline for any behavior since your dog does not understand what you expect of them. Punishment will only cause your dog to fear you and increase anxiety.
Instead, do this to get your dog’s attention:
Whenever your dog focuses their attention on you, either by looking up at you or following you, say their name happily and smile.
Crouch down to offer them a gentle scratch and pet.
This connects their name to paying attention to you and marks you as a positive leader, which is important for obedience training and living with their new family.
Always work on rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior. The goal is to build trust in the first few weeks and months that you have your new dog to create a bond. And dogs are actually happier when they are trained (rspca.org).
When owning a German Shepherd, here’s how to start your dog’s training:
Keep training sessions positive so your dog looks forward to training because they have good associations with it.
2 to 3 minutes is plenty of training for a puppy.
Keep the sessions short, but have multiple training sessions throughout the day.
Never end training on a bad note.
For example, give them a command they know for sure so they finish with success.
Sadly, it is often the dog that owner’s blame or punish when their dog’s behavior is inappropriate.
Biting and chewing are natural instincts for dogs and puppies.
These actions provide them with opportunities to investigate the different amounts of pressure to use in relation to the purpose of their biting.
Puppies run into trouble generally because the owner has unintentionally triggered unwanted responses, perhaps by playing rough with their hands or letting their dogs chew their fingers because it was cute (when they didn’t have shark teeth). Your job as their new owner is to help your pup understand and educate them on what is appropriate to bite, nip, and chew.
Use these tips to stop a puppy from biting and nipping you:
When they bite too hard or at all say “ouch” or anything you usually say when you get hurt. This teaches them your signal and cue.
This also lets your biting puppy know they’ve used too much pressure and should let go or ease up on their bite.
They should let go or look a bit startled.
Follow their release with praise or a tasty treat when your dog stops the unwanted behavior.
Do NOT physically punish your dog! Instead, redirect them to a proper chew toy.
Sometimes puppy’s teethe and their gums are sore and need something to chew. Other times adult German Shepherds have a desire and natural urge to bite for relaxation and to reduce anxiety.
No matter what you will clean up some kind of bodily function when owning a German Shepherd. So, do yourself a favor and stock up on pet stain and odor remover!
5. They don’t have a stop eating button.
Your German Shepherd really doesn’t know when to stop eating or how to slow themselves.
Don’t just keep filling up their bowls when they finish or just let them free feed all day. Keep to a schedule so that you can control their food intake and watch their weight.
Your breed is notorious for bad joints and hips when they put on weight too quickly, but it doesn’t have to be this way!
Instead, use rubber toys in which you place part of their food to help control their voracious eating.
Benefits of feeder toys:
helps your GSD cope with separation anxiety problems
prevents destructive behavior
stimulates their brilliant minds
keeps them busy when you need time to yourself (and, trust me, you’ll want some quiet time as a new German Shepherd owner)
Use feeder toys at least a few times a week to keep them occupied with their food longer.
I like to use a Kong Wobbler for both puppies and adults. It’s a pleasurable distraction for puppies to concentrate on, instead of eating your furniture or expensive designer shoes. 👠
Once you get your first food puzzle toy I think you’ll be as hooked as I was. You’ll want to read my post of exciting Food Puzzle Toys for German Shepherds to see which ones your GSD will love!
6. Ignore is a powerful leader statement.
As a new German Shepherd owner you might think you need to appease your dog all the time, or give into their excessive attention-seeking.
But, this is exactly the time you need to introduce the IGNORE response. In my experience, this is one of the most effective training methods that you can use when owning a German Shepherd.
Put simply, here’s the basics to use the Ignore method of training:
You ignore the behavior that you want to stop or reduce.
On the flip side, you give attention to the behavior you want to encourage.
The hard bit is ignoring a very intelligent German Shepherd who is persistent! But, if you persevere and stay consistent, you’ll find that few GSDs will continue a behavior that isn’t rewarding to them.
7. Give your German Shepherd a job at home.
Did you know there are over 150 breeds listed in the American Kennel Club and hundreds more listed in a variety of rare-breed registries around the world…
Yet the German Shepherd is consistently ranked in the top 3 for intelligence?
This represents big challenges as a German Shepherd owner.
You must be smarter than your dog!
The German Shepherd’s activity is seldom aimless, so you must generate a plan and purpose for your dog! That’s why you need to give your dog a job around your house.
No, they’re not going to herd your neighbor’s kittens or start dropping your kids off at school by themselves. But the jobs can be as easy or difficult as you have the time and energy to train.
This is not a mentally lazy dog, but a breed with extremely high intelligence and a huge breadth of application for that intelligence.
Here’s some of my German Shepherd’s favorite jobs around the house:
Puzzle Master – She completes food puzzles for her reward
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.
You need German Shepherd training to get the best behavior from your dog and enjoy a happy life with them. Read these posts to find out what type of German Shepherd training works the best for your breed.
Your German Shepherd’s health, as well as your dog’s specific breed history, contributes to their overall life span. These posts will help you become aware of your dog’s health problems and how to help solve or improve them.