Dog Learning: Lupo’s Guide to How Your German Shepherd Learns

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The day I brought home my first German Shepherd I was overwhelmed and totally unprepared!  But I had grown up in a home with German Shepherds…

Nicky, Sasha, Fido and Rex had been my playmates throughout my childhood and teens. 

Dad was responsible for training and I did my bit with feeding, grooming and playing.

Fido shared his food with me every night; he didn’t mind that I stuck my chubby toddler hands into his bowl to scoop up a bite of food. 

Rex our white German Shepherd loved nothing more than chilling with me under the grapevine or digging around in my sandpit with me alongside.

As I grew older and said goodbye to Rex and then Fido, Sasha and Nicky – a mother and daughter duo – became my new best friends.  And they were fierce! 

They growled and snarled at any boys who came to visit and comforted me when I felt like I was dying of a broken heart.

So why was I so overwhelmed as an adult by a breed I knew inside out?  Why did I doubt my decision to bring a new dog into my home?

Lupo – which means wolf in Italian – was nothing like the German Shepherd friends I grew up with. 

He peed in the house, he cried when he found himself alone somewhere and he chewed on my furniture, shoes, and drapes – all within the first hour of arriving.

After 2 whole days and sleepless nights of peeing, crying, and chewing, I was ready to give up. 

So I called my dad up who was living about 3 hours away – I was crying.  I explained what had happened, told him I thought I’d made a big mistake, and asked his advice on what I should do.

This is what he told me…

“Gabriella, you don’t own a dog, you raise a dog, you’ve got a new born baby on your hands and you’re going to teach him everything he needs to know.”

“Now toughen up princess!”  He said.

After chatting to him for a while, getting as much information as I could I hung up the phone, took 2 weeks off work, and started doing research. 

I was determined to make this work…

So how did things turn out for Lupo and me?

You’ll have to wait to find out.  But first, let’s take a look at how Behavioral Psychology is the doorway to dog learning and communication.

Do You Speak Dog?

The foundation of training a German Shepherd is the art of learning to communicate with your dog.

Dogs are not humans and humans are not dogs.  Your dog does not expect you to walk on all fours, take the play stance when it’s time for a game of fetch, bark, or growl. 

You don’t need to act like a dog to communicate with your dog.

Unfortunately, there are many websites that promote this kind of communication. 

Despite popular belief, your dog knows you’re a human and that he’s a dog.

If you want to communicate with your dog in a language you both understand, you first need to understand how your German Shepherd learns. 

This will give you and your dog the best chance at successful engagement and training.

Canine Learning Theory

Classical Conditioning

I’ve written briefly about Pavlov and his salivating dogs in my post about clicker training. 

Basically during an experiment on the salivation rate of dogs Pavlov stumbled across the concept of a conditioned reflex. 

He noticed each time the dogs saw the technician, who was responsible for feeding the dogs, they would salivate.

To further test this ‘reflex’ Pavlov introduced a ringing bell just before feeding dogs. 

As you can imagine after a few repetitions, each time bell rang the dogs would salivate.  This is called Classical Conditioning or Associated Learning.

Classical Conditioning is used in dog learning to establish a communication system

This is the type of learning a dog does when making the connection between a marker and a reward.

With Classical Conditioning your dog is not required to do anything or participate.  All she does is build emotional responses by observing her environment.

Operant Conditioning

B.F Skinner is the father of Operant Conditioning which is also known as Instrumental Learning. 

Operant Conditioning is the cornerstone of dog learning and what Marker Training or Clicker Training is based on.

Operant Conditioning requires that your pooch participates in the training. 

This means your dog becomes an active participant and develops her understanding between a behavior and a consequence through feedback given by the trainer.

Operant Conditioning is broken up into four quadrants.  Some dog trainers make the four quadrants of Operant Conditioning difficult to understand. 

But it’s not difficult at all and as a dog owner understanding these quadrants will help you make the best decisions when training your dog.

It is important to note that Operant Conditioning is neither a pro-reward or aversive stimuli training method. 

Both good and bad trainers use the principles of Operant Conditioning in training.  Although, it is interesting to note that B.F Skinner said;

“Properly used, positive reinforcement is extremely powerful”.

The 4 Quadrants of Operant Conditioning

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of Operant Conditioning I want to make it clear that I don’t advocate or use on my own dogs ALL of these 4 quadrants. 

I don’t use any kind of social pressure or physical corrections.  I am a force-free, reward-based trainer and that’s what I promote. 

But it is beneficial for you as a dog owner to have clarity on all the quadrants to help you protect your dog from bad trainers and make the best decisions for your dog.

These quadrants are made up of positive, negative, reinforcement, and punishment.  Let’s break these down into their meanings and use them to define each quadrant…

Positive – this is adding something to the equation

Negative – this is removing something from the equation

Reinforcement – this means the behavior is more likely to occur again

Punishment – this means the behavior is less likely to occur again

Positive Reinforcement (R+) – rewarding the dog with something it wants for performing the desired behavior.  An example of this would be a toy or treats.

Positive Punishment (P+) – giving a correction to the dog to discourage certain behavior.  An example of this would be a leash pop or finger poke.

Negative Reinforcement (R-) – removing an unpleasant stimulus when the dog performs the desired behavior.  An example of this would be the shock from an e-collar is turned off once the dog performs the correct behavior.  It is the dog’s behavior that turns off something it finds unpleasant.

Negative Punishment (P-) – withholding something the dog wants to discourage current behavior.

Dog Learning - Operant Conditioning

4 Quadrants of Operant Conditioning in Dog Learning

Which Quadrant is the best for dog learning?

If you ask 100 people, you’ll get 100 different opinions on what the best way is to train your German Shepherd. 

Unfortunately, there are still too many books, trainers, and TV dog trainers that promote using aversive and out-dated techniques to train dogs.

And even more websites and articles online are giving out poor information and training advice that damage dogs – causing long term psychological and physical trauma and destroy the dog-owner relationship.

Positive dog training is based on positive reinforcement, and discipline-based training uses a combination of negative reinforcement and positive punishment.

For my own German Shepherds and the GSD’s I work with at a local shelter I use only Positive Reinforcement training and this is what I promote on GSC.

It is the most effective way to train dogs, especially the highly intelligent and sensitive German Shepherd Dog.

But don’t take my word for it…

Studies have proven over and over again that positive training provides more effective results, eliminates stress, improves the welfare of dogs, and builds a strong dog-owner bond.

A study done by the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Namur in Belgium studied the performance of 66 dogs based on the training methods used. 

33 dogs in the control group were trained using the aversive methods of the Belgian Defense. 

The other 33 dogs in the experimental group were trained using positive training methods.

What they found was not only did the experimental group have better overall results from training but the dogs displayed a higher, more confident body posture and increased levels of concentration than the control group.

Another study done by French researchers from the Universities of Pairs-Nord and Aix-Marseille focused on the effect of positive training and discipline-based training styles on the stress level of the dogs.

The study ground was two local dog training schools; one discipline-based and one positive-training focused.  Familiar exercises like sit and heeling on a leash were tested.

What the researchers were looking for were obvious stress signals like; yawning, mouth licking, shivering, scratching, sniffing, low posture, and whether the dog made eye contact with the owner. 

26 dogs trained in discipline style training and 24 in positive training were included in the study.

The results are staggering and speak for themselves…

65% of the dogs trained using a discipline-based style showed at least one stress signal, compared with 8% of the dogs trained using a positive-based style.

During the specific behaviors, the differences in stress levels were highlighted even more…

Stress IndicatorPositive (%)Discipline (%)
Mouth Licking8%38%
Low Body Posture8%46%
Dog to Owner Eye Contact88%38%

The results of this study suggest that positive reinforcement training methods are less stressful where discipline-based training styles cause stress, fear, and mistrust in dogs.

How to use Positive Training in Dog Learning

Reward-Based Training is the foundation of positive dog training or positive reinforcement training. 

It is centered on the dog earning rewards for correct behavior.  The rewards are known as primary reinforcers and these can be food rewards, toy rewards, play sessions, physical or verbal praise.

Reward based training is about setting your dog up for success.

Reinforced behaviors tend to be repeated and behavior that is not enforced will eventually die out. 

This is a very simplified explanation of reward-based training, there are many nuances and the subject deserves a post all of its own.

The Power of Food in Dog Learning

All dogs like food, but not all dogs like toys, play sessions, or a lot of petting.  This makes food the most effective tool for reward-based training. 

A food treat can be delivered quickly to reward behavior and if it’s the right size and not too hard or crumbly your pooch will quickly eat it and be ready to focus on the training session again.

Food is a great way for beginner owners and dogs to take the first step into reward-based training. 

It’s not uncommon for owners to mix up training with food, toy, or play rewards as their dog becomes more experienced and fluid in training.

dog learning with food rewards

Food is a powerful tool in Dog Learning

Two key things to keep in mind with food rewards are; they MUST be high value, to keep your dog engaged. 

And Size matters; a too small or too large treat will make your dog lose focus and checkout of the training.

The subject of rewards also deserves its very own post, so I’ll be diving deeper into the art of rewards and reward management in another post. 

But let’s quickly look at how you can ask your dog which treats he likes best…

  1. Hold a treat in your hand, close enough to your dog’s nose for him to smell it but out of his grasp.
  2. Then set it down on the floor in front of him, still keeping it out of his reach.
  3. Do the same with another treat of a different kind.  For example; cheese for the first treat and steak for the second treat.
  4. Now allow your dog access to the treats to see which one he eats first.

You should do this a few times and change around the order and position of the treats.  Keep notes on your dog’s choices and you’ll quickly find out which one he likes best.

Later you can add two more different treats into the mix and follow the same steps.  This way your dog will help you assign values to the treats. 

Training that requires a higher level of motivation will need a higher value treat. 

With this useful information from your dog about treat values, you can make the best choice for specific training.

Reinforcement Schedules

The belief that training your dog with treats will make him dependent on treats and you’ll be walking around with pockets full of treats for all eternity is a myth.

Remember in Operant Conditioning a tool like treats is only used to create and establish a particular behavior in your dog.

Once your dog has made the connection between his behavior and the reward you will begin adding verbal cues or hand gestures. 

And as your dog becomes more fluid in a particular behavior your verbal cues or hand gestures will begin to replace the treats.  This is called fading.

Reinforcement schedules play an important role not just in shaping new behaviors in our dogs but also to systematically remove tools like food treats when the time is right. 

There are three reinforcement schedules that determine how often a treat is offered for desired behavior, which is known as a reward ratio.

Continuous (CRF): every response is followed by a reward.  This is a very useful reward ratio in the beginning stages of learning a new behavior to help the dog make the connection between his response and the reward. 

An example of this is;


Fixed (FR): there’s a fixed ratio between the response of the dog and the reward earned.  This is a great reward ratio to use once your dog has made the connection and gaining fluidity in the new behavior. 

It’s also useful to start introducing duration into the behavior.  An example of this is;

sit/stay, sit/stay, sit/stay-reward.

Variable (VR): here the number of responses before rewarding varies.  This reward ratio is the final step in fading out a tool used to create the behavior. 

It’s best used once your dog is effortlessly performing a behavior and has already been conditioned by the Fixed Ratio.  An example of this is;





Do This, Don’t Do That – The Difference between Behavior and Obedience Training

Many new dog owners are confused and unsure of the difference between Obedience Training and Behavior Training.  And unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there. 

For example; I came across a German Shepherd website recently promoting their products that encourage owners to completely scrap obedience training to focus only on behavior training.

The writer of the article doesn’t outright say it but alludes to the fact that Obedience Training is not based on motivation and states that his form of training is.

Well, the fact of the matter is that all dog training is based on motivation. 

A dog will be just as motivated to perform a behavior for a food or toy treat as he would be to remove some unpleasant stimuli (punishment) like a leash pop, social pressure, or an e-collar shock.

He also claims that obedience training is less superior to his form of behavior training because obedience requires lifelong commitment and dogs require refreshers from time to time. 

The truth is that like humans if we don’t continue to practice skills we’ve learned like a language, math, tennis, or our golf swing we will become rusty – the same is true for dogs with ANY training. 

Dog training is a constant throughout the life of your dog.

Not only that, but this guy is teaching people that Obedience Training causes aggression in German Shepherds! 

This is absolutely false and a ludicrous notion to say the least. 

It’s the style of training that causes aggression in dogs.  Aversive, punishment and discipline-based training techniques have the potential to cause aggression whether it’s in obedience or behavior training.

This type of information is ignorant at best and dangerous at worst and as dog owners, we should be very careful whose advice we take.

Obedience and Behavior Training look the same but the goal, outcome and reward structures are different.

OK, so let’s get back to the difference between Obedience Training and Behavior Training and where these pieces fit into the dog learning puzzle.

Obedience Training

dog learning - obedience training

Obedience and Behavior Training are BOTH Essential to Dog Learning

Whether you’re bringing home a new German Shepherd puppy, you’ve just adopted a rescue or you’re older GSD is in need of learning ‘new tricks’ – Obedience training should start as soon as possible.

Generally, the obedience behaviors we teach are things like sit, stay, down, stand, back up, recall, fetch, drop it, etc. 

Essentially Obedience training is teaching your dog to DO something.

It is important to note here that Obedience Training will not address behavioral issues. 

For example; a dog can still be ill-mannered and jump on visitors but be completely obedience trained.

Behavior Training

Behavior training is also known as Behavior Modification Training.  Essentially this is teaching your dog NOT to do something. 

What may be unwanted behavior for one owner will be acceptable for another but generally, things like;

  • Jumping
  • Chewing
  • Digging
  • Nuisance barking
  • Biting
  • Charging the door/gate
  • Poor Recall
  • House Breaking
  • Chasing cars or people

Are things we don’t want our dogs to do or do in a certain place – like going to potty.

The focus is on finding the root cause of the behavior and using techniques like redirection and Classical Counter Conditioning to alter the physiological and psychological state of your dog.

For example; a dog that doesn’t ‘take nicely’ and snatches food from your hand or jumps on visitors lacks impulse control in these specific situations.

Working with German Shepherd rescues, I learned that some behaviors can’t be modified 100%.  This could be due to temperament, the environment, and background.  I’ve seen this in my rescue GSD Charley.

I know that she will always be human-reactive and I know it’s because of her abusive past. 

So I have a specific routine and a set of rules in place for visitors that come around, especially if there are children.  

I manage the behavior that can’t be modified.  As much as we would like our dog to experience everything life has to offer, it is our duty as dog owners to identify the limitations of our dogs and respect their boundaries of comfort.

Build Devotion Through Dog Learning

Armed to the teeth (no pun intended!) with a better understanding of how your dog learns you have the foundation to communicate and engage with your dog like never before.

If done correctly with the dog’s well-being in mind, your dog will become totally devoted to you, want to please you, and be thoroughly engaged in the training sessions.

Remember, when you’re working with your dog he has a mind.  He’s hardwired to learn, that’s one of the reasons dogs have evolved alongside us for thousands of years. 

The way you approach your dog’s training will determine your dog’s success.

And Lupo?

With great courage and determination Lupo and I took on his training, and he became a master at tricks and agility.

He was a real little charmer!  Although it was more difficult for him to learn because he was ill.

Sadly, he was diagnosed with Endocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency when he was only 18 months old. 

EPI is a devastating disease that can rear its ugly head suddenly and without warning and I will write about this disease in a future post.

Within 3 months Lupo’s pancreas was so damaged and his little body was wasting away and no longer responding to any treatment. 

There was nothing my vet could do to slow down this disease.  I could tell my boy was suffering and in pain.

On November 14th, 2003 with a heavy heart, I said goodbye to my friend and he crossed over the rainbow bridge where he would be free of pain and suffering to frolic amongst the butterflies.

In the less than two years that Lupo and I had together, he became my mentor and my teacher. 

He taught me the art of communicating with dogs.  He showed me every day that I was working with a highly intelligent sentient being that was hungry to learn and grow.  

But most importantly he was my best friend.

It’s hard for me to talk or think about Lupo without feeling a deep sense of loss, even 12 years later – he left so soon.

But along with the bitterness of loss comes the sweet memories of fun times, high energy, and lots of love and cuddles.  I wouldn’t exchange that for the world.  R.I.P little Buddy!

 The Key takeaways here are:

  • You don’t have to act like a dog to communicate with your German Shepherd.
  • Classical Conditioning sets the stage for communication.
  • Operant conditioning develops your dog’s understanding of behavior and consequence.
  • Positive reinforcement gives the best results, eliminates stress, and builds a strong dog-owner bond.
  • Reward-based training sets your dog up for success.
  • Food is a powerful tool in training.
  • There IS a difference between Obedience and Behavior Training – BOTH are important.

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These 5 simple tips will have you managing training sessions like a super pooch parent.

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About the author: Gabriella is a certified professional dog trainer with the Victoria Stilwell Academy. She has a special passion for teaching GSD guardians to train their dogs with kindness and clarity using positive reinforcement methods without force, pain, or fear. Join “Dog Speak” for free dog training tips and advice from a professional dog trainer.

  • Hi, I have a one year old GSD (neutered male). He is a very smart boy, and he is the love of my life (I am a widow, I live alone, he is my protection), he’s such a sweet boy. He received his basic obedience training at 6 months of age and he did an excellent job learning all of his basic commands (sit, stay, wait, come, lay down, drop/leave, place, and control walking). The problems I’m having with him started over Christmas break, 2019, when I left him at a local kennel. I left him in this same kennel in September with no issues (for 7 days). But this time he acted up so badly; lunging, growling, barking, and biting, that I had to cut my break short, fly home, and get him home (he was only there for 4 days). The kennel helpers became so afraid of him, they didn’t take him out of his kennel. I asked the lady that helped me train him as a puppy, to drop by the kennel and walk him, she was only able to walk him once. While out on that walk, he picked up a piece of plastic and instead of her commanding him to drop it, she reached down took it out of his mouth and he bit her on the fingers. She told me that she corrected him good, but, then she became afraid of him as well. She was able to get him out of the kennel, but he kept jumping up at the leash and biting. So, she didn’t attempt to walk him again because she was afraid he’d get loose. So, since I’ve had him home I’m having a few problems and I’m not sure how to get control of him again. He was a little nervous acting when I first got him home, he was grabbing my hands and clothes for attention for a couple of days, but he has stopped that now. I am his sole owner, I have no visitors to my home, but, he’s been socialized and people love to see him when I take him in to downtown businesses. One problem I’m having with him, is he has become so reactive to cars that drive by outside of my fenced yard, and when he sees one drive by, he chases it. When people walk by, he does the same thing. He won’t come to me when I call his name. He only stops when the threat is gone then he will come to me. Also, I’ve always been able to walk him 3-5 miles a day, and he loves it. Since he is a big boy and I’m a small person, I’ve always had to use a prong collar on him which used to do the job. He behaved himself very well. But now, since his stay at the kennel, he pulls on the leash and I can’t hold on to him (he will drag me down) so, I can no longer walk him because I’m afraid he will get loose. With him lunging, barking and growling at people walking by the fence, I’m afraid to walk him, I don’t want him to bite anyone. Plus, he jumps up and grabs the leash now. It’s all so very sad. Inside my home he’s still my sweet wonderful boy. I just don’t know what to do. Shall I take him to a board and train program and get professional training for him? I found one that is for 28 days, but I believe they use e collars. They say e collars are ok, like a tins unit, and they don’t use it at a high level and thus it doesn’t burn or hurt the dog. Would it best to just keep him at home, go back with working on his basic commands and hope he gets over this? Please help! Your advice is greatly appreciated and needed! I love this boy!

    • Hi Meril,

      Thank you for sharing your situation here.

      I’m sorry you’re experiencing these setbacks with your boy. I’m sure it’s very stressful and confusing for you both. But I believe with a change of tactic you can help your boy realign into the happy doggo he should be.

      I’m a person who’s always used positive reinforcement to train my dogs and currently getting my formal qualification as a positive trainer. So corrections and prong collars are not methods/tools that I support or encourage.

      Since you’ve tried the training route with corrections and prong collars and now have a boy that’s acting out and uncontrollable even towards his trainer, maybe you should take a step back and reassess the situation and training methods.

      I would not recommend sending him to board and train. I have had someone email me who is riddled with guilt after exposing their dog to a board and train situation. And it doesn’t matter how much someone downplays an e-collar, it’s inhumane. Purely because there is a much more positive and force-free and fun way to train a dog.

      I recommend shooting me an email to let me know where on the globe you are and I’ll be happy to help you find a trainer that uses force-free positive methods to train. You can find my email address here.:)

  • Annabelle

    Hi Gabriella,

    I am so happy I found your website. We are about to rescue a what is thought to be around 10 month old female GSD. She is so sweet but what one would call unpolished. Its clear the previous owners did no training when she was a puppy and now that she is bigger could not handle her. She jumps and gets excited very easily…she is just wild. But I know with training she has potential to be an amazing dog. We bring her home on wednesday and I’m nervous with how to even introduce her to the house and letting her loose inside. Any tips on what I should do first?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Annabelle,

      Good questions! I saw your email and replied to that. I hope it helped and I’m sure you’re girl is settling in nicely! 🙂

  • Suzanne Churlik

    I am really seeking some advice. I recently rescued a 7 month old German Shepard Mix. When we found her she was emaciated, but is now on the mend. She has done good with basic commands, but is easily distracted as she has gotten to know me better.
    I have been recommended to try a trainer, who has a great reputation, but he uses a prong collar. Is it possible to train without using this method and get her to respond quickly to my commands with just treats on positivity. Also she is in no way play driven. It took several days to get her to even look at a ball or play with any kind of toy. It was like she had never seen one and only started to play after she watched and played with our other dog.

    I really want to make this a great home for her and I want her to be the best dog she can be. I have started taking her on walks around the neighborhood to help her overcome her fear of loud noises and she does pretty well on a leash with not to much pulling. But I would like her to be better at heel( which I say walk) command. Any suggestions and help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you
    Suzanne Churlik

    • Hi Suzanne,

      Thank you for opening your heart to this GSD girlie and saving her life! And for your comment and question here.

      Please, please don’t use a prong collar or work with a trainer who uses them. Your girl sounds like she came from a really bad past, and the last thing she needs is for training to be done with any kind of force, punishment or aversive techniques.

      Dogs are super smart and there’s no reason to train them using aversive methods. Dogs like people respond much better to positivity rather than pain and punishment.

      What she needs is you and the love, patience, and kindness you are showing her. With lots and lots of positive reinforcement training to build and boost her confidence. So in short, my answer is yes you absolutely can transform your girl with positivity and rewards.

      If she’s not play or toy driven right now that’s okay, you can rely on food. And slowly as she grows in confidence she’ll be more interested in play and toys. You are spot-on in your reasoning that she’s never been exposed to toys or play so it’s totally foreign to her. But you can change that over time.

      When my Charley took a toy and played for the first time I cried tears of joy. But it took months and months of gently exposing her to the concept of toys and play. She was also severely abused and mistreated before she became mine. So I can vouch for the power of positive training.

      Definitely use the steps in this article to get your girl to show you which treats she finds the most rewarding and use really high-value ones when you’re working on something that you notice she finds difficult or overwhelming.

      Working with her on noise phobias is an excellent move and I encourage you to continue with that. If you find that she’s overwhelmed then take a few steps back to a lower distraction area.

      You can use a desensitizing technique to gently expose her to the things that she’s frightened of. Here are the steps…

      To begin with, start with low distraction, inside your home or yard is ideal, to build confidence before taking it on the road. The point is to avoid getting so close to the distraction where she feels the need to react because this will slow down the training.
      When your girl is not reacting or if she’s just about to react (but hasn’t) offer her a high-value reward.

      Do this every time, even if you misjudge the moment and she reacts. The idea is that over time the trigger (loud noises, people etc) predicts the reward.

      After a while, wait and see if she looks to you for a reward.

      Then mark that with a click and give her a treat. Now the treat comes for looking to you when she sees or hears a trigger.

      Be persistent and be prepared for things to go slowly you should notice less reactions to his triggers.

      I highly recommend getting a clicker and checking out this article on how to get started with clicker training.

      And I also recommend checking out a dog training program I use for all my dogs. It’s unique because it taps into our dog’s natural intelligence to boost confidence and also teach more of the behaviors we like while not focusing on behaviors we don’t like. I also did an in-depth interview with the dog trainer who developed the program and I think you’ll find some of her advice in the interview applicable to your situation with your rescue girl.

      Feel free to drop any other questions and comments here or if you prefer, drop me an email.

  • Dougells

    new to GSD’s,need all the help I can get.getting a 6 year old female aug.1 so I look forward to all your exceptional advice

    • Hi Doug,

      Congrats on your new best friend coming soon! I’m always around on email if you want to get in touch. Or you can drop comments on my site, I reply to those daily.

      Chat soon,

  • Stella Uttley

    Hi Gabriella,
    Your story about Lupo touched me very much. I had a GSD called Tommy who started with Idiopathic Epilepsy at the age of four. He was a great showman competing in Working Trials as well as being in a Dog display team. For two years I managed his seizures and Tommy was still able to do what he loved doing best. Two weeks after giving what was probably the best display of his life he started with Status Epilepticus, continuous seizures, and I had to let him go. I was devastated.
    Five years later I now have Jack, a GSD and Nova a GSD cross Dutch herder. They both compete in working trials.
    Tommy taught me so much and still lives in my heart.
    I am so glad to have found your web site and am looking forward to reading all your articles.

    • Hi Stella,

      Thank you for sharing the story of your beautiful Tommy. He sounds like he was a magnificent dog. I’m sorry you had to say goodbye to him. I had to let go of my senior GSD Charley last year also. They teach us so much and always remain in our hearts. And I think that it’s our purpose to support our dogs to live lives as full as possible. It’s so great that Tommy was able to continue doing what he loved!

  • Sylvain


    You are the first German Shepherd website I suscribe!!! I really enjoyed your article about the steps for good training. I have a question, I do use an e-collar on my dog (I am a responsible person with it) and it works great for me, I wanted to know your thoughts about it. I have a west German line beautiful boy, we are in live with him he is 2 years old.

    Thank you for your time

    Sylvain from Canada

    • Hi Sylvain,

      Thanks for your kind comment about my site, I’m pleased you’re finding it useful.

      I think encouraging a dog to learn through positive reinforcement is a better option than an e-collar. Once a dog understands that their work brings rewards (food, toys, praise, touch or access to anything they consider valuable) they are more engaged and ready to problem solve. An e-collar causes them to adjust their behavior to avoid something unpleasant. Whereas a positive approach drives them to invest and figure out what you want.


  • Fran

    Hi Gabriella, I have ploughed through every site I can find looking for help with my rescue GSD Loki. Just after Easter 2017 my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We had a GSD, Sasha who is beautiful and very well behaved. As Frank (my husband) got worse he said we should get me another dog because Sasha was 9 and I have never lived alone. We started to look and eventually found Loki in a rescue centre, he was 2 years old and described as cat, child and house friendly. As it turned out he chased the cats relentlessly, not in an aggressive “want to kill it” kind of way but like he thought they were toys. He could not deal with separation and on one of the many visits to hospital with my husband he destroyed the spare bedroom, carpet, wallpaper, paint on the door the lot was ruined. It stayed that way for months because what was the point in fixing it if he would do it again. It turned out that his story was; as a new puppy in a house with a 4 year old and a 2 year old (children) his new owner could not cope with a puppy and two toddlers so he was caged, he was let out of the cage to go to the toilet outside but then back he went. As he grew she decided she was afraid if he jumped up at the kids he would hurt them so the cage situation stayed the same. He was never walked, played with or given any chance to be a normal dog. Once the woman became pregnant again the dog had to go so he ended up in the rescue centre. We got him in June, he eventually settled and I was trying to take him to classes but with Frank getting worse by the day the 3 hours needed to drive out do the class and drive back were hard to spare. He was walked played with and welcomed into our home though. Frank passed away in September and suddenly I felt like my life was completely destroyed. Since then I have tried all kinds of leads, collars, head collar type halti, harnesses and dozens of training techniques but he has gone off the rails. I can’t walk him, he can pull me over, I can’t get him to leave the cats alone ( I have 6 cats, 3 of them took him on and won so they come and go as they like but the other 3 live upstairs) I have zero recall, he used to be quite good but now he just goes and I have no chance of stopping him. I have had help from trainers (men) who say he is a great dog, and he is for them but as soon as they leave and he’s just with me he just reverts back to complete ignorance. He is a mans dog but that does not help me, how can I get him back? why did I lose him so badly after Frank died? I’m certain he has picked up on the fact that 5 months on I’m still struggling to come to terms with everything but I would like nothing better than to have him walk alongside me and we could cover miles together rather than being dragged down the street to the fields at the end of the road and him just going and refusing to come back. Basically he’s bouncing off the walls due to lack of exercise right now but I can’t walk him on a lead and he runs off as soon as he’s loose so I can’t risk it. I was recommended by someone to take the “alpha dog” position and “show him who I boss” but I think that would just make him aggressive. Please can you help???

    • Hi Fran,

      As discussed via email. I hope my tips will help you and Loki on the way. Let me know if you have other questions. I’m happy to help.


  • Hi Gabriella,

    Thank you for this article. We have a sable girl (MJ) who we picked up when she was 8 weeks old. She is now 12 weeks old. She has done very well with her potty training, sitting and COME. We are working on STAY and DOWN now. These are very important because we live in the mountains with deer, turkeys, and other wildlife around us daily.

    We have been using reward based training and your article reinforced what we are trying to do. Thank you!

    I am stumped, though, on how to teach her to stop biting/nipping. I know this is how puppies play so I understand why she is doing it, but, we need it to stop. For example, when we sit at the same level as her (floor, couch, bed) she interprets this as play time and starts to maul us. She goes over her threshold and it is very difficult to calm her down. We have tried toys (kongs, stuffed – that squeak, and flavored Nylabones) but she is not interested in them as replacements for biting and nipping. She has a treat she likes very much and I have tried putting a small piece in a kong (before we sit at her level) which only distracts her until she gets the piece out. She then leaves the kong and goes for us. I’m afraid to use the treat to lure her away because I don’t want to her to interpret that as a reward. Besides, I’m pretty sure that after she would eat the treat, she would just go back to the unwanted behavior.

    Thank you very much for any insight you can give us.

    • Hi Cliff!

      I’m so pleased that you’ve found the information here useful. And it’s super that you’re training MJ using positive training!

      So bite inhibition training is easy although it does take time. I have detailed 4 games that I highly recommend for teaching this important behavior.

      Check out my article on biting to find out more about these games.

      I recommend starting with the build-a-bridge game and also the nose targeting game. These are fantastic positive ways to teach pups how to interact with our limbs. For now, avoid the tug game because she’s still little and her teeth need to be protected. And maybe avoid the fetch game for now. Just because it might excite her too much to begin with. But you can always incorporate it later.

      Check out the games and drop any questions you have in the comments.

      Chat soon,

  • Vicki

    Very much enjoyed your article! I’ve wanted a GS for a long time and love the insight on the training involved. I kept thinking to myself how much it is like raising a child with an obvious difference. Thanks again, I will definitely be looking to your advice when I find my charm!

    • Hi Vicki!

      Thanks for your comment.

      I hope you find the puppy of your dreams soon. 🙂

      I’m always around if you have any questions.

      Chat soon,

  • Kathy Toll

    Hi Gabriella,
    I am so excited that I stumbled upon your German Shepherd Corner website! Your insight and level of experience with GSDs is VERY impressive. I hope to be getting a GSD puppy (my second) soon. I grew up with a GSD and was blessed with the companionship of GS mix for 7 years, followed by a silver/black GSD for 9 years. Both dogs died way too young as a result of different forms of cancer. I probably was not a stellar pack leader but was fortunate to receive great dogs who responded pretty well to professional obedience training. This time around, I want to be better prepared for this responsibility, especially since the puppy ( she must be female) will coexist with a 5 year old cat. I am studying the info that you are providing and will report back once I find the right puppy. Thank you for your dedication!

    • Hi Kathy!

      Thanks for your comment! I’m so pleased you’re finding GSC useful.

      Yup, the GSD is an exceptional breed, but then again folks like us are biased, but hey, they are fantastic!

      I don’t doubt for one minute that you were an excellent owner to your previous 2 pooches. It’s about letting out dogs know they are safe and can always look to us for guidance. And I’m sure you did a stellar job!

      I’m sure you’ll find the right puppy soon and I’d love to hear about it. So either let me know in the comments or drop me an email rosemary[at]germanshepherdcorner[.com]

      Chat soon,

  • Allison

    Hey! I have a 6 month old male German Shepherd. He is great with listening and following my commands. But, he only follows them in my house and backyard. He just gets soo distracted by the outside world. I’ve tried slowly adding more distractions to him but he just gets in his own world. He is a really excited dog and loves exploring so I don’t know if this plays a role in this issue. Do you have any tips on how I can help correct him on listening to me, Outside of the house? Thank you so much on this article btw, it’s totally helped me on this training journey with Ranger. Thanks for your help, and if you do tell me any tips lol. Have a great day. 🙂

    • Hi Allison,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m pleased you’ve found this article useful.

      Okay, so if he’s checking out when there are distractions you need to go much slower. The slower you add distractions the better. Because that way you always set him up for success. The rule I follow with my training is if I up the criteria with more distraction and my dog fails I go back to the step where he was successful at focusing and then work on that more.

      So in your case, I’d work more in the backyard by adding more distractions and getting Ranger more focused with that. Then, I’d move onto the pavement outside your house or the driveway or any place close to the backyard where there are a little more distractions.

      Also, you should generalize Ranger’s training. So basically, dogs are context bound. Meaning they will offer a behavior you taught them in the kitchen but totally blank when you ask for the same behavior in the lounge. So generalizing would mean running through the training in each area. It’ll go pretty quick since Ranger already knows the behavior. It’s just a matter of conditioning him to offer the behavior in a new environment.

      Teaching focus is a great way to help Ranger master the increase in criteria. I wrote an article on how to do this and you might find the science behind it interesting. Here’s the article on why your German shepherd is not listening. It’s all about triggers and thresholds. And as a dog owner it really helps us understand them if we get how their brains work.

      I hope this has been a help.

      I’m always available for questions, so just drop them here in the comments. And let me know how you get on.

      Chat soon,

  • Raymond

    Aloha Gabriella.
    Mahalo for your article, I wish I read it earlier as I am making arrangements to send Maka’i to BARK! BARK! BACKYARD Training here on Kauai to help us with his training. Maka’i is our 14 month GSD. He is awesome, and my 5th dog. I did not want to get another after I had to put my Husky/Akita down after 14 years. Went 6 years without one, then my grandson wanted a dog. He wanted a GSD after watching MAX multiple times. I liked the idea, but had mixed feelings knowing the responsibility involved and knew it would be to much for my 14 year old grandson. However, I felt I could help with it, and loved that he and his two brothers could have what I could not, a dog living in our home. So we found one here on Kauai at Von Badenhaus German Shepherds. And now, I have something that I wanted as a little boy but could not have, a big dog in the house.

    It has been a huge responsibility with 9 of us living in our home. Your articles have helped me tremendously, however, with work, family, and being a youth baseball coach, my time training Maka’i has not been enough, and I am saddened by that as I enjoy being with him. There is an over abundance of love here at home for Maka’i, however, with a lack of training, love does not seem to work well enough.

    Our biggest issue is Maka’i nipping two of our grandsons ACL’S when they go to hug their Amma. It has happened twice. Amma, my wife Lahea, spoils Maka’i, and that’s just the way she is, full of love. She puts cheese and avocado in his dinner, which he loves, and has sat next to him and fed him with a spoon when he would not eat. She gives him chicken treats after his meal just out of love. Sometimes she has him sit to get them, other times he does not need to do anything. I am okay with it but am thinking it is not a good thing especially after nipping Maika & Brennan’s ACL’S. Maka’i growled at them, and started barking at them in a ferocious manner one day as they came in our room to be with her. Maka’i was lying on the bed next to Lahea. Lahea spanked him for the first time right then. On the weekends she will have Maka’i play with the water hose and nozzle in the yard and he loves it. He has gone at it for nearly two hours while she sits and reads her Kindle, watches a movie and does laundry. I am doing things around the yard on Saturday, (I take him to the park from 0600 to 0700) and work on Sunday.

    I give him treats when we are doing training and only then. We train at home and at the park. Home is the best, the park has distractions like chickens and people, but he is getting better. Our training consists of mostly obedience training. Sit, stay, down, up, back, on, off, inside and some basic tricks, shake down roll over, beg, back up stairs, and walking in between my legs as I walk. I have so much fun with him especially when he is focused. Look forward to doing so much more with him.

    My other issues with Maka’i are him chasing chickens. Chickens, take him over his threshold. One of our cats, and two young wild pigs that enter our yard as well. Another is taking him to the park. He loves being in the back of my truck and can sit and lay there for a long time watching me do things in the garage. This has been his playground since he was able to go outside after we had him at 8 weeks old. Now, as soon as I start the truck to take him to the park he goes straight to 10, barking, running around the back of the truck like a crazy dog. There are 3 little dogs my neighbors have that we must drive by and it is my thought that they are setting him off like this. I have stopped right infront of them and calmed his down, which takes a few minutes. They calm down as we’ll. However, once I get back in the truck to drive away, it starts all over again.

    I am thinking Bark! Bark! Backyard Training will help. Went to meet them yesterday and was impressed on the cleanliness of the facility and no dogs were barking, and there are 25 of them in there. I was hoping to do this alone with your GSC. Maka’i is our baby which we love very much and I am thinking this is the best thing to do. But yet, there is this little part of me that tells me I can do this.

    I appreciate your time in reading this and value your thoughts on our raising of Maka’i.

    Malama Pono

    • Hi Raymond!

      Thanks so much for your comment. Apologies for my late reply.

      So, has Maka’i been to the training facility yet? I checked out their website, they all seem friendly. I know some folks who have used services like Bark! Bark! and as long as their methods are positive only then it’s a great alternative for busy pooch parents.

      It sounds like Maka’i is very protective of your wife. The GSD has a tendency to pick one person they are particularly attached to. But biting at other folks is something to work on stopping.

      I’m not sure if Bark! Bark! has helped Maka’i kick that habit, so let me know. If not, I’m happy to give some pointers.

      As for his excitement. I believe it’s just that, excitement because he knows he’s going on an outing. It’s not uncommon for dogs to do this.

      So my advice is to break up your routine into smaller steps and then practicing those steps one by one with Maka’i until he’s calm.

      So if your routine is…

      Put shoes on.
      Get keys.
      Kiss your wife.
      Walk to your truck.
      Open the door.
      Invite Maka’i to jump in.
      Get in.
      Start the truck.
      Drive off.

      So you’ll start with step one. Do it over and over without actually going anywhere. And when Maka’i is calm reward him with something really special. Once he’s calm all the time when you do this, go to the next step.

      This is going to take time but it’s worth it.

      I hope this helps.

      If you have other questions, feel free to drop them here. I’m happy to help.

  • Laura

    Hi Gabriella!
    First of all, thank you for this wonderful resource, I think it will be invaluable in our journey to raise a sweet, well-adjusted dog. We got our GSD, Bruno, when he was 9 weeks, he is 19 weeks now. He gets along with our 18mo catahoula mix, Sucre, better than we ever imagined, and together they keep company and tire each other out every day. This is with one exception — we cannot give Sucre attention without Bruno jumping on her, nipping at her ears, etc. despite us equally attempting to love on him. It happens any time, in any situation, such as her casually walking into the room and getting a pet, if he sees he will come racing to interrupt. It does not seem aggressive, all playful body language, but I cannot help but worry that it might be the sign of an issue. Can you shed any light on this little jealous habit and what we can do to discourage it? We just want to give them both the attention and love they need! TIA!

    • Hi Laura,

      Thanks for your question.

      It sounds like a bit of resource guarding. Whoever is petting Sucre is Bruno’s property (in his mind).

      So I suggest keeping them separate for a specific time everyday to give Sucre the attention she needs. It’s important that she has attention, especially physically and play time without having to be interrupted.

      Then I suggest keeping treats handy. When you’re giving Sucre attention at any other time, show Bruno that you have some of his favorite treats and reward him for being calm and quiet while you’re loving Sucre in his presence.

      It’s going to take time but the key is to show Bruno that when Sucre is getting attention great things happen for him. He gets a reward!

      Be mindful only to treat when he’s being calm and not interrupting.

      This method is going to take some time but it’s super important to break the habit before it becomes ingrained in him.

  • Rifqah Zenobia Harris

    hey im new in this dog training,its the first time in my life that i have a dog,i never liked dogs, so my husband bought a german shepherp when he was 4months old,his 7months almost 8months old, from the first week this dog clime into my heart, we have our moment with the him playing walking on beaches,learning him basic staff like sit,jump and stay. but i need help potty training i need him to learn where and when to go,and the other thing i cant Get JC to stop eating my plants. plz help

    • Hi Rifqah!

      Thanks for your questions and congrats on the new pup!

      Potty training is one of the trickiest things we need to teach our dogs but it’s also one of the most rewarding. I’d really recommend you check out my Flawless Potty Training Guide for German Shepherds. Here’s a link:

      I show you exactly how I potty train all my pups and rescue dogs. And you’ll get direct access to me for any support you need during potty training.

      As for the plants! Try limiting his access to the area where the plants are just until he’s past that digging and chewing phase.

      Chat soon,

  • Geoff Rivett

    Hi Gabriella,
    Your article has given me the focus I need in training Lexi. Her obedience training has gone well and she is very intelligent. This dog talks to me in her own way. She loves people and you can put your hand in her bowl when she is eating and she will just sit and wait. I had a little boy run up to her in the street one day and cuddle her and she just calmly stood there. My issue is clearly with behavior when greeting other dogs. She can be very reactive depending on the dog. So I will put into practice your methods and see if I can modify her behaviour. I hope they work as I have been trying to change this behaviour for some time with mixed success.
    Thanks, Geoff.

    • Hi Geoff!

      That’s so cool! My GSD-Collie is also named Lexi!!

      She sounds super bright! And you should be able to get this behavior sorted with some solid techniques and time.

      I’d like to suggest some other articles that will help you improve and develop Lexi’s behaviors the way you want…

      If you aren’t already using a clicker, you should start to. They are a fantastic little tool to communicate with Lexi fast. And it really speeds up training when our dogs know what we want from them. Here’s an article on how to use a dog clicker.

      If Lexi’s being a little reactive to new dogs, this article will give you a great foundation for understanding triggers and thresholds. Both of these are very important when we’re trying to work with our dogs in high energy situations.

      Another great article is this one on barking. You’ll find an excellent graphic that will show you exactly how to desensitize Lexi to something she finds unpleasant and then counter condition her to give you a new behavior instead. Desensitizing and counter-conditioning are great tools to use together.

      Then I’d also recommend a solid force-free, science-based training course. This particular one has mental stimulation at it’s heart which has a positive influence of general good manners too. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out my full review of Brain Training for Dogs. You’ll also see a cute video of me and my GSD Zè training one of the lessons in the course.

      If you’ve got any questions, please drop them in the comments, I’m happy to help.

      Happy Training!

  • Lynne Steinhoff

    I was wondering if you have an article on feeding? I just got my puppy, she is 8 weeks old, and I have researched so many different feeding protocols. I was wondering what you feed and how you know how much to feed. Do you also do any supplements and if so starting at what age?

    • Hi Lynne,

      Thanks for your great question!

      My feeding protocol is 100% raw. It’s controversial, but then again dog nutrition in general is very political! LOL!

      I’ve written an article on raw feeding. You’ll learn why I switched my dog to raw and if you’re interested in finding out more there’s a breakdown of how raw feeding works.

      Here’s my article: Best Raw Food for German Shepherds.

      Please feel free to ask me anything by dropping your questions in the comments of the article. I’m always happy to help.

      Chat soon,
      – Gabriella

  • Ajmail Hasham

    Hi we have e got a gorgeous white gsd puppy.had him 1 week today.he has his bed in our porch area which is about 6ft by 5ft with.his puppy pad at other end
    He is doing amazing with his potty training and goes outside mostly but occassionally will walk over himself to his pad.Except when we leave him on his own. (First time dog owners btw)
    Even if we leave him in kitchen for 10 mins on his own we will come back to find hes poop and peed everywhere except on his pad.
    Also when we leave him in porch area door closed at night in general he doesn’t howl that much now and when I check on him after about about hr he is fast asleep.
    But it’s the initial getting him to go to and stay in his bed and not to ram the door and chew the frame that I need help with.
    Also in morning he has normally smeared his poop over the wall near his pad although he gets some on the pad but rest just around him sonetimes even In his bed.we have taught him to sit and working on lie down with treats and affection as rewards many thanks Aj

    • Hi AJ!

      Thanks for your question!

      It sounds like you folks are already doing a stellar job with your pup!

      So I’ll say first off that you’re doing the right thing by ignoring his howling. As you’ve noticed he soon quiets down and falls asleep. There’s noting else you can do. If you give him any kind of attention when he’s howling you’re going to reinforce it and he’ll keep doing it and more of it too. So stick to what you’re doing. Eventually he’ll stop all together – it might just take some time.

      So your pup is only 1 week into potty training and he’s still got a lot to learn.

      I do think the space you’re giving him to sleep in might be a little to large. Dogs don’t like peeing and pooping where they sleep, but if you give them a big enough space they will.

      You could try something like a crate in which your pup should only be able to stand, sit, lie down and turn around. And it’s only meant for sleeping or when there’s no one to supervise. One of my friends, Hindi wrote a great article for German Shepherd Corner on how to crate train a German Shepherd.

      Personally, I’m not a fan of pee and poo pads. I know many people use them successfully, but in my opinion your ultimate goal is to get your dog to do his business only outside and as quickly as possible. Adding these pads adds one more step to the process and you’ll still need to teach your pup to go outside.

      Of course not using these pads means you’ll need to get up at night when you hear your pup making any kind of fuss. It’s very similar to having a baby, but thankfully the broken sleep doesn’t last as long!

      Here’s an article I wrote on my 12 top tips on how to potty train a German Shepherd Puppy.

      And I’d also like to recommend getting a copy of my potty training guide. I’ve used this method to potty train all my pups for over 10 years and loads of other readers here have had success too. If you want to be sure that you’ll never have to clean up your dog’s mess again you’ll need about 4 weeks of a solid potty training program to get him 100% reliably potty trained. You’ll also get direct access to me for any support you need while potty training your pup.

      Here’s a link to find out more about my flawless potty training guide.

      I hope this helps.

      Chat soon,

  • Donna Charles

    PS. I give her Blue Buffalo
    Wilderness grain free chicken chewy training treats as I also believe in positive reinforcement. She eats Tje same food but I’m changing it bc I’ve read horrible things about it on other sites and she has been throwing it up on occasion undigesyed hrs later. She is going to the vet in two days. She is also AKC, no mic as were two of my other three dogs. My last dog was nothing like this one!! Thank you

    • Hey again Donna!

      Yes, if she’s vomiting frequently, it’s best to research other options. I recommend being very careful with food. I feed a raw diet though.

  • Kelly

    I am so grateful for your answer and clarification on how to go about helping him.
    You are so kind and your answer has been very helpful and clear, it helped so much.
    I am so excited to do this with him.
    Can I ask you to give me an example of how I can implement this reward training to help him be more relaxed and himself around other people? When we are out in our yard, when people walk by our house? when we go on walks? or at the park? Sorry, That would be a lot of examples but any example to help clarify my role in teaching him to know if I’m doing it correctly when it comes to socializing him correctly would be so helpful.
    Obviously he’s not happy around others and he doesn’t really calm down very well when I “correct” him, even when I have done it multiple times. In other words, he still growls under his breath so it’s not like I can trust him to not be able to go back to fetching his ball or running around with kids. I can tell he’s nervous and not happy with strangers around. Especially when people come over (whether it’s my kids friend just coming to ride bike on driveway or coming inside, he likes neither and usually just hides himself in his room or stays right with me but growls.) So in other words we have hit a wall for the last few months.
    I feel like the way he’s acting has gotten worse not better and the training I was directed to doesn’t seem to be working very well anymore.
    The training I have been doing was suggested to use with him from his breeder. Which I did because her German Shepard was so well behaved so I thought it must be really good. Everything was going good until a few months ago, but obviously I feel like I’m done with that kind of training because he’s not responding well to it; which I can understand because I’m punishing him for being upset and nervous???Without being able to show him what I want just waiting for him to figure it out and then praise him?? Obviously that’s not worked..
    So I’ve been stuck on how to show him how I want him to act and what he’s supposed to do and I don’t want to “run out of time”.
    (I’ve kinda been stressed about that, because I’ve been on many different sites with lots of info, some of it very confusing) I’ve been unsure if I’m unable to socialize him again ?
    The reason why I am not sure why he’s acting this way is because I’ve taken him on a walk or run every morning since he was young and he’s been coming with me to parks and being in out in our front and back yard is a regular thing….
    So it’s not like it’s a new idea, he’s been around people. But like I said before on a walk people just keep their distance and keep walking at the park it takes him a minute to calm down, except now it takes a few minutes…
    (However he’s had a Great Dane come after us one day on a run and then circle us for a couple minutes until the owner came out….So I’ve taken that into consideration of maybe why he’s less trusting of anything new…??)
    Thank you for any thoughts you can share with me on this. I feel like out of every site I’ve been to your knowledge and skill comes through clearly. I’ve been very impressed and everything you have posted about makes a lot of sense, so I’d love to redirect my boy and I back to the road of progress, better training method and a better way of doing things.
    Thanks so much Gabriella.

    • Hi Kelly,

      I totally understand the stress you’re experiencing, but keeping your stress levels in check will be a tremendous help to your boy. They pick up on our energy and often react to that.

      First off you’ll need to go right back to the beginning and show your boy the new way you want to train him. I would like to suggest you read this article on how to start with reward-based (marker training).

      You already understand how your boy learns from reading this article so now you’ve got to learn how to apply the concepts. The article on using a clicker will help you with that.

      For now, teach your boy how this new training works by retraining him the things he already knows. But using rewards instead. Once he understands how things work you can move on to conditioning him to be more comfortable around other people and dogs.

      The best way to do this in my opinion is to get your friends involved as a starting point. And they should use rewards too. Start by offering a reward while in the company of one friend. Be careful not to reward the gruffing or growling. So be attentive and only reward when he’s quiet and behaving. Getting him to sit or lie down is ideal.

      After you’ve spent time showing him that when this specific friend is around good things (rewards) happen you can ask your friend to take over. He/she can offer a treat when your boy is calm and relaxed. Make the scenario informal. Like sitting in the kitchen or lounge, this will help keep him calm.

      Next you can pick another friend and go through the same steps. Also, once you’ve got him desensitized to the doorbell by using the method in my previous reply you can get one friend at a time to do the same thing. When they enter your home, they can reward him for being quiet and well-behaved.

      After all that is said and done, then only should you move to the next level. Which is getting strangers or friends at the park involved. If someone approaches you, ask them if they’d mind helping you out and explain what you’re doing. You’ll be amazed at how helpful people are. Especially other dog owners.

      Another tip is to go for a walk and ask your friends to randomly pass you and your boy on the walk. This gives you more control of the situation. When you see your friend coming along, offer your dog a treat, before any gruffing or growling starts – if there’s even one tiny gruff, no reward. Remember, the goal is to teach him that good things happen when other people are around. And there’s nothing to fear.

      Of course, you should start slowly. Get him used to one person at a time and one situation at a time or he might become overwhelmed and the situation could worsen.

      This is all going to take some time, but it’s worth it. Seeing your dog happy and relaxed is so rewarding and I know you and your boy will succeed!!

      I hope this helps. And please, feel free to ask more questions if you need to. I’m always happy to help.


  • Kelly

    I enjoyed reading your articles. However I am hoping to have some clarification from you on how to handle my situation with my GS. He’s a year old and he growls and barks when the door bell rings. I haven’t figured out why the door bell freaks him out but he doesn’t like it. So we’ve had him lay down while I answer the door, but even on his best behavior he still lets out a few gruff and if someone where there he gets up and growls.
    It’s annoying to say the least, especially if someone comes over he growls or barks at them.
    I have been doing the Don Sullivan training with him since he was born and he’s been socialized with people and dogs. I feel like doing corrections aren’t helping, he doesn’t seem to care. So I’ve muzzled him to try and humble him to trust me and listen but it only helps so far…it doesn’t fix the problem.
    So I’m looking in other ways to get him to see other people in a positive way and the door bell.
    So how do I implement giving him a treat when someone is over or the doorbell rings, without rewarding his growl or bark behavior ?
    The thing is that he is sweet and gentle around his family and when we have a babysitter once we get him to chill out he becomes himself and he’s really good with her but with strangers at the part or on the street they aren’t interested to hang around for a minute or two until I get him to chill, so all they see is a “mean” dog which is not really how he is at all. So any suggestions you have would be great thank you.

    • Hi Kelly!

      Thanks for sharing your story here.

      I’ve seen some of Don Sullivan’s training videos so I know his training methods are based on the dominance theory – which I disagree with completely. But I won’t go into that here. Besides, you’re looking for better ways to fix the problem. And that’s a good thing!!

      If you’re totally new to reward based training, take some time and read through this article again, the part about how to find out what your boy’s favorite treat is will be very helpful when you start training. You want the MOST rewarding treat for this. Also, I’ll just briefly give a rundown of what’s going on in your boy’s head in this scenario.

      All dog’s have a threshold, it’s their level of tolerance for certain things. Basically it’s the level between calm and relaxed and ‘crazy’ Crazy could be excitement, fear, aggression etc. If you think of threshold on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being asleep and 10 being totally crazy. The optimal threshold is somewhere between 2 and 4 or 5, that’s when most dogs are calm, relaxed and it’s easy to get their focus. 6 and up is total over stimulation.

      Triggers are the things that cause reactions in dogs and raise their threshold if it’s a strong reaction. Triggers can be things like other dogs, people, cars, motor bikes, sounds (door bell) and general chaos etc.

      Your goal here is to counter-condition and then desensitize your boy.

      Start in the room furthest from the bell. If you’re too close the sound will trigger your dog too easily and send him spinning through his ideal threshold.

      You should be inside with your dog and have someone stand outside to ring the bell. It might help if you keep in contact with the other person using your phone, that way you can control when the trigger (ringing bell) is introduced.

      The trick here is to watch your German Shepherd’s body language and facial expressions. It sounds like you know him well so you should be able to pick up when he’s about to bark, growl or gruff. And as you rightly said, you don’t want to be rewarding him for that. So stay focused. Good thing for you is you’ll know exactly when the bell will ring.

      Ask the other person to ring the bell and immediately as the bell rings, even before your boy can think about reacting, offer him that MOST rewarding treat. Don’t say anything and don’t praise him. Just make sure your timing is perfect.

      Do this at least 3 time a day for no more than 8 minutes. You don’t want him to check out of the training, so don’t work until he’s tired. Stop while he still wants to go – this will keep him interested.

      Once your boy is comfortable and not reacting negatively to the ringing bell, congratulate yourself and your dog. You’ve successfully counter-conditioned and desensitized him to the sound of the bell in that specific room/area.

      Now move to another room in the house and follow the same training as above. You’ll find it’s much easier as you go and won’t take as long as the first time.

      Once he’s comfortable with the sound of the doorbell, you’ll probably find he’ll stop growling, barking or gruffing at people who ring the bell.

      Good Luck,

    • Nina

      Hi Gabriella and Kelly,
      I have no idea how old this thread is but would like to offer a helpful suggestion. We have a “remote” doorbell. The bell unit plugs into a wall outlet in the house and the battery operated button is then hooked onto it’s holder by the door. The beauty of this is that the button can be removed from the holder and brought into the house. I can walk around the house with the button in hand and trigger the doorbell anytime to practice doorbell behaviors with my two GSDs. I am teaching them that the bell means to go to their beds and watch the door as we answer and see who is there. If needed, I can call a dog to sit at my side as I answer the door. It is working well. Hope this helps!

    • Hi Nina!

      Thanks so much for sharing this super idea! This thread is quite active, so I’m sure it’ll be useful to other who visit here!

  • Another one of your articles that I thoroughly enjoyed. Your tale of Lupo and Jeanne’s of Star brought tears to my eyes in memory of my Tipper. She was a German Shepherd/Bull Terrier. At the age of 14 and a half she had total kidney failure and we had to let her go. It was a sad day for all of us, including our less than one year old cat. She went into depression… which was only solved by another companion… a 5 week old GSD/Husky.

    Info on the Internet was not available during the early years of my Tipper -and- I was deeply involved in work so, I did NOT do enough with my Tipper. However, we did go for our morning walks and that was the hi-light of her day. She became blind in her last year from macular degeneration. We still went for our daily walks but that was about it.

    Now with this new dog we have a whole new world. For one thing he is a whole lot more active than Tipper was. He is very intelligent and I almost think it was bad for him that I brought him to my house. I am 70 and not all energetic or active anymore. I do take him for walks 2 or 3 times a day but he still needs more. I am just not imaginative enough to think of what I can train him to do. So, I have been searching the Net and found your site. Hopefully, we can “train me” to train him.


    • Hi Chuck!

      I think I remember you! 🙂

      I’m working on an article specially for you and what you can do to keep your boy interested.

    • Isabel

      I’m wondering about your response to Chuck up there. I have a 1 year old (96#) GSD. He’s a great, low key, chill dog. We go on our walks and do some obedience (sit, down, recall, search for treat, food toys), but three so-so trainers and $1000 later how is it I’m stuck with no ideas on what to do with him?? He’s not excited about toys for more than 5 minutes. What are some things I can do with his brain once I’ve worked out his giant body? People on dog media seem to have their whole daily routine down. I feel so lost.

    • Hi Isabel!

      Don’t feel lost! Dog training is never static that’s what makes dogs so much fun!

      It sounds like your boy wants to be challenged mentally.

      To keep mine mentally occupied (which tires them out more than physical exercise btw) we like to play games. Anything from what you’ve mentioned above to more complex games like picking out toys by name, hide-and-seek etc.

      I use Brain Training for Dogs by Adrienne Faricelli for this. I’ve written a full review of the course which you can read here. Adrienne is one of my dog training idols and I recently did an interview with her, which I’ll share the podcast of soon.

      We chatted about her unique approach to dog training through mental stimulation rather than just the regular sit, down, stay route. She explained that a dogs brain (like humans) is pliable and constantly developing as they learn. This in turn means they have an easier time storing new information.

      It’s really fascinating and I’m looking forward to sharing more from the interview!

      I think you might find Brain Training for Dogs a great spring board for you and your dog. Here’s that link again: enjoy 🙂

      Let me know if you have questions!

  • Great article, and so much information. I’m going to have to read it again, slower, to grasp it all. It really makes me miss my German Shepherd, Star, who died 2 years ago at the age of 14. She was my buddy.

    I got her as a puppy. I realized I had to do some serious training when she almost pulled me out in front of a semi when she saw a dog that she wanted to attack on the other side of the street. I was pregnant at the time. Yikes. That was pretty scary.

    I enjoyed the training so much, we went through 6 classes, plus some agility, and competition too. She became my running partner, and we were sisters. Best dog ever.

    Thanks for writing such a detail post. I will pass it on. Peace

    • Each one we say goodbye to leave an indelible print on our hearts. Star sounds like she was an amazing companion to you, they are such a loyal and courageous breed – they just love to please us! It was tough for me to watch Lupo suffer with EPI. When I found out that my young boy Zè also has EPI I was devastated. But thankfully we caught it in time. He has his digestive enzymes with every meal and he’s thriving.

      Thanks for stopping by, I’m pleased you liked the post. 🙂

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