Training A German Shepherd Dog – From A Professional Trainer

August 16, 2022
August 16, 2022

I’m entirely biased, but German Shepherds are one of the best dogs to train, and training them is relatively easy.

I love working with a German Shepherd dog. There’s a reason I went to buy a German shepherd puppy (and brought home a German shepherd cross, thanks to backyard breeders, but that’s another story!).

They’re smart, they’re biddable, they want to learn.

And that is so valuable to me as a professional trainer.

So let’s discuss that magical thing of Training a German Shepherd.

Did you know that German Shepherds and Alsatians are the same?

Curious, right? The short version for this, is because of rebranding.

Essentially, German shepherds declined in popularity after World War I, because of the “German” part of their name and negative connotations as a result of that war. In the US, the AKC shortened their name to “Shepherd dog” And in Europe (primarily the UK), they became known as “Alsatians” after Alsace-Lorraine.

In 1977, the German Shepherd was returned to it’s original name across the world.

How Important Is Breeding In Training A German Shepherd?

Hugely important.

German shepherds are known for behavior problems and for health conditions that stem from genetics and not from a lack of training or early socialisation.

Most german shepherds learn very well – but the better bred they are, the easier they will be to train. German shepherd puppies should always come from a reputable breeder. These may be hard to find because they’re one of the more popular dog breeds.

Here’s a good tip though, Lower prices are usually a bad sign, ensure they invest in genetic testing for things like degenerative myelopathy and other things listed on the OFA but if you want more info on that check Need A Great Breeder? How To Find One And 4 Places To Avoid.

indie in the landshark sport 1.5 inch collar
Despite the best of raising, socialisation and training, Indie developed reactivity in his second fear phase. It’s something quite common amongst german shepherds. I became a trainer because of this. And I slowly learned that his reactivity came primarily from his poor breeding – so please don’t make the same mistake I did.

Do German Shepherds Need Training?

Yes.

Like every dog, german shepherds need training, and arguably, the German shepherd usually needs more training than a lot of dogs – and that’s not because they’re unruly, or problematic (they’re certainly not when you get a well bred dog).

Moreso because they love to work, and a german shepherd who is being constantly trained, is a happy german shepherd.

Not to mention that German Shepherds are a large dog, and whilst I do not advocate any dog being out of control, a large, out of control dog is significantly more dangerous than a small out of control dog – so I implore you, train your german shepherd.

And, overall, the more you train your German Shepherd (and especially from an early age!), the happier you will be with your German shepherd.

How Easy Are German Shepherds To Train?

My fave question.

This depends on you.

How do you think? What do you enjoy about a dog? How is your understanding of body language and behavioral issues?

If that lines up with how a german shepherd thinks and functions like it does for me? Then heck yeah they’re super easy.

Genetically, they are very smart and very biddable. They want to work with you, and they want to work generally. So, it does mean that they can get easily frustrated, but they can also achieve a lot more than the average dog.

Even older german shepherd dogs with only basic obedience can learn new tricks and new skils

German Shepherd puppy training with a tunnel, how to train a german shepherd
this little guy is learning a lot through early socialisation.

How Do I Train My German Shepherd?

Ideally, from a young age and with positive reinforcement only.

Something that people don’t know, or misunderstand about German Shepherds – is that they’re actually really sensitive. It’s why they don’t always do well in social situations like Dog Parks, and they don’t do well under punishment based training.

Do German Shepherds Need Special Training?

No. Special training is not required for the ownership of a German shepherd. They can get along with general “Lifestyle” training, and obedience like every other dog. But they must be trained.

They are highly intelligent breeds, high energy, and often described as “High Drive” dog in the dog world. It’s why they’re used for law enforcement.

German shepherds are bred for their versatility and appropriate to pretty much every dog sport in existence.

But, the thought of special training comes from Schutzhund (Otherwise known as IGP or IPO) which is a series of trials consisting of Tracking, Obedience and Protection. This ‘dog sport’ is heavily populated by the German shepherd because of their natural versatility, and adaptability to a task, and is often associated with being the ‘special’ training a german shepherd may “need”.

crazy zoomies German Shepherd puppy

Got a GSD Pup?

Make sure to get them
off on the right paw
and avoid any potential
issues that you can.

How Much Does It Cost To Train A German Shepherd?

This depends! How are you planning to train, how well bred is your dog? Do you have years of experience? Are you a Professional Dog Trainer? How much knowledge do you already have, and how far are you wanting to take it? Also, where are you starting from? Do you have adult dogs, then it’s different than starting with a GSD Puppy.

It Could Be Free

You can train a great family dog yourself, for free, with the aid of books, or online resources like this blog! But, you can also easily get misled by these same resources, resulting in some pretty catastrophic issues.

Or it can be free if you genuinely know what you’re doing. For example, I would be confident in raising a GSD puppy for virtually free (though I would likely invest in a groomer, vet and probably even a good daycare/walker) as then they’re familiar, so ‘free’ is still a relative term depending on the scope of training.

It Could Cost Enough

There are various low to medium cost options for a well bred dog. If you go see professional dog trainers, it depends on if you’re going for a few private lessons, some puppy classes, or even some online classes or courses.

It Could Cost A Lot

By a lot, I mean $5,000 and up.

For example, if you really get into competitive dog sports? Dog training could costs you thousands per year.

It could also cost you this if your dog is poorly bred and/or you get into a pickle with severe behavioural issues like separation anxiety or aggression or reactivity. Then it absolutely could cost you a small fortune.

The best way to avoid severe behavioural issues, by the way? Is to invest in a really well bred puppy.

So how can I best explain how much it costs to train a German Shepherd?

I would be investing in a really good quality puppy, and investing in training. Because whilst I’m a trainer, and can easily produce a confident and world ready dog – but I’m not a pro at agility or flyball or dock diving, and yeah! I will plan on doing this with my next German Shepherd puppy.

That will cost me money. But it will also benefit the dog, hugely.

leg weave trick with a German shepherd
leg weaves with a German shepherd cross – this one is such fun, honestly.

Can I train my own German Shepherd?

Yes! Yes you can – especially if you have the time (because there’s a lot more research than you think), the knowledge and ideally some experience. And regardless, you should always be the main proponent of the training of your German Shepherd. This is just another reason that I don’t advocate for Board & Trains.

Totally doable, but it’s often easier with guidance.

How Long Does It Take To Train A German Shepherd?

If you want the honest answer; a lifetime.

It is not a limited thing. You are always training your dog.

But if the question is “How long does it take to train my dog to do (thing)?”

Then you can teach a sit in a few minutes, you can teach a solid recall in a week, or a loose lead walk in a few days. But teaching them to overcome Seperation anxiety, or other behavioural issues like Reactivity will take much longer.

What Training Methods Should I Use To Train A German Shepherd?

Some may disagree, but it’s good to note that these high intelligence dogs need no force to be trained. They’re super smart, and you can use that brain to train them.

And, per the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour’s 2021 statement, all dogs can be taught with positive reinforcement training methods, and should not be taught with punishment.

That’s something I totally agree with.

Having trained tonnes of dogs of all shapes and sizes, I can totally confirm that German shepherds thrive on Positive reinforcement methods – and if you’re not sure what that’s referring to? This is super useful!

These are the "quadrants of operant conditioning" that exist within dog training, with Positive reinforcement, negative punishment, positive punishment and negative reinforcement
This is a great insight into how dog training boils down. These are the four quadrants of operant conditioning – whilst you don’t need to know what operant conditioning is – rest assured this is essentially a large part of dog training. We work in the positive reinforcement sector (top left) because this has been shown to be the most effective quadrant with minimal risk of having side effects.

When Should I Start Training My German Shepherd?

Ideally their training starts with their breeder and is continued with you from the moment they’re home.

If they’re a rescue or finding the transition particularly stressful, you can of course give them a couple of days (for puppies) or a few weeks (for adults/older rescues) to allow for decompression. But training should happen seamlessly thereafter.

Where Should I Train My GSD?

With a positive reinforcement trainer who doesn’t use aversive training methods.

Look out for terms like “Alpha”, “Dominance”, “Correction” and “Who’s boss” and avoid these places like the plague, they represent a bygone era of dog training that is not supported by science.

You want to look for words like “Force Free”, “Positive reinforcement”, “Science based” and “Fear free” these words will mean that they adhere to modern methodologies. You can always double check by asking them whether they train in line with the AVSAB position statement – they should have an opinion on it and support it entirely.

If you want though, you have also just found a force free trainer… so you could just get in touch and learn with me!

Will A German Shepherd Protect Without Training?

If we’re being honest, this depends on the dog, and what they’re defending against. Animals are more likely than people.

Some will naturally defend their Parent/Owner/Guardian (however you define yourself!), others won’t and may need special training if this is the reason you want a German Shepherd.

You absolutely can train them for as a protection dog or guard dog, but it will take specific training, and maintenance on that training which will be costly over time.

Can I Train A German Shepherd As A Service Dog Or Therapy Dog?

Yep! But it would be best to specifically source your german shepherd for this precise purpose and have a trainer lined up to support you. A responsible breeder will discuss this with you, and hopefully rule themselves in or out.

But it’s important that their breed/blood lines have been used for these purposes before! Do not just take a “Sure, I think they could do that” response.

Indie the german shepherd and his dinosaur sleeping on a Big Barker Bed
Remember, whilst you may be able to train your german sheherd for free, they’re bigger dogs, so they instantly need bigger gear which is more costly, and bigger, more supportive beds, and stronger toys, and even their vet bills will be bigger too. So, whilst you can save on training, they’re still a very significant investment!

Why Are German Shepherds So Hard To Train?

Any dog is hard to train if you don’t understand the dog and if they’re not shown consistency.

For a German Shepherd you have to understand that they want to make you happy, but sometimes what they want to do is more rewarding that you want them to do.

Increase your rewards, decrease the distrations (manage the three D’s of dog training!) and try again.

They’ll also be harder to train if you’re not giving them what they need fundamentally, whether that’s mental stimulation, physical exercise or sleep. They must have that balance before they’ll listen!

Then! The last real reason that GSD’s can be tough to train is because of their sheer size and strength! And if they’ve been neglected for training at a young age, then a big dog who’s untrained becomes a much bigger problem, right?

Why are German Shepherds trained in German?

Part of this comes from the Schutzhund world, it’s also said that because fewer people speak german in America or the UK that it’s a ‘safer’ set of commands, having a dog that won’t follow the cues of a ‘regular’ person. But it’s also entirely unnecessary! Luckily they learn English just as well as German!

Is Running Bad For German Shepherds?

Generally, no. Do make sure that you warm them up and cool them down to help you and them avoid cruciate ligament issues.

Then, if we’re referring to running with your dog as a form of exercise, such as Canicross, as with most dogs? I would always suggest waiting until your dogs growth plates are closed, and I would ensure their hips and elbows are all healthy and happy before engaging in extended running.

Also be aware of the weather. The heat can be problematic for sheps too.

In short…

Remember, your german shepherd is a major investment, in the puppy, in training and in cash. But the good news is that if you make that investment you’ll have a phenomenal dog – and a great family dog if that’s what you want of them.

If you need support in training your German Shepherd, reach out and I’d be delighted to help!

Author, Ali Smith

Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.

Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!

 

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