7 Hands-Down Best Tips for Owning a German Shepherd

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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 

what to expect as a first time german shepherd owner
This is a bit dramatic, but some days this is what it feels like to own a German Shepherd.

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.

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, new experiences to socialize them.

expose your dog to new sights, sounds, people and animals when you own them
When you own a German Shepherd you need to ensure they’re comfortable with new sights, sounds, people, other dogs, and places.

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:

  • varying races
  • 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 in new situations and with 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 aren’t just about people and animals. There are tons of new things your dog needs to get comfortable with.

Let your puppy walk on different surface types, such as:

  • tile floors
  • wood floors
  • stone and brick flooring
  • wet surfaces

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 anything 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:

  • rain
  • snow
  • sun
  • wind

Train them early that thunder and rain are just parts of everyday life. And that no matter what you’ll keep them safe.

2. Don’t use punishment during training, but focus on rewards.

owning a german shepherd means daily training
Train daily. Make it fun. Don’t stress out if your dog doesn’t understand something the first few times.

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.

Read this guide to learn all about the basics of proper German Shepherd obedience training, including a helpful training schedule and the foundation commands.

3. Be prepared for chewing by offering the right options.

biting, nipping, and chewing are issues when you own a gsd puppy
This GSD owner has given their puppy the right thing to chew, a toy — instead of their owner’s fingers and feet!

Sadly, it is often the dog that owners 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 puppies 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. 

Only use safe, non-toxic chew toys, which are found listed here, in the best strong chew toys for German Shepherds to avoid boredom.

It’s your job to have the right type of toys for your German Shepherd to chew…

Instead of your hands and fingers!

4. Avoid accidents by managing the home environment.

german shepherd tips for new owners
Create a set routine and schedule and stick to it to avoid accidents and train your puppy faster.

Say hello to your new sloppy family member…

They not only shed everywhere but also dump water out when drinking, spill their food, and…

Have total disrespect for your carpets! Well, it’s not so much disrespect as it is they are learning how to control their bladder and bodily functions.

As a first time German Shepherd owner, here’s your crash course in house training your new dog:

  • Take your puppy out every 2 to 3 hours and especially first thing in the morning, after eating, after play or exercise, and right before their bedtime.
  • Puppies, like a toddler, will have accidents because they don’t have full control of their bladders at first.
  • You must have them in a secure area or watch them all the time to avoid any accidents.
  • Don’t yell or push their face into the mess!
  • It’s your fault for not watching your dog, reading their body cues, or sticking to a routine. 

There’s so much to know about house training your new family member that you’ll be surprised what you don’t know after you read the full guide to potty training your German Shepherd.

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. Use food-dispensing toys and slow feeders to keep them at a healthy weight.

german shepherd feeding tips
This is a food toy called a Kong Wobbler. It slows down your GSD’s fast eating habits.

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
  • decreases aggression
  • 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. đź‘ 

Once you get your first food puzzle toy you’ll be as hooked. They’re not only entertaining for your dog, but it’s fun to watch!

Even better?

You can choose exciting Food Puzzle Toys for German Shepherds to see which ones your GSD will love!

6. Ignore what you don’t want and reward what you like.

ignore is a powerful leadership statement for new gsd owners
Puppies are more responsive to the Ignore method of training.

As a new German Shepherd owner, you might think you need to appease your dog all the time or give in to 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 are 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 so they stay entertained.

give your german shepherd a job at home
This is my German Shepherd and one of her jobs is “Puzzle Master.”

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 are some of my German Shepherd’s favorite jobs around the house:

  • Puzzle Master – She completes food puzzles for her reward
  • Toy Cleaner – I’ve taught her to pick up her toys using this game-based dog training program
  • Gentle Agility – My GSD is older now and we use low poles for her agility training

Check out even more work for your dog to enjoy using my post on 10 Jobs for German Shepherds at Home

Owning a German Shepherd Quick Tips

German Shepherd TipsNew Owner Information
Gentle guidance when exploringSocialization skills around people, places, objects, and other animals
Daily training sessionsShort, fun training in only 2 – 3 minutes
Redirect their unwanted bitingShow them what you want them to chew
Watch them closely indoorsPotty habits must be taught early on
Use toy food feedersControl their calories and how fast they eat
Use the Ignore MethodWhen they are showing behavior you don’t want
Give them a jobKeep their minds and bodies occupied with what you want
Use this quick checklist to make sure that owning a German Shepherd is smooth sailing.

Want more help with owning a German Shepherd for the first time?

So it all adds up to this…

Your German Shepherd is capable of so many things because he is a natural-born problem solver.

And, owning a German Shepherd means you will need to try more than one approach to solve a problem because you’ve got to be smarter than your German Shepherd. đź’ˇ

But this post is just the tip of the iceberg!

As a new owner, the Essential Owner’s Guide on How to Take Care of a German Shepherd Puppy is a must-read post to find out what’s in store next for you! Plus, you’ll learn how to ensure you’re giving your new German Shepherd what they need.