German Shepherd Training
If you’ve come home to your German shepherd after a long day’s work, only to find that he chewed his way to the inside of your couch, gave the cat a nervous breakdown, or ate your favorite shoe, you are not alone. Thousands of otherwise happy German shepherd owners find that this breed comes with its own delightful qualities, but also with the challenges one should expect from a very smart and energetic animal.
Training their German shepherds is crucial to help the owners of this intelligent animal keep their sanity. Like most worthwhile endeavors in life, however, German shepherd training isn’t necessary easy, but it will bring peace of mind to the owner and his family, while keeping the animal healthy and safe. Here are five basic concepts to ensure that your German shepherd training is successful:
1. Understand and respect your German Shepherd
Your dog has its own personality and behavioral traits that you must understand and respect, if you are to be successful in training your German shepherd. Respect doesn’t mean to tolerate an undesirable behavior, or to allow your dog to act destructively. You should understand that your dog will misbehave at times, and it’s your job to help the animal change its behavior. This calls for respect and patience in handling the dog, always being careful not to mistreat the animal in any way so as not to make him fear you.
A dog that is fearful of its owner may express that fear by showing, disobedience, anxiety or aggressiveness. Some feel the need to be overly aggressive with their pet in order to get obedience. Obedience is important, but that comes more from consistency, respect and patience than from how harshly you discipline your pet. Your German shepherd needs to learn that it can trust, love and respect you before it’s truly open to adjusting or learning new behaviors.
2. Know the limits of your dog
When training your German shepherd, it’s important for you to understand the limits of your dog. A young dog may not be able to comprehend the commands and learn the skills that an adult dog can more easily learn. It’s a matter of level of maturity, as well as experience, which varies with age, temperament and personality. Likewise, a senior dog may be slower than a young dog in learning certain skills.
If your dog is more easily distracted, it will take him longer to learn a new behavior than a dog that is more capable to focus on your commands. Additionally, you should also know if there are any physical or emotional problems or limitations that might interfere with the training of your German shepherd.
3. Be patient and consistent with the training of your dog
Patience is of the utmost importance when it comes to training your German shepherd, or any other breed for that matter. Whether you are teaching your dog to come when called, overcome a fear, or keep him from barking whenever he hears the door bell, patience is a must. Depending on the dog’s training history, if any, or how alert or willing he is to learn, the training may take longer than you initially expected. Your success in training your German shepherd will greatly depend on your patience, consistency and diligence.
Impatience is often the result of unrealistic expectations you may have about your dog and the learning process in general. Some dog owners expect their dogs to learn new skills immediately and to display those skills flawlessly under any circumstances. You should approach dog training patiently and in small, manageable steps.
You should, for instance, first train your dog to learn a behavior or skill reliably in an environment with no major distractions before asking him to perform the behavior in more challenging settings. If your dog learns and obeys a command inside your house, for instance, you’ll still need time and patience to help him transition the newly-learned behavior to more complex circumstances, such as a park, where there will be more distractions.
Lastly, remember that you are communicating with an animal that “speaks” a different language. For the most part, your dog wants to understand what you want him to do, but it will take time and patience to make your intentions clear to him. Give him plenty of time and attention to understand what you expect from him.
4. Chose a place and a time that is appropriate for the training sections
You must have your dog’s full attention before he’ll learn anything. You should choose a quiet place, with little or no distractions. If available, your back yard can be the best place to start your training.
Your German shepherd should already be familiar with the sounds, the scenery and even the smells in your yard. If you were in a park, or even on a quiet street, for instance, you would have much less control over the distractions that could quickly derail your German shepherd training.
Traffic, pedestrians and other disturbances will greatly affect your dog’s ability and willingness to learn. Once your dog is confident and more familiar with the training, then you can take your dog outdoors, where he will get used to learning and obeying despite the distractions surrounding him.
5. Use positive reinforcement for best results
The concept of positive reinforcement is widely used in German shepherd training. Your German shepherd will respond best to your commands when you use positive reinforcement. Shouting at your dog or physically punishing him will cause this affectionate and intelligent animal to distrust you, making him less likely to learn, and even encouraging aggressive behavior on his part. This model works by encouraging your dog to repeat a behavior or skill by rewarding him with praise, food (treats) or his favorite toy.
Many police dogs (K9) are trained to perform the most dangerous and challenging tasks by rewarding them not with food, but with their favorite toy. The rewards will make your German shepherd more likely to repeat the behavior, making positive reinforcement one of your most powerful tools for shaping or changing your dog's behavior.
Correct timing is essential when using positive reinforcement. The reward (treat, praise or toy) must occur immediately—within seconds—or your pet may not associate it with the proper behavior. If you ask your dog to sit down, but reward him after he goes back to a standing position, he'll think he is being rewarded for standing up, which is the opposite of what you want.
You can also use a clicker to tell your dog which behavior is being rewarded. Clicker training is a method whereby the dog learns to associate the sound of the clicker as a positive “marker” for the desired behavior. When your dog obeys your command and sits down, for instance, you “click” as soon as he sits, and then immediately reward him. This will help your dog understand the connection between the correct behavior and the treat.
When your pet is learning a new behavior, reward him every time he does the behavior or performs the task. This is known as continuous reinforcement. Once your German shepherd has reliably learned the new behavior, you can then switch to intermittent reinforcement, in which you continue to praise him, but gradually reduce the number of times he receives a reward for performing the desired behavior.
Using these five basic concepts when training your dog will bring quicker, long lasting results, while build a strong relationship of trust and love between you and your German shepherd.